"I had conversations with all the powerful people of the world: with presidents, with prime ministers, chancellors and kings, too. None of them believed that there was any chance of us toppling communism before the year 2000. I didn't meet a single person among those people who would believe that was possible. Not a single one in the whole world."
In the 1970s, Lech Walesa was an electrician at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. He was fired for his outspoken criticism of the Communist government, but when his old co-workers went on strike in 1980, Walesa scaled the shipyard fence to join them. The courage exemplified by this act of defiance inspired the workers to hold out until they had won recognition for Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Eastern Bloc.
When Walesa received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983, the Nobel committee saluted "the power of victory which abides in one person's belief, in his vision and in his courage to follow his call."
As the Polish people's demands for freedom grew louder, the government declared martial law and tried to outlaw Solidarity, but the genie was out of the bottle. After another Gdansk strike in 1988, free elections were held, and Solidarity emerged triumphant. In 1990 Lech Walesa, the former shipyard electrician, was elected President of Poland, an office he held for the next five years.
Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the past century. Lech Walesa's courage helped bring about the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc and the end of the Cold War.