Lech Wałęsa was born 29 September 1943) is a Polish politician, trade-union organizer, and human-rights activist. A charismatic leader, he co-founded Solidarity (Solidarność), the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland between 1990 and 95.
Wałęsa was an electrician by trade, with no higher education. Soon after beginning work at the Gdańsk (then, “Lenin”) Shipyards, he became a trade-union activist. For this he was persecuted by the Polish communist government, placed under surveillance, fired in 1976, and arrested several times. In August 1980 he was instrumental in negotiations that led to the ground-breaking Gdańsk Agreement between striking workers and the government, and he became a co-founder of the Solidarity trade-union movement. Arrested again after martial law was imposed and Solidarity was outlawed, upon release he continued his activism and was prominent in the establishment of the 1989 Round Table Agreement that led to semi-free parliamentary elections in June 1989 and to a Solidarity-led government.
In 1990 he successfully ran for the 1989-newly re-established office of President of Poland. He presided over Poland’s transformation from a communist to a post-communist state, but his popularity waned. After he narrowly lost the 1995 presidential election, his role in Polish politics was diminished. His international fame remains, however, and he speaks and lectures in Poland and abroad on history and politics.