Walesa elected president of Poland - HISTORY
Year
1990

Walesa elected president of Poland

In Poland, Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity trade union, wins a landslide election victory, becoming the first directly elected Polish leader.

Walesa, born in 1943, was an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk when he was fired for union agitation in 1976. When protests broke out in the Gdansk shipyard over an increase in food prices in August 1980, Walesa climbed the shipyard fence and joined the thousands of workers inside. He was elected leader of the strike committee, and three days later the strikers’ demands were met. Walesa then helped coordinate other strikes in Gdansk and demanded that the Polish government allow the free formation of trade unions and the right to strike. On August 30, the government conceded to the strikers’ demands, legalizing trade unionism and granting greater freedom of religious and political expression.

Millions of Polish workers and farmers came together to form unions, and Solidarity was formed as a national federation of unions, with Walesa as its chairman. Under Walesa’s charismatic leadership, the organization grew in size and political influence, soon becoming a major threat to the authority of the Polish government. On December 13, 1981, martial law was declared in Poland, Solidarity was outlawed, and Walesa and other labor leaders were arrested.

In November 1982, overwhelming public outcry forced Walesa’s release, but Solidarity remained illegal. In 1983, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Fearing involuntary exile, he declined to travel to Norway to accept the award. Walesa continued as leader of the now-underground Solidarity movement, and he was subjected to continual monitoring and harassment by the Communist authorities.

In 1988, deteriorating economic conditions led to a new wave of labor strikes across Poland, and the government was forced to negotiate with Walesa. In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized, and its members were allowed to enter a limited number of candidates in upcoming elections. By September, a Solidarity-led government coalition was in place, with Walesa’s colleague Tadeusz Mazowiecki as premier. In 1990, Poland’s first direct presidential election was held, and Walesa won by a landslide.

President Walesa successfully implemented free-market reforms, but unfortunately he was a far more effective labor leader than president. In 1995, he was narrowly defeated in his reelection by former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

John Birch Society founded

In Indianapolis, retired Boston candy manufacturer Robert H.W. Welch, Jr., establishes the John Birch Society, a right-wing organization dedicated to fighting what it perceives to be the extensive infiltration of communism into American society. Welch named the society in honor ...read more

Intifada begins on Gaza Strip

In the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, the first riots of the Palestinian intifada, or “shaking off” in Arabic, begin one day after an Israeli truck crashed into a station wagon carrying Palestinian workers in the Jabalya refugee district of Gaza, killing four and wounding 10. Gaza ...read more

U.S Marines storm Mogadishu, Somalia

On this day in 1992, 1,800 United States Marines arrive in Mogadishu, Somalia, to spearhead a multinational force aimed at restoring order in the conflict-ridden country.Following centuries of colonial rule by countries including Portugal, Britain and Italy, Mogadishu became the ...read more

Paris peace talks break down

For the first time since the Paris peace talks began in May 1968, both sides refuse to set another meeting date for continuation of the negotiations.The refusal to continue came during the 138th session of the peace talks. U.S. delegate William Porter angered the communist ...read more

Reds trade Frank Robinson to Orioles

On this day in 1965, the Cincinnati Reds trade outfielder Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, in exchange for the pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and the outfielder Dick Simpson. The trade is widely regarded as one of the worst in major league baseball history.In ...read more

Johnson discusses daughters

On this day in 1967, CBS broadcasts an interview with President Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, in which they spoke candidly about their daughters. The same day, their daughter Lynda Johnson was married at the White House.In the interview, recorded on December 8, Johnson, ...read more

The Texan Army captures San Antonio

Inspired by the spirited leadership of Benjamin Rush Milam, the newly created Texan Army takes possession of the city of San Antonio, an important victory for the Republic of Texas in its war for independence from Mexico.Milam was born in 1788 in Frankfort, Kentucky. He became a ...read more

Pacino stars in Scarface

The actor Al Pacino stars as a Cuban refugee who becomes a Miami crime boss in Scarface, which opens in theaters on this day in 1983.In Scarface, Pacino played Tony Montana, who arrives in Florida from Cuba in 1980 and eventually becomes wealthy from his involvement in the ...read more

Cold spell leads to tragedy in Iran

Unseasonably low temperatures in Tehran, Iran, lead to the deaths of at least 40 people on this day in 2003. Rarely do such large groups die at the same time.In general, death from freezing occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches 77 degrees Fahrenheit, a fact discovered ...read more

Policeman Daniel Faulkner found dead

Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner is found dead on the street with Mumia Abu-Jamal, a well-known activist and freelance journalist, lying severely wounded nearby. In 1982, Abu-Jamal was tried for and convicted of Faulkner’s murder, but because of the murky circumstances ...read more

Patriots gain control of Virginia

The Virginia and North Carolina militias defeat 800 slaves and 200 redcoats serving John Murray, earl of Dunmore and governor of Virginia, at Great Bridge outside Norfolk, ending British royal control of Virginia. The Tory survivors retreated first to Norfolk then to Dunmore’s ...read more