The First Noncommunist President of Poland Is Sworn-In – 12/22/1990

World History |

On this day in 1990, Polish famous labor leader and the winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize Lech Walesa is sworn-in as the first democratic president of Poland after the end of WWII. His triumph was another indication of the Soviet Union's declining power and the weakening strength of communism in Eastern Europe.

Walesa first became a force to be reckoned with in Poland in 1980 after he was elected the chairman of the labor union of the shipyard workers in Gdansk, during which the union's demands were met within three days. He helped in organizing other strikes in Gdansk and fought for allowing of free formation of trade unions and giving them the right to strike. His persistency made Poland's communist government agreed to the unions' right to exist, which marked the creation of the Solidarity movement and the national federation of all unions. Realizing that the new movement is becoming a threat to the communist government, authorities planned to eliminate them while forcing them to give in during the strike periods at times. 

In 1981, government banned Solidarity movement, arrested Walesa and detained him for 11 months in a remote hunting lodge towards the Soviet border. A year after his release from solitary confinement, Walesa was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize for his work in organizing Polish labor and protesting against the communist government in his country. However, Walesa declined to receive the award in Norway fearing that the government may send him to exile once again.

Right after he regained his freedom, Wales continued his unionism. Within few months, the Solidarity movement had quickly gained the support of the people. In 1989, the Polish government permitted solidarity movement members to contest in the coming elections and they won seats in the national parliament. In 1990, communist leader of Poland General Wojciech Jaruzelski, agreed to step down and allow a free election to take place. Walesa, who had initially withdrawn from politics decided to run for the president as the Solidarity candidate and won. His victory marked another slap on the face of Soviet power in East Europe and denoted the extinction of communism in Europe.

During his five years in office, Poland had a massive transformation in its growing free-market economy although Walesa was more of an effective union leader than a president and often receives criticism for his leadership style. However, he lost the reelection bid in 1995 and later disappeared from the public eye. In addition, in 2000, he again contested for the presidency but failed woefully because he did not win up to one percent of the vote.

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