Monday, Feb. 6, 2012
Feb. 6, 1989 Poland’s besieged communist leadership first sits down with trade union Solidarity and other opposition groups to begin the Roundtable Talks—an attempt to resolve the strikes, a failing economy, and growing social unrest that are threatening to explode. Solidarity is forged in 1980 at the Gdansk Shipyards under Lech Walesa, and quickly grows into a mass workers movement—the first noncommunist controlled union behind the Iron Curtain. Over the next decade, Poland experiences martial law, waves of strikes and repression. By early 1989, Walesa and Internal Affairs Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak co-chair the Roundtable Talks in an attempt to negotiate a way out of the crisis. The meetings produce an agreement to hold partially open elections. Solidarity-backed candidates win virtually every open seat. By December 1990, Walesa wins Poland’s first democratic elections for president. The events in Poland ultimately trigger the fall of communism in the entire Soviet bloc.
On Thursday, Lech Walesa will receive the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation prize in Chicago for his devotion to “individual equality, reform, and democracy.” Famed Polish director Andrzej Wajda is also currently filming a big-budget film depicting the ex-Solidarity leader, ex-president’s life. However, despite the honors and accolades, Walesa is not without his controversy. There are some in Poland who believe he was either co-opted by or collaborated with the communists allowing them to retain too much power and privilege, although they agreed to relinquish political power. But for others he remains a national hero of the highest esteem that helped free Poland, and the rest of the Soviet Union from communism.