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Domino Man: Lech Walesa At 70

Poland's Lech Walesa, the driving force behind the Solidarity labor movement, is credited with sparking the domino-like collapse of Communist governments across Eastern Europe. He went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and served as Poland's second post-Communist president. But his rough manners and conservative views have left Walesa, who turns 70 on September 29, with a complicated legacy.

Lech Walesa (left), an electrician and underground union activist, addressing striking workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland on August 8, 1980.
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Lech Walesa (left), an electrician and underground union activist, addressing striking workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland on August 8, 1980.

Walesa updating striking Gdansk shipmakers on the progress of negotiations between the strike committee and representatives of Poland's Communist government on August 30, 1980.
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Walesa updating striking Gdansk shipmakers on the progress of negotiations between the strike committee and representatives of Poland's Communist government on August 30, 1980.

By August 31, 1980, Walesa had struck a deal with Communist officials granting workers the right to strike and formalizing Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. Walesa announced the agreement to Solidarity and Communist Party members at the Gdansk shipyard.
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By August 31, 1980, Walesa had struck a deal with Communist officials granting workers the right to strike and formalizing Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. Walesa announced the agreement to Solidarity and Communist Party members at the Gdansk shipyard.

Polish-born Pope John Paul II proved a powerful ally for Walesa and the Solidarity movement after the Communists imposed martial law in December 1981, sending Solidarity back underground and Walesa, briefly, to prison. Here, the two men embrace during a visit by the pope to Gdansk on June 11, 1987.
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Polish-born Pope John Paul II proved a powerful ally for Walesa and the Solidarity movement after the Communists imposed martial law in December 1981, sending Solidarity back underground and Walesa, briefly, to prison. Here, the two men embrace during a visit by the pope to Gdansk on June 11, 1987.

On February 6, 1989, Communist officials launched the so-called Round Table Talks in Warsaw with Walesa's Solidarity and other opposition groups. Poland's Communists had hoped to bring opposition leaders into the fold without changing the political power structure. They failed, however. The Polish Round Table Agreement, signed on April 4, 1989, legalized independent trade unions and laid the way for a democratic government. The agreement is seen as lending momentum to the string of 1989 revolutions leading to the fall of the Communist bloc.
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On February 6, 1989, Communist officials launched the so-called Round Table Talks in Warsaw with Walesa's Solidarity and other opposition groups. Poland's Communists had hoped to bring opposition leaders into the fold without changing the political power structure. They failed, however. The Polish Round Table Agreement, signed on April 4, 1989, legalized independent trade unions and laid the way for a democratic government. The agreement is seen as lending momentum to the string of 1989 revolutions leading to the fall of the Communist bloc.

Walesa updates supporters on the Round Table Talks on March 12, 1989. Three months later, Solidarity would sweep elections for Poland's newly created bicameral parliament.
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Walesa updates supporters on the Round Table Talks on March 12, 1989. Three months later, Solidarity would sweep elections for Poland's newly created bicameral parliament.

Walesa looks on as Bronislaw Geremek, a Polish academic who played a key role in the Round Table Agreement, raises his hand during the inaugural session of the Polish parliament's first multiparty session in history, on July 4, 1989. Geremek was a member of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, and went on to serve as foreign minister from 1997-2000.
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Walesa looks on as Bronislaw Geremek, a Polish academic who played a key role in the Round Table Agreement, raises his hand during the inaugural session of the Polish parliament's first multiparty session in history, on July 4, 1989. Geremek was a member of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, and went on to serve as foreign minister from 1997-2000.

Walesa addresses a crowd at the Three Crosses, a monument at the Gdansk Shipyard honoring more than 40 workers killed during a 1970 uprising, on the ninth anniversary of the Gdansk agreement on August 31, 1989.
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Walesa addresses a crowd at the Three Crosses, a monument at the Gdansk Shipyard honoring more than 40 workers killed during a 1970 uprising, on the ninth anniversary of the Gdansk agreement on August 31, 1989.

Walesa and Czech President Vaclav Havel bantering in a Warsaw pub in March 1998. The men, both former smokers, reportedly shared stories about how they each gave up the habit.
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Walesa and Czech President Vaclav Havel bantering in a Warsaw pub in March 1998. The men, both former smokers, reportedly shared stories about how they each gave up the habit.

Walesa posing in front of a symbolic Berlin Wall domino stone in the German capital, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 2009.
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Walesa posing in front of a symbolic Berlin Wall domino stone in the German capital, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 2009.

Walesa, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, joined fellow laureates Mikhail Gorbachev, Frederik Willem de Klerk, and Jimmy Carter at a panel discussion in Chicago, Illinois, in April 2012.
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Walesa, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, joined fellow laureates Mikhail Gorbachev, Frederik Willem de Klerk, and Jimmy Carter at a panel discussion in Chicago, Illinois, in April 2012.

Walesa talks with film director Andrzej Wajda during a ceremony at Warsaw's Royal Castle on June 4, 2013. Wajda is the director of "Walesa: The Man Of Hope," a controversial new biopic about Walesa's life and political career.
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Walesa talks with film director Andrzej Wajda during a ceremony at Warsaw's Royal Castle on June 4, 2013. Wajda is the director of "Walesa: The Man Of Hope," a controversial new biopic about Walesa's life and political career.

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