1980s |

Poland's Solidarity Movement Leader Walesa, Released From Jail - 11/13/1982

On this day, the leader of the banned Solidarity movement in communist Poland Lech Walesa made a return back home after being in detention for 11 months in a remote hunting lodge towards the Soviet border. Prior to his release, hundreds of supporters had already pegged their tent outside his home, waiting for his arrival when news reached them that he was in the process of being released. On this exact day, as Walesa made his appearance, the crowd who had gathered lifted him high above and carried him to the entrance of his apartment where his wife was standing to welcome him back home, and then proceeded into the second story window from where he addressed his followers.

Born in Poland in 1943, Walesa worked as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk where he was later fired for his involvement in agitation for union in 1976. In August 1980, following a protest by workers of the shipyard in Gdansk after food prices increased, Walesa joined the thousands of workers inside the shipyard. His involvement led to him being chosen as the chairman of the strike committee, and their demands were met within three days. Following his success, Walesa then helped in organizing other strikes in Gdansk and later demanded the Polish government to allow the free formation of trade unions and giving them the right to strike. Eventually, the government agreed to their demands and on August 30, trade unions were legalized and freedom to express one's religious and political views was given.

The met demands paved way for millions of Polish workers and farmers to form unions and Solidarity movement was formed as a national federation of unions, with Walesa as its chairman. Walesa leadership skills made the organization grew in size and political strength, making it a major threat to the Polish government authorities. On December 13, 1981, Solidarity was banned, Walesa and other union leaders were arrested and martial law was declared in Poland.

The public outcry forced the government to release Walesa in November 1982, while Solidarity was still outlawed. The following year, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Walesa, but he declined to receive it in Norway fearing he may be forced to exile. Working underground as the leader of the Solidarity movement, he was constantly subjected to harassment.

The economic recession that hit Poland in 1988 resulting in labor strikes forced the authorities to renegotiate with Walesa, and in April of 1989, Solidarity movement regained freedom and some of its members were allowed to contest at the upcoming elections. This gave way for a Solidarity-led coalition government in September of that same year, and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Walesa's right hand became the premier. In 1990, Poland held her first presidential election in which Walesa emerge as the winner.

Poland witness successful reforms during President Walesa's regime, however, he was more of an effective labor leader than he was a president. He was defeated in his reelection bid in 1995 by the communist former head of the Democratic Left Alliance Aleksander Kwasniewski.

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Mark Hinderberg


Retired History Professor at Vanderbilt University. Love taking a portal through time and sharing my knowledge with anyone else who loves reading about history. It is my passion and my greatest hobby.