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Home / Awards / Path to Peace Award / 1996


1996 - His Excellency Mr. Lech Walesa

Mr. Lech Walesa was born on 29 September 1943 at Popowo near Lipno in the Wroclawek Voivodship. He and his wife, Danuta, have eight children. Upon completing vocational school, Mr. Walesa worked as an automobile mechanic in Lochocin, Wroclaw Voivodship (1961-1965). Later he served in the army for two years, and was promoted to the rank of corporal. Beginning in 1967, he was employed in the Gdansk Shipyard as an electrician.

During the December events of 1970, which resulted in a clash between the regime and the workers, he was one of the leaders of the workers' protests in the Shipyard. As a result, he was placed under arrest, and then released.

In 1976 he was fired from the Gdansk Shipyard for criticizing communist trade unions of that time. In 1978, together with a group of independent activists, he began to organize independent labor unions. He participated in many actions organized by the opposition of the Baltic sea coast area. Consequently, he was frequently detained and kept under Security Service surveillance. In August 1980 he led the Gdansk Shipyard strike wave, which evolved into a bloodless national uprising aimed at regaining real national sovereignty and attaining the gradual liquidation of the communist rule in Poland.

As the leader of Solidarity, Mr. Walesa paid his first official visit to the Vatican (1981), where His Holiness Pope John Paul II received him cordially. During the visit, the Holy Father stressed the Christian roots of Solidarity. Allegiance to the values and principles of the Church's teachings became important factors for Mr. Walesa's social and political programs. Walesa traveled to Italy, Japan, Sweden and France between the years of 1980-1981. He was also a guest of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

In September of 1981, Walesa was elected as the leader of Solidarity at the First National Solidarity Congress in Gdansk. Adherent to the moderate line in the conflict with the Polish People's Republic authorities, Walesa averted a dangerous crisis in March of that year.

After the imposition of martial law by General Jaruzelski, Walesa was interned on the night of 13 December 1981, and kept in isolation for nearly 12 months. In November 1982 he was released from Arlamow in the Bieszczady mountains, the final place of his imprisonment.

In April 1983 he began working at the Gdansk Shipyard again. From there he headed Solidarity, maintaining contact with other leaders of the underground union. Covert meetings required special evasive action in order to mislead the Security Service (SB) which, from the moment of his release, kept Walesa under surveillance day and night. For many years, his apartment in Gdansk, in the Zaspa district, became the center of the Independent Solidarity Trade Union's activity.

In October of 1983, Lech Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the citation, the Nobel Prize Committee stated: "(The) Death of every human belittles me. Every neighbor in handcuffs is my disgrace, every yearning for freedom trampled down, every human right violated is my defeat - since we are part of mankind and we share other people's fate. This year's laureate was led by this idea of common bonds. . . "

In May and August of 1988, Walesa led two protests in the Shipyard, which began the rapid process of transformation of Poland and Europe. This was a turning point members of the delegalized trade union began to organize en masse throughout the country, with the Communist Party retreating. In December of that year, Walesa's Civic Committee was founded, which affiliated the main leaders of the Polish opposition. Walesa co-chaired round table talks with the participation of the Communist authorities (6 February - 5 April 1989). Later that year, Solidarity was legally reinstated as the change of the political system occurred.

On 4 June 1989, partly free elections to the Sejm were held, causing a defeat for the Communists. Walesa asked the Democratic party and the United Peasant Party to form a coalition in order to set up a government. He appointed Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the Prime Minister.

At the Second National Solidarity Congress (April 1990) Walesa was elected chairman of the union. On 9 December 1990 he was elected President of the Republic of Poland in the general elections. Mr. Walesa began a series of meetings in Poland and abroad with State leaders and outstanding politicians.

He has received numerous honors and awards, including those from: the University of Notre Dame (1982); Harvard University (1983); Université de Paris VIII (1983); Fordham University (1984); University of Columbia (1981); Gdansk University and Torun University (both in Poland, 1990). He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, (Philadelphia, 1981); the Award of the Free World (Norway, 1982); the Award of the Greek Trade Unions (1985) and the European Award of Human Rights (1989).