Lech Walesa, the son of a peasant farmer, was born in Popowo,
29th September, 1943. After leaving school he worked as a car mechanic. In
1967 Walesa moved to Gdansk where he became an electrician at the Lenin
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.
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.
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.
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.
Poland were helped by the fact that
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.
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.
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,
Nobel Lecture (11th December, 1983)
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
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
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
Let the veil of
silence fall presently over what happened afterwards. Silence, too, can
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
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
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.
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
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.