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Summary Article: Wałȩsa, Lech
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Polish trade union leader, president of Poland 1990–95. One of the founding members of the Solidarity free-trade-union movement, which emerged to challenge the communist government during strikes in the Gdańsk shipyards in 1980. Wałȩsa led the movement to become a national force. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983 for his work with the Solidarity movement. After his election as president, he gradually became estranged from Solidarity.

In 1990 he became president but lost his power base due to his apparent inability to work with the freely elected parliament and conflicts with previous allies and advisers, most notably Tadeusz Mazowiecki. In 1995 he was defeated in the presidential elections by the Social Democrat Aleksander Kwaśniewski. In 1997 he helped to form the Solidarity Electoral Action Party, which, led by the new Solidarity leader, Marian Krzaklewski, won the parliamentary elections. But in 2000 Wałȩsa received only 1% of the vote in the presidential election and subsequently retired from politics. In 2004, Gdańsk international airport was renamed Gdańsk Lech Wałȩsa Airport to commemorate his achievements.

Born in Popowo, the son of a carpenter, he became an electrical technician at the Lenin shipyard in Gdańsk in 1967. A brilliant orator and negotiator in that role, he became a trade-union organizer and led a series of strikes in 1970 and 1976, culminating in his dismissal. He formed an illegal underground Free Trade Union of Pomerania in 1978 and was repeatedly arrested in 1979. In 1980 he became leader of a strike at the shipyard and formed Solidarity, which successfully challenged the government to improve working conditions and grant political concessions. After the imposition of martial law in December 1981 he was interned. A devout Catholic, he obtained the support of the Church hierarchy in his negotiations with the authorities.

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Wałȩsa, Lech

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