Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland, will discuss the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and his country’s struggles against communism as the Varner Vitality Lecture keynote speaker at Oakland University in Rochester Hills on Friday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
The event, during which Walesa also will answer questions from the audience, free and open to the public.
“Bringing in Lech Walesa to OU’s campus continues a strong tradition of great Varner Vitality Series speakers,” says James Lentini senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “His perspective on the fall of the Berlin Wall, and sharing stories of his personal struggles, should remind us all of the freedoms and liberties we sometimes take for granted in our country.”
Walesa is an electrician turned politician, trade-union organizer, philanthropist, and human-rights activist. He co-founded Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as president of Poland from 1990 to 1995.
He rose to prominence in 1980 during the Lenin Shipyard strike in Gdansk, Poland. Workers, angered by an increase in prices set by the Communist government, were demanding the right to organize free and independent trade unions. Those strikes significantly improved workers’ rights. In September 1981, he was elected Solidarity chairman at the First National Solidarity Congress in Gdansk. For those efforts, he was named Man of the Year by Time magazine.
The country’s brief enjoyment of relative freedom ended in December 1981, when the government imposed martial law, “suspended” Solidarity, arrested many of its leaders, and interned Walesa in a country house in a remote area. In November 1982, Walesa was released and reinstated at the Gdansk shipyards. Although kept under surveillance, he maintained lively contact with Solidarity leaders in the underground.
At Solidarity’s second national congress in 1990, Walesa was elected chairman with more than 74 percent of the votes. On the general ballot, he was elected president of the Republic of Poland. He served until defeated in the election of 1995. Under his leadership, he made Poland a model of economic and political reform for the rest of Eastern Europe to follow, earning his country one of the first invitations to join an expanded NATO.
Register to attend the Walesa lecture here. For more information on the series, call (248) 370-2190.