AFS2024 Speakers

Lech Wałęsa

Former President of Poland and Nobel Prize for Peace

Lech Wałęsa was born in Popowo, Poland, in 1943. First mention about his activity in the anti-communist opposition originates from 1968, as he was an outspoken critic of the Gdansk shipyard management. He played a key role in public affairs, taking part in the work of an Interfactory Strike Committee and engaging himself in free trade unions activities to educate labourers on their rights. On 31 August 1980, he negotiated the Gdansk Agreement, which gave the workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union. Following this victory, he co-formed and led the first independent and oppositional social movement in the Soviet bloc, ‘Solidarność’ (Solidarity). In 1981, the Polish government imposed martial law, Solidarity was outlawed, alleging that this was the only way of preventing a Soviet invasion, and most of the leaders of Solidarity were arrested, including Wałęsa, who was detained for nearly a year. 

His unyielding efforts and courage were recognised by the global community in 1983, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, regarding his campaign for “non-violent struggle for free trade unions and human rights in Poland”. In 1990, Wałęsa became the first elected president of Poland. This way, he presided over Poland’s transformation from a communist to a post-communist state and strongly supported Poland’s accession to NATO and the European Union. 

Since the end of his presidency in 1995, he has founded a think-tank - the Lech Wałęsa Institute - to support the development of local governments in Poland and of democracy throughout the world. He also has honoris causa degree at 38 foreign universities and honorary citizenship of 35 cities around the world, as he lectures on Central European history and politics at various universities and organisations, educating young generations, calling for a world based on universal values, and promoting ways of peaceful cooperation between the nations in the 21st century.

Picture: "Lech Walesa" by MEDEF

Lech Wałęsa