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Lech Walesa, the son of a peasant farmer, was born in Popowo, Poland, on 29th September, 1943. After leaving school he worked as a car mechanic. In 1967 Walesa moved to Gdansky where he became an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard.
Walesa was active in the trade union movement and during an industrial dispute in 1970 he became chairman of the shipyard's strike committee. In 1976 lost his job as a result of his trade union activities and for the next few years had to earn his living by taking temporary jobs.
Walesa continued to involve himself in organising free non-communist trade unions and in 1980, along with some of his friends, founded Solidarnosc (Solidarity). It was not long before the organization had 10 million members and Walesa was its undisputed leader.
In August 1980 Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country. Walesa, a devout Catholic, developed a loyal following and the communist authorities were forced to capitulate. The Gdansk Agreement, signed on 31st August, 1980, gave Polish workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.
In 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski, replaced Edward Gierek as leader of the Communist Party in Poland. In December 1981, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and Solidarnosc was declared an illegal organization. Soon afterwards Walesa and other trade union leaders were arrested and imprisoned.
In November 1982 Walesa was released and allowed to work in the Gdansk shipyards. Martial law was lifted in July 1983, but there were still considerable restrictions on individual freedom. Later that year, in the recognition of the role he was playing in Poland's non-violent revolution, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Reformers in Poland were helped by the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had gained power in the Soviet Union. In 1986 Gorbachev made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe. Wojciech Jaruzelski was now forced to negotiate with Walesa and the trade union movement. This resulted in parliamentary elections and a noncommunist government and in 1989 Solidarnosc became a legal organization.
In December 1990 Walesa was elected President of the Republic of Poland. He was not a success and his critics claimed he developed an authoritarian style in running the country. His behaviour was erratic and he was criticised for his close links with the military and security services. In November 1995 Walesa was defeated by the former communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski.
I belong to a nation which over the past centuries has experienced many hardships and reverses. The world reacted with silence or with mere sympathy when Polish frontiers were crossed by invading armies and the sovereign state had to succumb to brutal force. Our national history has so often filled us with bitterness and the feeling of helplessness. But this was, above all, a great lesson in hope. Thanking you for the award I would like, first of all, to express my gratitude and my belief that it serves to enhance the Polish hope. The hope of the nation which throughout the nineteenth century had not for a moment reconciled itself with the loss of independence, and fighting for its own freedom, fought at the same time for the freedom of other nations. The hope whose elations and downfalls during the past forty years - i.e. the span of my own life - have been marked by the memorable and dramatic dates: 1944, 1956, 1970, 1976, 1980.
And if I permit myself at this juncture and on this occasion to mention my own life, it is because I believe that the prize has been granted to me as to one of many.
My youth passed at the time of the country's reconstruction from the ruins and ashes of the war in which my nation never bowed to the enemy paying the highest price in the struggle. I belong to the generation of workers who, born in the villages and hamlets of rural Poland, had the opportunity to acquire education and find employment in industry, becoming in the course conscious of their rights and importance in society. Those were the years of awakening aspirations of workers and peasants, but also years of many wrongs, degradations and lost illusions. I was barely 13 years old when, in June 1956, the desperate struggle of the workers of Poznan for bread and freedom was suppressed in blood. Thirteen also was the boy - Romek Strzalkowski - who was killed in the struggle. It was the "Solidarity" union which 25 years later demanded that tribute be paid to his memory. In December 1970 when workers' protest demonstrations engulfed the towns of the Baltic coast, I was a worker in the Gdansk Shipyard and one of the organizers of the strikes. The memory of my fellow workers who then lost their lives, the bitter memory of violence and despair has become for me a lesson never to be forgotten.
Few years later, in June 1976, the strike of the workers at Ursus and Radom was a new experience which not only strengthened my belief in the justness of the working people's demands and aspirations, but has also indicated the urgent need for their solidarity. This conviction brought me, in the summer of 1978, to the Free Trade Unions - formed by a group of courageous and dedicated people who came out in the defense of the workers' rights and dignity. In July and August of 1980 a wave of strikes swept throughout Poland. The issue at stake was then something much bigger than only material conditions of existence. My road of life has, at the time of the struggle, brought me back to the shipyard in Gdansk. The whole country has joined forces with the workers of Gdansk and Szczecin. The agreements of Gdansk, Szczecin and Jastrzebie were eventually signed and the "Solidarity" union has thus come into being.
The great Polish strikes, of which I have just spoken, were events of a special nature. Their character was determined on the one hand by the menacing circumstances in which they were held and, on the other, by their objectives. The Polish workers who participated in the strike actions, in fact represented the nation.
When I recall my own path of life I cannot but speak of the violence, hatred and lies. A lesson drawn from such experiences, however, was that we can effectively oppose violence only if we ourselves do not resort to it.
In the brief history of those eventful years, the Gdansk Agreement stands out as a great charter of the rights of the working people which nothing can ever destroy. Lying at the root of the social agreements of 1980 are the courage, sense of responsibility, and the solidarity of the working people. Both sides have then recognized that an accord must be reached if bloodshed is to be prevented. The agreement then signed has been and shall remain the model and the only method to follow, the only one that gives a chance of finding a middle course between the use of force and a hopeless struggle. Our firm conviction that ours is a just cause and that we must find a peaceful way to attain our goals gave us the strength and the awareness of the limits beyond which we must not go. What until then seemed impossible to achieve has become a fact of life. We have won the right to association in trade unions independent from the authorities, founded and shaped by the working people themselves.
Our union - the "Solidarity" - has grown into a powerful movement for social and moral liberation. The people freed from the bondage of fear and apathy, called for reforms and improvements. We fought a difficult struggle for our existence. That was and still is a great opportunity for the whole country. I think that it marked also the road to be taken by the authorities, if they thought of a state governed in cooperation and participation of all citizens. "Solidarity", as a trade union movement, did not reach for power, nor did it turn against the established constitutional order. During the 15 months of "Solidarity's" legal existence nobody was killed or wounded as a result of its activities. Our movement expanded by leaps and bounds. But we were compelled to conduct an uninterrupted struggle for our rights and freedom of activity while at the same time imposing upon ourselves the unavoidable self-limitations. The program of our movement stems from the fundamental moral laws and order. The sole and basic source of our strength is the solidarity of workers, peasants and the intelligentsia, the solidarity of the nation, the solidarity of people who seek to live in dignity, truth, and in harmony with their conscience.
Let the veil of silence fall presently over what happened afterwards. Silence, too, can speak out.
One thing, however, must be said here and now on this solemn occasion: the Polish people have not been subjugated nor have they chosen the road of violence and fratricidal bloodshed.
We shall not yield to violence. We shall not be deprived of union freedoms. We shall never agree with sending people to prison for their convictions. The gates of prisons must be thrown open and persons sentenced for defending union and civic rights must be set free. The announced trials of eleven leading members of our movement must never be held. All those already sentenced or still awaiting trials for their union activities or their convictions - should return to their homes and be allowed to live and work in their country.
The defense of our rights and our dignity, as well as efforts never to let ourselves to be overcome by the feeling of hatred - this is the road we have chosen.
The Polish experience, which the Nobel Peace Prize has put into limelight, has been a difficult, a dramatic one. Yet, I believe that it looks to the future. The things that have taken place in human conscience and re-shaped human attitudes cannot be obliterated or destroyed. They exist and will remain.
We are the heirs of those national aspirations thanks to which our people could never be made into an inert mass with no will of their own. We want to live with the belief that law means law and justice means justice, that our toil has a meaning and is not wasted, that our culture grows and develops in freedom.
As a nation we have the right to decide our own affairs, to mould our own future. This does not pose any danger to anybody. Our nation is fully aware of the responsibility for its own fate in the complicated situation of the contemporary world.
Despite everything that has been going on in my country during the past two years, I am still convinced that we have no alternative but to come to an agreement, and that the difficult problems which Poland is now facing can be resolved only through a real dialogue between state authorities and the people.
WAŁĘSA, LECH (b. 1943)
Lech Wałęsa was born 29 September 1943 in Popowo in northern Poland, then under German occupation. During the war, Wałęsa's father, a carpenter, was seized for slave labor by the Nazis and although he survived the war, died shortly thereafter as a result of mistreatment. Wałęsa received a vocational education and worked as a mechanic before entering the army for a mandatory two-year period of service. In 1967 Wałęsa took a job as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk. In 1969 he married Danuta Golośsk. couple would have eight children.
By the end of the 1960s, the economic situation in communist Poland had become increasingly difficult because of government ineptitude. In 1970, with the economic situation getting increasingly out of control, the government announced a 20 percent hike in the price of food one week before Christmas. Workers around the country went on strike and riots ensued. This time, it was the industrial strongholds of the Baltic coast where the worst violence occurred. When the militia ambushed a train full of workers in Gdansk, shooting scores of unarmed strikers, the workers responded by burning the local party headquarters. Some three hundred workers were killed in the riots, but the exact count is unknown, since many bodies were buried in secret. This event proved a major turning point for Wałęsa, who was active in the protests. Thereafter, the electrician became increasingly involved in efforts to form an independent trade union.
Following renewed worker unrest in 1976, Wałęsa was fired from his job at the shipyard and placed under surveillance by the secret police. He took temporary jobs to support his family while continuing efforts to organize a free union. In 1978, along with other activists, he cofounded Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzėza (Free Trade Union of the Coast) and was arrested a number of times in 1979. Although he is associated with opposition to the state, Wałęsa's record during this period has not been above suspicion. Though he was later cleared of being a police agent by a court ruling, he did provide some information to the police on opposition activities, a situation that was not uncommon among many in the opposition because of the pervasive nature of the communist police state.
Strongly influenced by the election of John Paul II (r. 1978–2005) and by the pope's visit to Poland, during which opposition to Communist rule had received a critical boost, Polish workers reacted to Poland's increasing economic problems with stronger action in defense of their rights. Following a massive increase in the price of staple foods, strikes began to break out across the country in August 1980. At the Lenin Shipyards, workers went on strike following the firing of the popular activist and model worker Anna Walentynowicz. Wałęsa climbed the shipyard wall and took charge of the strike committee. The shipyard became one of the strongholds of the worker's movements. Following protracted negotiations, in which Wałęsa played a critical role, the authorities gave in to most of the workers' demands. The most important of these was the creation of an independent trade union, Solidarity, with Wałęsa as its chairman. The shipyard electrician became known around the world as face of peaceful opposition to Communist rule.
After sixteen months of uneasy coexistence with Solidarity, the Communist authorities cracked down on the union in December 1981, arresting Wałęsa and tens of thousands of other activists and imposing martial law on the country. In late 1982, Wałęsa was released from prison. The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite forcefully destroying Solidarity, the Communist authorities were unable to stop the country's economic slide. In 1988, with continuing worker unrest, the government agreed to negotiations with the center and left portions of the opposition, with Wałęsa again assuming an important role. From these roundtable talks emerged a kind of power-sharing agreement that opened the door to the first partially free elections in Poland since 1938. In June 1989 Solidarity-backed candidates won all contested elections handily, ending Communist rule in Poland and spurring a wave of related movements in other Soviet-controlled countries.
During this brief period, Wałęsa held no public office and was in some ways eclipsed by his hand-picked prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Following the resignation of the Communist president, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Wałęsa reentered politics and challenged Mazowiecki for the office. Although Wałęsa was elected president in December 1990, the move split the Solidarity movement and led to a series of short-lived governments. Wałęsa remained a dominant political figure, extending the power of the presidency and stretching its constitutional limits.
Although Wałęsa's political ambitions badly divided Solidarity and opened the door for the revived fortunes of former Communist politicians, during his tenure some important economic and political reforms were implemented, establishing the rule of law, restoring a market economy, and beginning Poland's move toward rejoining the community of Western nations. By 1995, however, he had lost the support of most of his fellow Poles and lost to the former Communist Aleksander Kwaśniewski. Wałęsa tried to run again for president in 2000 but garnered only 1 percent of the vote.
Although Wałęsa remains a highly recognizable figure in Poland, he retains negligible political support. His popularity is far greater outside of Poland, especially among Polish diaspora communities, than in Poland itself. In 1995 Wałęsa founded the Lech Wałęsa Institute, in Gdansk, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to Wałęsa's political and social causes.
Freedom broke out in Gdańsk - history of August 1980
When, on the 14th August 1980 a strike broke out at the Gdansk shipyard, nobody thought that Poland and consequently the whole of communist Europe would be taking their first steps toward freedom. The socialist block authorities were still in a very strong position and the Soviet Union was one of the most powerful countries in the world. Alone, against this unconquerable Goliath, stood David in the form of the workers. It was time to say “Enough!”.
The workers chose to strike after their demands for the reinstatement of Anna Walentynowicz and Lech Walesa, dismissed for their activities within the Independent Trade Unions, were not met. On the first day of the strike, Lech Walesa was outside the shipyard and had to jump over a wall to get back in. On the 15th August the strike spread to other plants across Gdansk. On the night of the 16th August the Inter-Enterprise Stike Committee was formed with Lech Walesa as its Chairman.
The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee drew up a list of 21 postulates. The most important of these being the first: “Acceptance of the Free Trade Unions independent of the party and employers”. This postulate was to cause the fiercest discussions with the governments representatives. The workers participating in the strike in the Gdansk Shipyard did not think only about their own employee issues. The following postulates demanded a guarantee of freedom of speech, printing and publishing, release of political prisoners, a guarantee of strike rights and access to the mass media for people of all religious beliefs. The postulates far exceeded the scope of regular employees’ demands. They demanded freedom, justice and equality for citizens. It was the first such movement, in a country under communist rule, which arose to defend fundamental human rights.
The workers protest soon gained the support of outstanding Polish intellectuals, as well as representatives of the democratic opposition. In Warsaw, 64 intellectuals wrote an open letter: “Polish workers with maturity and determination fight today for their and all of our rights for a better life with dignity.” In this battle the whole forward looking populace is on their side. A superior requirement of the raison d'état (national interest) is an immediate commencement of talks between an appointed government committee and the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee, it is absolutely necessary to recognize the rights of the staff to appoint authentic representatives of the Trade Union by way of an election. Many members of opposing organizations (eg. the Workers’ Defence Committee and Young Poland Movement) actively supported the strikes by its own print shop and providing essential supplies. The Strike Information Bulletin, published in the Gdansk Shipyard, was then the most sought after publication in Gdansk. It was the first newspaper for many years which was openly published outside of the government’s censorship.
Despite the arrest of many activists, amongst them, Jacek Kuron, Lech Moczulski, Adam Michnik and Miroslaw Chojecki, on the 20th August, a large group managed to reach Gdansk and support the Independent Trade Unions as fellow citizens including Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Bronislaw Gieremek. The strike in Gdansk very quickly became a big event for all Gdansk inhabitants. Everyday, under the shipyard’s gates, crowds of people gathered to support and uplift the strikers. People brought food, warm clothes and blankets. Doctors and other representatives of the health service provided health care and priests offering spiritual support. Religious masses conducted inside the shipyard also attracted the participation of thousands of people on the other side of the gates. Actors, who visited the strikers, performed a program of songs and poems to uplift the exhausted workers. At that moment, at gate no 2 of the Gdansk Shipyard, the real solidarity of people fighting for freedom was born.
During that time support was coming from the whole world. Delegations of trade unions from Western Europe arrived and brought equipment and money for the strikers. Individuals wanted to support the new movement by their presence or just by making a small donation. From the start of the strike numerous crews of Polish and foreign journalists remained at the shipyard and broadcast the Polish workers struggle to the world. Without the resolve of the media, the strikers plight might have gone unnoticed.
Talks with government representatives were difficult and arduous. The communists could not agree to surrender part of their power, but they had to consider the will and determination of the people and this influenced their decision to concede. On the 21st August the authorities sent a governmental committee to Gdansk with the deputy prime minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski and one to Szczecin with the deputy prime minister Kazimierz Barcikowski. In Gdansk, the governmental committee finally began talks with the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee on the 23rd August. During that time a wave of strikes spread to the whole country. On the 26th August, despite a calming sermon from the Primate of Poland, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski from Jasna Gora Monastery, the workers became more radical.
On the 31st August the agreement between the committee of Mieczyslaw Jagielski and the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee was signed. When Lech Walesa appeared at gate no 2 and announced: “We have Independent Self-governing Trade Unions” many thousands of people, gathered on the other side, spontaneously shouted “Thank you!” In a country governed by oppression, using a lies and hypocrisy, the victory of freedom, truth and justice became a reality. It was the greatest victory in the history of Poland after the Second World War. It was also a victory of all those in the socialist block countries suffering a lack of freedom. The victory of the Gdansk workers gave hope to Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Hungarians, Germans from the German Democratic Republic, Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians – all the people living in “the block of progress and peace” that their lives can change and that in their countries the flame of freedom will ignite and that they will never have to sing such songs as this one, composed in the Gdansk Shipyard:
Stop constantly apologising us
And saying you err
Look at our tired faces
Gray and crumpled like our lives.
Stop dividing us and agitating,
Giving out points, privillages,
Passing over in silence uncomfortable facts,
Falsifying the history.
Bring back values to many words,
No more to be empty words,
To live with dignity and work
With solidarity between us.
Stop constantly apologising us
And saying you err.
Look at our mothers, wives,
Gray and crumpled like our lives.
In November 1980 the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity” was finally registered in court. The first, working organization, independent of government authorities began activities. The first crack, in the communist foundations, was made. Later more were to follow. The Polish road to freedom was unstoppable. Even the night of martial law, imposed by the Polish authorities on the 13th December 1981 to defend “trophies of socialism”, couldn’t halt its progress.
On the 4th of June1989, when the representatives of “Solidarity” won the first free parliamentary election, the history of Poland, Europe and the World took a rapid course towards freedom and democracy. During memorable days of the Autumn of Nations 1989, on the streets of Prague posters: appeared “Poland – 10 years, Hungary – 10 months, GDR – 10 weeks, Czechoslovakia – 10 days”. The author of this poster was right. In Poland the battle for democracy, freedom and truth had to last so long in order that in other countries aspirations of freedom could be met quicker. In September 1939, an isolated Poland fell foul of Nazi Germany, western allies of Poland said that “it’s not worth dying for Gdansk”. In August 1980, Gdansk workers claimed dignity and freedom not only for themselves but also for all of those who lived under the dictatorship of the communist totalitarianism. They introduced a Polish motto: “For our freedom and yours”. If, the then unknown young electrician Lech Walesa hadn’t jumped over the Gdansk Shipyard wall in August 1980, the Berlin Wall wouldn’t have fallen in Autumn 1989.
The “Walesa Wall” and the “Berlin Wall”. Two significant symbols of contemporary Europe a symbol of the battle for freedom and a sign of victory in this battle. August 1980 in Gdansk and the Autumn of Nations 1989 – the beginning and triumphal finale of the road to freedom for the whole of Europe.
"Solidarity" Declared Illegal
With strikes and protests continuing unabated, Walesa declared a three-month strike moratorium on November 4, 1981, and met at an unprecedented summit with Archbishop Jozef Glemp and Party First Secretary General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who offered plans for a Council for National Agreement. Recognizing that Solidarity and the Church would play mere consultative and symbolic roles, Walesa rejected the plans. On November 19, due to a severe national economic downturn, he appealed to the West for food aid for a period of five months.
Despite Walesa's conciliatory gestures, riot police forcibly evicted strikers at the Warsaw Fire Service Academy's sit-in on December 2, 1981. Walesa called the presidium and regional chairmen into closed session in Radom, where he issued a statement on the government's refusal to conclude a genuine national agreement. On December 7, 1981, a secretly obtained, edited tape of the meeting was broadcast by Warsaw Radio, implicating Walesa in confrontation with the authorities and the Solidarity militants in the overthrow of the government.
In a massive, predawn, secretive military crackdown, Walesa and nearly all of Solidarity's leadership were arrested and interned on December 13, 1981, and martial law was imposed. Flown to Warsaw for talks with General Wojciech Jaruzelski, he refused to negotiate or televise an appeal for calm and, while in custody in Warsaw, smuggled messages to Solidarity advocating peaceful resistance. Transferred to the Arlamow hunting reserve in southeast Poland, Walesa continued in his refusal to cooperate with the authorities. Solidarity was delegalized in October 1982 by the Party-dominated and controlled Sejm. Walesa was released on November 11, 1982, after 11 months of internment.
Lech Wałęsa ofiarą historii i samego siebie
Wdowa po szefie komunistycznego aparatu ucisku gen. Czesławie Kiszczaku(msw) ujawniła wykradzione przez męża z archiwów dokumenty, z których wynika, że legendarny szef „Solidarności” w latach 1970-76 był płatnym informatorem tajnej policji.
„Obyś żył w ciekawych czasach” – mówi chińska klątwa. Wałęsa żył w czasach dramatycznych. Jako jeden z przywódców strajku w stoczni w Gdańsku brał aktywny udział w krwawo stłumionych protestach robotniczych na Wybrzeżu w 1970 r. Miał 27 lat i żonę z maleńkim dzieckiem. Nękany przez tajną policję, jak sam potem przyznał, podpisał zobowiązanie współpracy, ale nie współpracował, na nikogo nie donosił i nikomu nie zaszkodził. Ten epizod z życia Wałęsy jest Polakom znany od lat. Ujawnione dokumenty choć badania nad ich autentycznością nadal trwają świadczą jednak o tym, że była to współpraca aktywna,.
Nikt, kto choć trochę zdaje sobie sprawę z realiów komunistycznej Polski, nie może mieć Wałęsie za złe podpisania zobowiązania, a aktywną współpracę, jeśli nie wybaczyć, powinien przynajmniej próbować zrozumieć. Komunistyczna tajna policja nie cofała się przed niczym, nawet przed mordem, a sztukę szantażu miała opanowaną do perfekcji. Problemem jest to, że Wałęsa od lat, często zmieniając wersje wydarzeń, aktywnej współpracy z tajną policją zaprzecza („Nigdy nie dałem się złamać”). Podejrzenia budzi też to, że Wałęsa już jako prezydent Polski wypożyczył z archiwów dotyczące go dokumenty komunistycznych służb i wróciły niekompletne.
Nikt przy zdrowych zmysłach nie może też odmówić Wałęsie ogromnych zasług, gdy stał na czele „Solidarności” i walczył z komunistycznym zniewoleniem. Ujawnione dokumenty budzą jednak istotne pytanie: czy Wałęsa jako negocjator warunków oddania władzy przez komunistów, i potem jako prezydent, nie był nimi szantażowany? Zwolennicy tej teorii wskazują, że nikt, na czele z generałami Kiszczakiem i Jaruzelskim, nie poniósł kary za zbrodnie komunizmu, a wielu komunistów z dnia na dzień przepoczwarzyło się we wziętych kapitalistów. Ale równie zasadne jest pytanie, czy można było inaczej przeprowadzić w Polsce bezkrwawą rewolucję? Czy nie była to konieczna do zapłacenia cena?
Nie pomagają kuriozalne wyjaśnienia Wałęsy, jego upór i megalomania, zagadkowe posunięcia, gdy był prezydentem (1990-95). Najgorsze jest jednak to, że politycy rządu i opozycji, podobnie podzielone polskie elity i media, cynicznie wykorzystują ponurą sytuację dla swoich celów. Obóz władzy przekonuje, że 27 lat temu ugodowe elity „Solidarności” z Wałęsą na czele podzieliły się Polską z komunistami. Druga strona twierdzi, że ujawnienie dokumentów to prowokacja służąca obecnie rządzącym.
Lech Wałęsa, najbardziej obok Karola Wojtyły znany i uwielbiany Polak na świecie, jest dyskredytowany we własnym kraju jako współpracownik komunistycznej tajnej policji. Bez względu na to jak było naprawdę, 27 lat po obaleniu komunizmu tryumfuje i chichocze zza grobu gen. Kiszczak, komunistyczny zbrodniarz, który uniknął kary. I jest to porażka Polski i wszystkich Polaków. Też Wałęsy.
Polish state history institute probing Walesa over alleged perjury
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s government-affiliated history institute said on Tuesday it is investigating allegations of perjury by Lech Walesa, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader of the Solidarity movement that helped bring down communist rule.
It was the latest twist in a long-running feud between Walesa and the ruling conservative Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is also a former anti-communist activist who fell out with Walesa in the 1990s.
An investigator for the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) said the case concerns sworn testimony filed by Walesa that said documents suggesting he been a paid informant for the communist secret police in the 1970s were forged.
Walesa, also a former president, has acknowledged once signing a commitment to inform but insists he never fulfilled it, and a special court exonerated him in 2000.
In January, IPN experts said that handwriting experts proved the authenticity of documents suggesting that Walesa had collaborated with communist rulers.
The IPN investigation, which began in late June and was ordered by the Public Prosecutor General, follows notifications of a suspicion of a crime sent by two private people, according to Robert Janicki, an IPN investigator.
“At the moment analysis of cases in which Lech Walesa filed a testimony related to the documents is being conducted,” Janicki told Reuters. “The case is in a preliminary stage.”
Adam Dominski, head of Walesa’s office, told the state-run PAP news agency on Tuesday there is no evidence to substantiate the documents. “The president maintains that the documents are not genuine and not authored by him,” Dominski said.
It was unclear why the news of the investigation became public only on Tuesday, two months after it began.
Janicki said that at the time of Walesa’s testimony, the penalty for false testimony was up to three years in prison.
Under Polish law, the IPN can lead investigations into historical acts committed against persons of Polish nationality and cases related to the destruction, concealment, removal and alteration of documents subject to transfer to the IPN.
Additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Marcin Goettig writing by Lidia Kelly editing by Mark Heinrich
History: Lech Walesa
This is another post about one of the powerful men involved in the collapse of the USSR. Let me know which leader you prefer.
Lech Walesa is Catholic and was born on the 29th of September 1943 in Poland. He became a labour activist and helped form and lead communist Poland’s first industry trade union, it was called Solidarnosc (Solidarity). In 1968 he encouraged shipyard workers to boycott rallies that condemned student strikes and in 1978 he began to organise trade unions and by 1983 he already had a Nobel Prize. In 1990 he took it a step further and became the first freely-elected president in Poland in over 60 years.
But wait, let’s go back, how does someone go from shipyards to parliament?
He started Solidarity in 1980 as he was a shipyard worker. In August of 1980 he led the Gdansk shipyard strike over much of the country and he was seen as the leader of this. The authorities were forced to surrender and negotiate with Walesa the Gdansk Agreement of August 31 1980 which gave the workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.
In September 1981 he became the chairman of Solidarity. That December Solidarity was suspended and he was under house arrest in a remote spot. In November 1982 he was released and reinstated at the Gdansk shipyard where he was under surveillance but he still kept in touch with the leader of Solidarity. In July 1983, Martial Law ended which was put in place by the government in an attempt to crush any opposition (December 13, 1981- July 22, 1983). In October he was even awarded a Nobel Peace Prize which brought a lot of hope to his followers but sparked government attacks.
Jaruzelski was the leader of Poland and he was very unpopular as the economy continued to worsen. He soon had to agree to negotiate with Solidarity and Walesa- the result of this was non-communist elections. Walesa won these elections all the way up until 1995 and he received honorary degrees from Harvard University and the University of Paris, as well as the Award of the Free World.
In order to not arouse the Polish regime’s suspicion, equipment for Solidarity was purchased in Western Europe then smuggled into Poland. Truck drivers and commercial ship workers from nearby West Germany and Scandinavia worked with the CIA, concealing the contraband materials in their cargo, which was then collected by incognito underground Solidarity activists in shipyards and loading docks.
QRHELPFUL’s activity was not limited to Poland. The CIA also worked to increase popular support for Solidarity internationally, and thus instigated protests against Polish caudillo Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski’s declaration of martial law in capitals as distant as Mexico City and Paris. Meanwhile, the CIA produced and distributed many T-shirts, pens, and other knickknacks bearing the iconic puffy red Solidarity logo.
A Covert Action consists of two distinct, albeit interwoven, narratives. Its chapters alternate between those outlining the CIA’s activities in Langley, Poland, and elsewhere and those on Solidarity’s struggle. Jones makes it clear that QRHELPFUL would not have succeeded if Solidarity had not been a massive grassroots movement fueled by the bravery of the Polish people. “The true patriots in Poland—and the ones who deserved the magnitude of the credit for the collapse of Communism—were the men and woman of Solidarity, who paid a heavy price opposing the Jaruzelski regime,” he writes admiringly.
Jones introduces Americans to unsung Polish heroes who helped win the Cold War, such as Col. Ryszard Kukliński, a member of the Polish General Staff who provided the CIA with 40,000 pages of top-secret Warsaw Pact documents, or Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, a heroic pro-Solidarity Catholic priest who was brutally handed the palm of martyrdom by thuggish policemen working for the communist Ministry of the Interior.
Religion is very much present in A Covert Action. That Pope John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to Poland played a key role in the rise of Solidarity is now an axiom in Cold War history that this visit busted the first bricks from the Berlin Wall is recognized in John Lewis Gaddis’ Cold War: A New History and was the subject of the excellent documentary Nine Days That Changed the World, for instance. However, few historians have discussed the role of Catholicism in Poland’s nonviolent revolution after 1979. Jones fills this gap, showing how many priests and bishops supported Solidarity throughout the 1980s and how John Paul II’s 1987 visit to his homeland reenergized Solidarity, whose morale was flagging.
Unfortunately, whereas Jones mentions in passing that although Reagan was a Protestant who nonetheless had great respect for Catholicism, his Irish-American father’s denomination, he fails to mention how Reagan’s religious faith encouraged his support for Solidarity, something chronicled in detail in Paul Kengor’s A Pope and a President.
Lech Walesa | Day that Changed Course of History
On Thursday, August 14, 1980, Lech Walesa led his fellow workers in Gdansk, Poland, seizing the Lenin Shipyard, demanding wage increases and the right to organize a union.
In their “crowded hour,” their “moment of truth,” Walesa and his compatriots embarked on an uncharted path that would end in altering the currents of history.
Inevitable? Only in Retrospect
Looking back, some if not many people assume that the collapse of the Soviet Empire was preordained.
Perhaps in some sense It was preordained. We cannot know. We do know that the courageous actions of a handful of people were decisive in energizing the necessary involvement of the greater populace in various ways, in various nations in the tumult of the 1980s.
It can be useful to consider the situation from the vantage point of what one knew in Gdansk in the summer of 1980.
The new Pope John Paul II had visited his Polish homeland in 1979, but, as of yet, Stalin’s rancid jibe from the Second World War still rang true: How many divisions has the Pope? The Soviet Union had intervened with necessary power to maintain its Central European buffer states, including with conspicuous force in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. This remained a high risk in 1980, when the USSR was on the offensive, directly and indirectly, from Afghanistan to Africa to Central America.
There was, as yet, no President Reagan. Indeed, even one who took Reagan at his word in 1980, seeking to hasten the decline of Soviet Union, could not be at all certain that the former Hollywood actor possessed the skills, commitment or vision that would be required.
One Day that Changed Course of History
Walesa and his fellow workers took a fateful step, going all-in into the course of fast-moving currents of history. They might well have envisioned the worst-case scenario. The best-case may have been more difficult to conjure with confidence.
They could look for some inspiration to successful mass movements such as the American civil rights struggle. And yet, they could only be reassured so far. Unlike the United States, the Soviet Union did not allow free expression to develop much less flourish or be reflected at the ballot box.
There was no exact or near precedent for a successful fundamental challenge from a satellite country, surely not one which emanated from workers, challenging the fundamental assumptions of Marxist-Leninist ideology. This was exacerbated by its occurrence in Poland, with a long history of troubled relations with Russia.
Your Moment of Truth
Would you be prepared for your moment of truth?
Would you recognize its arrival? History does not tend to present itself clearly in prospect.
Have you done the hard work of forethought and planning for the unforeseen moment when your deepest values are put to the test?
Whether it’s in a darkened theater at midnight in Aurora, Colorado, or in a grimy shipyard in Gdansk–or in a corporate meeting with your managers or a conference call with stakeholders–will you be prepared when your crowded hour presents itself?
It may well come without warning, out of context, too important to process at once or camouflaged in something so mundane that you might easily overlook it.
In the photo of Walesa above, would you be in the front–or watching, waiting from behind?