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Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa, (1943— ). Polish trade-union leader and politician; president (1990-95). Walesa worked as an electrician in the Gdansk shipyards from 1966. After being sacked for his defence of workers’ rights in 1976, he became involved in various dissident activities. In 1980, as strikes and protests spread throughout Poland, Walesa emerged at the head of the movement for change and forced a series of concessions from the government. He was appointed chairman of a new in dependent trade union, Solidarity, later that year. In 1981, however, the government imposed martial law, banned Solidarity, and imprisoned Walesa. He was released in 1982 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. In 1988 a new wave of protests led the government of General Jaruzelski to open talks with Walesa and other Solidarity leaders. Partially free elections in 1989 resulted in a sweeping victory for Solidarity and Walesa was elected president of Poland the following year. Although he remained a popular hero to many, his period in office Was beset by continuing political and economic instability. In 1995 he was surprisingly defeated in presidential elections by Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist.

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