2012 Lincoln Leadership Price Recipient
Former Polish President Lech Wałęsa helped lead his country to a new era of freedom and became the first democratically elected leader in Polish postwar history. Working as an electrician in the shipyards in the early 1970s, he witnessed violent government crackdowns ordered by Poland's Communist Party leadership against its own citizens. Wałęsa became a labor leader and activist; and with thousands of workers from across the country forced the Polish government to agree to significant labor reforms. The victory was short-lived as the Communist government quickly reasserted its authority across Poland and Wałęsa was imprisoned for 18 months for his activities.
Over the next seven years, a deteriorating economy and a reduced Soviet military presence forced the Polish Communist government to negotiate with Wałęsa and his Solidarity brethren. In 1990 he became the first democratically elected President of postwar Poland and helped to user the country into the modern era by laying the foundation for Poland's eventual admission into NATO, and, as a free nation, into the United Nations.