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Lech Wałęsa is a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1983) and the first president of Poland, serving from 1990-1995. Wałęsa was the co-founder and leader of the Solidarity movement that led to the first democratic elections in Poland in 1989, the fall of communism in Poland, and helped lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. At its height, Solidarity had over 10 million members. Wałęsa was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 1981 and was included in Time Magazine’s 100 most important people of the 20th century. Wałęsa holds over 40 honorary degrees, including from Harvard, Columbia, and the Sorbonne. He is the recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Knight Grand Cross of the British Order of the Bath, and the French Grand Cross of Legion of Honour. In 1989, Wałęsa became the first foreign non-head of state to address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. Wałęsa was the first democratically elected leader of Poland since 1926 and the first ever Polish leader elected by popular vote. He presided over Poland’s transition from communism to free-market capitalism and liberal democracy.
This event is presented by the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia with support from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the Weiser Diplomacy Center, U-M Democracy & Debate 2022-23, the International Institute, U-M Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and the Copernicus Center for Polish Studies.