An exhibit highlighting the life and accomplishments of former Polish President Lech Wa%u0142%u0119sa, who helped lead his country to a new era of freedom and became the first democratically elected leader in Polish postwar history, may now be viewed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. The exhibit will be in place through March 5.
Walesa is the recipient of the 2012 Lincoln Leadership Award from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.
The exhibit features graphics, video, text, and several artifacts concerning Wa%u0142%u0119sa’s journey from work in the massive Lenin shipyard at Gdansk, Poland to the first democratically elected President in Poland’s postwar history was an arduous one. Working as an electrician in the shipyards in the early 1970s, he witnessed violent government crackdowns ordered by Poland’s Communist Party leadership against its own citizens. Wa%u0142%u0119sa decided to take action and became recognized as a labor leader and activist, but was dismissed from the shipyard in 1976 for his anti-communist rhetoric.
Four years later, when rising food costs led to a general strike inside the Gdansk shipyard, Wa%u0142%u0119sa scaled a fence and rejoined his fellow workers, and was quickly appointed their leader. The strike, which was soon joined by thousands of workers from across the country, forced the Polish government to agree to significant labor reforms. For his leadership, Wa%u0142%u0119sa was elected the first Solidarity Chairman at the First National Solidarity Congress in Gdansk.
These victories, however, were short-lived as the Communist government quickly reasserted its authority across the nation and Wa%u0142%u0119sa was imprisoned for 18 months for his activities. After his release in the fall of 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle to win workers’ rights in Poland.
Over the next seven years, a deteriorating economy and a reduced Soviet military presence forced the Polish Communist government to negotiate with Wa%u0142%u0119sa and his Solidarity brethren. In 1990 he became the first democratically elected President of postwar Poland and helped to usher the country into the modern era by laying the foundation for Poland’s eventual admission into NATO, and, as a free nation, into the United Nations. He served as President through 1995.