5 key figures of Poland's shift to democracy

2014-06-03 13:02
Pope John Paul II. (File, AP)

Pope John Paul II. (File, AP)

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Warsaw - Poland's Solidarity movement played a central role in the drama of ousting communism from Europe and in the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Here are five figures in Poland's transition from communism to democracy, as the nation celebrates 25 years since the 4 June 1989 parliamentary elections that made the transformation possible.

Lech Walesa

Solidarity leader. Nobel peace laureate. First popularly elected president of newly democratic Poland. Walesa's heroic journey began when he was fired from the Gdansk Shipyard for worker rights activity. He returned to join a 1980 strike and became Solidarity's charismatic leader.

Poland's communist leadership imposed martial law, temporarily crushing Solidarity. That only galvanised Polish support for the movement. In 1988, Walesa led a new wave of strikes that brought the communists to the negotiating table. The resulting 4 June, 1989, partly free elections were a landslide for Solidarity, which formed a government. Walesa was elected president in 1990 for a five-year term.

Pope John Paul II

From his balcony on St. Peter's Square, John Paul II became the spiritual heart of the Solidarity movement. Elected pope in 1978, his visit to his native Poland the following year rallied millions to open-air Masses, making the Poles realise they could unite in a huge, like-minded democratic force, with the pope's words suggesting that Poland should change inspired the Solidarity movement.

He was made a saint on 27 April, nine years after his death.

Adam Michnik

Michnik was the intellectual force behind Solidarity. The historian spent five years in communist prisons in the 1980s. He served as adviser to Walesa in Solidarity and took part in the "Round Table" talks that led to the elections being marked this week. He has been the editor of the influential "Gazeta Wyborcza" newspaper since its May 1989 first issue. The paper was born of a desire to provide unbiased information to voters in the 4 June elections.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki

The intellectual Mazowiecki was Walesa's adviser during and after the 1980 and 1988 strikes. He was detained under martial law for one year. Mazowiecki was a major figure in the power-sharing talks with the communists in 1989. He was democratic Poland's first prime minister from 1989-1990. He died in November, aged 86.

General Wojciech Jaruzelski

Poland's last communist leader was Solidarity's chief adversary. He maintained that his imposition of martial law in 1981 prevented a Soviet invasion. Some 100 people lost their lives under the clampdown, a loss he said he deeply deplored. Jaruzelski was indicted for imposing martial law, but courtroom red tape and his own ill health stalled the trial. He died in a hospital on 25 May, at age 90, following a stroke.

Read more on:    pope john paul ii  |  poland
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