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)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

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

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.