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Lech Walesa, Poland’s First Democratically-Elected President, To Speak At Ramapo College

(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)September 10, 2001

(Mahwah) – Lech Walesa, the first democratically-elected president of Poland, will present a public lecture at Ramapo College of New Jersey Wednesday, October 3 at 4 p.m. in the gym. “Democracy: The Never Ending Battle” will be his topic.

In 1978, Walesa, who had long been active in the underground labor movement, began organizing free non-communist trade unions. He was kept under surveillance by the state security service and was frequently detained. He first burst onto the world stage in 1980 during the Lenin Shipyard strike in Gdansk, Poland. Workers, incensed by an increase in prices set by the communist government, demanded the right to organize free and independent trade unions. Walesa, an electrician, arrived at the barricaded shipyard, scaled the shipyard walls and delivered a stirring speech from atop a bulldozer. The Gdansk shipyard strike gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country, with Walesa seen as the leader. Christened “Solidarity,” the strike became a social revolution. Walesa entered into negotiations with the government that resulted in the Gadansk Agreement, granting legal recognition to Solidarity and giving workers the right to form independent unions and to strike.

For his heroic efforts, Walesa was named Man of the Year by Time magazine, The Financial Times, The London Observer, Die Welt, Die Zeit, L’Express, and Le Soir. Over the next 18 months, however, relations between Solidarity and the government became progressively worse until, on December 31, 1981, the Polish government declared martial law. It suspended the activities of all unions and arrested thousands of Solidarity members, including Walesa. In the fall of 1982, the government officially outlawed Solidarity.

Walesa was released that same fall. Under his leadership, Solidarity continued to exist as an underground organization. Celebrated worldwide as a symbol of the hope for freedom, Walsea was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Over the next five years, the country became marked more and more by chaos and labor unrest. Acknowledging that it could no longer control the country, the government re-legalized Solidarity and invited it to join the Communist Party in forming a coalition government. In the resulting election, Solidarity won almost every vote.

Walesa’s leadership effectively ended communist rule and planted the seeds of freedom and democracy. On December 9, 1990, Walesa became Poland’s first democratically elected president, winning more than 74 percent of the votes cast. He served until defeated in the election of November 1995. He now heads the Lech Walesa Institute whose aim is to advance the ideals of democracy and free market reform throughout Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.

This lecture is in conjunction with Ramapo’s 2001 Convocation and is in celebration of the College’s 30th anniversary.


About Ramapo College

Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The comprehensive college is situated among the beautiful Ramapo Mountains, is within commuting distance to New York City, was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and boasts the best on-campus housing in New Jersey per Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Business Administration, Contemporary Instructional Design, Computer Science, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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