In Aramoana, New Zealand, David Gray shoots dead 13 people in a massacre before being tracked down and killed by police the next day.
Cold War: Checkpoint Charlie is dismantled in Berlin.
East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and maneuvered to get the Soviet Union's permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop emigration and defection westward through the Border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from East Berlin into West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.
After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin.
Emigration restrictions, the Inner German border and Berlin
By the early 1950s, the Soviet method of restricting emigration was emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc, including East Germany. However, in occupied Germany, until 1952, the lines between East Germany and the western occupied zones remained easily crossed in most places. Subsequently, the inner German border between the two German states was closed and a barbed-wire fence erected.
Even after closing of the inner German border officially in 1952, the city sector border in between East Berlin and West Berlin remained considerably more accessible than the rest of the border because it was administered by all four occupying powers. Accordingly, Berlin became the main route by which East Germans left for the West. Hence the Berlin sector border was essentially a "loophole" through which Eastern Bloc citizens could still escape.
The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totaled approximately 20% of the entire East German population. The emigrants tended to be young and well educated. The loss was disproportionately great among professionals — engineers, technicians, physicians, teachers, lawyers and skilled workers.
Berlin Wall constructed
The brain drain of professionals had become so damaging to the political credibility and economic viability of East Germany that the resecuring of the Soviet imperial frontier was imperative. Between 1949 and 1961, over 2½ million East Germans fled to the West. The numbers increased during the three years before the Berlin Wall was erected, with 144,000 in 1959, 199,000 in 1960 and 207,000 in the first seven months of 1961 alone. The East German economy suffered accordingly.
On 13 August 1961, a barbed-wire barrier that would become the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin was erected by the East Germans. Two days later, police and army engineers began to construct a more permanent concrete wall. Along with the wall, the 830-mile (1336 km) zonal border became 3.5 miles (5.6 km) wide on its East German side in some parts of Germany with a tall steel-mesh fence running along a "death strip" bordered by mines, as well as channels of ploughed earth, to slow escapees and more easily reveal their footprints.
Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point in the Berlin Wall located at the junction of Friedrichstraße with Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße (which for older historical reasons coincidentally means 'Wall Street'). It is in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood. Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point (on foot or by car) for foreigners and members of the Allied forces. (Members of the Allied forces were not allowed to use the other sector crossing point designated for use by foreigners, the Friedrichstraße railway station).
The name Charlie came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn from the West: Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and its counterpart Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, Wannsee in the south-west corner of Berlin. The Soviets simply called it the Friedrichstraße Crossing Point (КПП Фридрихштрассе, KPP Fridrikhshtrasse). The East Germans referred officially to Checkpoint Charlie as the Grenzübergangsstelle ("Border Crossing Point") Friedrich-/Zimmerstraße.
As the most visible Berlin Wall checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie was featured in movies and books. A famous cafe and viewing place for Allied officials, armed forces and visitors alike, Cafe Adler ("Eagle Café"), is situated right on the checkpoint. It was an excellent viewing point to look into East Berlin while having something to eat and drink.
The checkpoint was curiously asymmetrical. During its 28-year active life, the infrastructure on the Eastern side was expanded to include not only the wall, watchtower and zig-zag barriers, but a multi-lane shed where cars and their occupants were checked. However, the Allied authority never erected any permanent buildings, and made do with the well-known wooden shed, which was replaced during the 1980s by a larger metal structure, now displayed at the Allied Museum in western Berlin. Their reason was that they did not consider the inner Berlin sector boundary an international border and did not treat it as such.
Stand-off between Soviet and U.S. tanks in October 1961
Soon after the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, a stand-off occurred between US and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on 22 October as a dispute over whether East German border guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a US diplomat based in West Berlin named Allan Lightner heading to East Berlin to watch an opera show there, since according to the agreement between all four Allied powers occupying Germany, there was to be free movement for Allied forces in Berlin and that no German military forces from either West Germany or East Germany were to be based in the city, and moreover the USA did not (initially) recognise the East German state and its right to remain in its self-declared capital of East Berlin. Instead, the Americans only recognised the authority of the Soviets over East Berlin rather than their East German allies. By 27 October, ten Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 yards apart on either side of the checkpoint. This stand-off ended peacefully on 28 October following a US-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks and reduce tensions. Discussions between US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and KGB spy Georgi Bolshakov played a vital role in realizing this tacit agreement.
The Berlin Wall was erected with great speed by the East German government in 1961, but there were many means of escape that had not been anticipated. For example, Checkpoint Charlie was initially blocked only by a gate, and a citizen of the DDR (East Germany) smashed a car through it to escape, so a strong pole was erected. Another escapee approached the barrier in a convertible, the windscreen removed prior to the event, and slipped under the barrier. This was repeated two weeks later, so the East Germans duly lowered the barrier and added uprights.
Death of Peter Fechter
On 17 August 1962, a teenaged East German, Peter Fechter, was shot in the pelvis by East German guards while trying to escape from East Berlin. His body lay tangled in a barbed wire fence as he bled to death in full view of the world's media. American soldiers could not rescue him because he was a few metres inside the Soviet sector. East German border guards were reluctant to approach him for fear of provoking Western soldiers, one of whom had shot an East German border guard just days earlier. More than an hour later, Fechter's body was removed by the East German guards. A spontaneous demonstration formed on the American side of the checkpoint, protesting against the action of the East and the inaction of the West.
A few days later, a crowd threw stones at Soviet buses driving towards the Soviet War Memorial, located in the Tiergarten in the British sector; the Soviets tried to escort the buses with armoured personnel carriers (APCs). Thereafter, the Soviets were only allowed to cross via the Sandkrug Bridge crossing (which was the nearest to Tiergarten) and were prohibited from bringing APCs. Western units were deployed in the middle of the night in early September with live armaments and vehicles, in order to enforce the ban.
Today: Tourist and memorial site
Although the wall was opened in November 1989 and the checkpoint booth removed on 22 June 1990, the checkpoint remained an official crossing for foreigners and diplomats until German reunification during October 1990.
Checkpoint Charlie has since become one of Berlin's primary tourist attractions, where some original remnants of the border crossing blend with reconstructed parts, memorial and tourist facilities.
The guard house on the American side was removed in 1990; it is now on display in the open-air museum of the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf. A copy of the guard house and the sign that once marked the border crossing was reconstructed later on roughly the same site. It resembles the first guard house erected during 1961, behind a sandbag barrier toward the border. Over the years this had been replaced several times by guard houses of different sizes and layouts (see photographs). The one removed during 1990 was considerably larger than the first one and did not have sandbags. Tourists used to be able to have their photographs taken for a fee with actors dressed as allied military policemen standing in front of the guard house but Berlin authorities banned the practice in November 2019 stating the actors had been exploiting tourists by demanding money for photos at the attraction.
The course of the former wall and border is now marked in the street with a line of cobblestones. An open-air exhibit was opened during the summer of 2006. Gallery walls along Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße give information about escape attempts, how the checkpoint was expanded, and its significance during the Cold War, in particular the confrontation of Soviet and American tanks in 1961. Also an overview of other important memorial sites and museums about the division of Germany and the wall is presented.
Developers demolished the East German checkpoint watchtower in 2000, to make way for offices and shops. The watchtower was the last surviving major original Checkpoint Charlie structure. The city tried to save the tower but failed, as it was not classified as a historic landmark. Yet, that development project was never realised. To this day, the area between Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße/Schützenstraße (the East German side of the border crossing) remains vacant, providing space for a number of temporary tourist and memorial uses. New plans since 2017 for a hotel on the site stirred a professional and political debate about an appropriate development of the area. After the final listing of the site as a protected heritage area in 2018, plans were changed towards a more heritage-friendly approach.
BlackBox Cold War Exhibition
The “BlackBox Cold War” exhibition has illuminated the division of Germany and Berlin since 2012. The free open-air exhibit offers original Berlin Wall segments and information about the historic site. However, the indoor exhibit illustrates Berlin's contemporary history with 16 media stations, a movie theater and original objects and documents (entrance fee required). It is run by the NGO Berliner Forum fuer Geschichte und Gegenwart e.V..
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Near the location of the guard house is the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. The "Mauermuseum - Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie" was opened on 14 June 1963 in the immediate vicinity of the Berlin Wall. It shows photographs and fragments of the separation of Germany. The border fortifications and the "assistance of the protecting powers" are illustrated. In addition to photos and documentation of successful escape attempts, the exhibition also showcases escape devices including a hot-air balloon, escape cars, chair lifts, and a mini-submarine.
The museum is operated by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft 13. August e. V., a registered association founded by Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt. The director is Alexandra Hildebrandt, the founder's widow. The museum is housed in part in the "House at Checkpoint Charlie" building by architect Peter Eisenman.
With 850,000 visitors in 2007, the Wall Museum is one of the most visited museums in Berlin and in Germany.
In popular culture
Checkpoint Charlie figures in numerous Cold War-era espionage and political novels and films. Some examples:
In the movie Bridge of Spies, imprisoned American student Frederic Pryor is released at Checkpoint Charlie as part of a deal to trade Pryor and U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for convicted Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Pryor's release happens offscreen while the trade of Powers for Abel takes place at Glienicke Bridge.
- Dowty 1989, p. 114
- Dowty 1989, p. 121
- Harrison 2003, p. 99
- Maddrell, Paul (2006). Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945–1961. Oxford University Press. pp. 56.
- Dowty 1989, p. 122
- Thackeray 2004, p. 188
- Pearson 1998, p. 75
- Gedmin, Jeffrey (1992). "The Dilemma of Legitimacy". The hidden hand: Gorbachev and the collapse of East Germany. AEI studies. 554. American Enterprise Institute. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-8447-3794-2.
- Dowty 1989, p. 123
- Dowty 1989, p. 124
- Black et al. 2000, p. 141
- Blau, Christine. "Insider's Guide to Cold War Berlin". National Geographic. Retrieved 2 November 2018.
- Kempe, Frederick (2011). Berlin 1961. Penguin Group (USA). pp. 478–479. ISBN 978-0-399-15729-5.
- Dearden, Lizzie (7 November 2014). "Berlin Wall: What You Need To Know About the Barrier That Divided East and West". The Independent. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
- "June 22, 1990: Checkpoint Charlie Closes". ABC News. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
- "Allied Museum Berlin". Archived from the original on 21 June 2008.
- New York Times. "At Checkpoint Charlie, Cold War History Confronts Crass Commercialism". Retrieved 11 February 2019.
- "Black Box Cold War". www.berlin.de. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
- "Berlin Council Targets 'Checkpoint Charlie' Memorial".
- "Museen in Berlin: Die Top Ten - 4. Platz 4: Mauermuseum - Haus am Checkpoint Charly". www.berlin.de. 4 July 2014.
- "Bond's Border Crossing (Checkpoint Charlie) - James Bond Locations". www.jamesbondmm.co.uk.
- Black, Cyril E.; English, Robert D.; Helmreich, Jonathan E.; McAdams, James A. (2000), Rebirth: A Political History of Europe since World War II, Westview Press, ISBN 0-8133-3664-3
- Dowty, Alan (1989), Closed Borders: The Contemporary Assault on Freedom of Movement, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-04498-4
- Dowty, Alan (1988), "The Assault on Freedom of Emigration", World Affairs, 151 (2)
- Harrison, Hope Millard (2003), Driving the Soviets Up the Wall: Soviet-East German Relations, 1953–1961, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-09678-3
- Pearson, Raymond (1998), The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, Macmillan, ISBN 0-312-17407-1
- Thackeray, Frank W. (2004), Events that changed Germany, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0-313-32814-5
|Tanks at 1961 checkpoint|
|Western Allies Berlin website images|
|Virtual e-Tour (Shockwave Player required)|
|The short film "Berlin Documentary (1961)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive|
|The short film "U.S. Army In Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie (1962)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive|
Approximately 200,000 protesters take to the streets of London to protest against the newly introduced Poll Tax.
Scenes from the day of the event
|Date||31 March 1990|
|Location||Trafalgar Square, London|
The poll tax riots were a series of riots in British towns and cities during protests against the Community Charge (colloquially known as the "poll tax"), introduced by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The largest protest occurred in central London on Saturday 31 March 1990, shortly before the tax was due to come into force in England and Wales.
The advent of the poll tax was due to an effort to alter the way the tax system was used to fund local government in the UK. The system in place until this time was called "rates" and had been in place in some form from the beginning of the 17th century. The rates system has been described as "a levy on property, which in modern times saw each taxpayer paying a rate based on the estimated rental value of their home".
The Thatcher government had long promised to replace domestic rates, which were unpopular, especially among Conservative voters. They were seen by many as an unfair way of raising revenue for local councils. It was levied on houses rather than people.
The proposed replacement was a flat-rate per capita Community Charge—"a head tax that saw every adult pay a fixed rate amount set by their local authority". The new Charge was widely called a "poll tax" and was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales a year later. The Charge proved extremely unpopular; while students and the registered unemployed had to pay 20%, some large families occupying relatively small houses saw their charges go up considerably, and the tax was thus accused of saving the rich money and moving the expenses onto the poor.
In November 1989 the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation was set up by the Militant tendency. Other groups such as the 3D (Don't Register, Don't Pay, Don't Collect) network provided national coordination for anti-poll tax unions who were not aligned to particular political factions. The All Britain Federation called a demonstration in London for 31 March 1990 which all of the major networks organised for. Three days before the event, organisers realised the march would be larger than 60,000 (the capacity of Trafalgar Square) and asked permission from the MPS and the Department of the Environment to divert the march to Hyde Park. The request was denied on the basis that the policing had been arranged for Trafalgar Square and there was no time to re-plan it. A building site on Trafalgar Square with easily accessible supplies of bricks and scaffolding was left largely unsecured while the police set up their centre of operations on the other side of the square.
Events of the day
On 31 March 1990, people began gathering in Kennington Park from noon. Turnout was encouraged by fine weather, and between 180,000 and 250,000 arrived. The police report, a year after the riot, estimated the crowd at 200,000. An abandoned rally by the Labour Party may also have contributed to the number of protesters. The march began at Kennington Park at 1:30 pm, moving faster than planned because some of the crowd had forced open the gates of the park, presumably in order to avoid being forced through smaller gates. This split the march over both sides of the road, and protesters continued in much the same way for the rest of the route.
By 2:30 pm, Trafalgar Square was nearing its capacity. Unable to continue moving easily into Trafalgar Square, at about 3 pm the march stopped in Whitehall. The police, worried about a surge towards the new security gates of Downing Street, blocked the top and bottom of Whitehall, and lined the pavement refusing to let people leave the road. Additional police units were dispatched to reinforce the officers manning the barrier blocking the Downing Street side of Whitehall. The section of the march which stopped opposite Downing Street reportedly contained veteran anarchists and a group called "Bikers Against The Poll Tax", some of whom became aggravated by reportedly heavy-handed arrests, including one of a man in a wheelchair.
Mounted riot police were brought in behind this immobilised section of the march, in theory to clear the protesters from Whitehall, despite both retreat and advance being blocked by further lines of police. Meanwhile, the tail-end had been diverted at the Parliament Square end of Whitehall, and the anarchists it had attracted were at the head of an unpoliced portion of the march. These people walked to Richmond Terrace, bringing the diverted march into Whitehall, opposite Downing Street and behind the police lines on that side of Whitehall. The protesters at the rear of the stationary group, being faced by mounted police seemingly preparing to charge, sat down on the road for safety. Despite black-clothed and scarf-masked people running through seemingly from behind the police lines and urging them up, they remained seated until physically dragged away and arrested for "obstructing Whitehall". The mounted police then advanced at speed, forcing the Whitehall section of the march to fight its way into Trafalgar Square.
From 4 pm, with the rally nearly officially over, contradictory reports began to arise. According to some sources, mounted riot police (officially used in an attempt to clear Whitehall of protesters) charged out of a side street into the crowd in Trafalgar Square. Whether intentional or not, this was interpreted by the crowd as a provocation, fueling anger in the Square where the police had already been pushing sections of crowd back into corners, leaving no way out except through the police. At 4:30 pm, four shielded police riot vans drove into the crowd (a tactic in dealing with mass demonstrations at the time) outside the South African Embassy, attempting to force through to the entrance to Whitehall where police were re-grouping. The crowd attacked the vans with wooden staves and scaffolding poles. Soon after, rioting began to escalate.
By 4:30 pm police had closed the main Underground stations in the area and southern exits of Trafalgar Square, making it difficult for people to disperse. Coaches had been parked south of the river, so many marchers tried to move south. At this point, Militant Fed stewards were withdrawn on police orders. Sections of the crowd, including unemployed coal miners, climbed scaffolding and rained debris on the police below. At 5 pm, builders' cabins below the scaffolding caught fire, followed by a room in the South African Embassy on the other side of the Square. The smoke from the fires caused near darkness in the Square and produced a 20-minute lull in rioting.
Between 6 and 7 pm, the police opened the southern exits of the Square and slowly moved people out of Trafalgar Square. A large section of the crowd was moved back down Northumberland Avenue and allowed over the River Thames in order to return to their organised transport. Two other sections of demonstrators, now very angry and aggravated, were pushed north into the wealthy shopping streets of West End, which suffered reported theft and vandalism. Published accounts detail shop windows being broken, goods looted, and cars being overturned in Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Charing Cross Road, and Covent Garden. Police ordered pubs to close.
The demonstrators mixed in with the general public. By midnight, released figures claimed 113 were injured, mostly members of the public, but also police officers; and 339 people had been arrested. Scuffles between rioters and police continued until 3 am. Rioters attacked numerous shops, most notably Stringfellow's nightclub, and car showrooms; and Covent Garden cafés and wine bars were set ablaze, along with motor vehicles.
The response of the Metropolitan Police, the Government, the Labour Party and the labour movement and some of the Marxist and Trotskyist left, notably the Militant tendency, was to condemn the riot as senseless and to blame anarchists. Tommy Sheridan of Scottish Militant Labour condemned the protesters. The next day, Steve Nally, also a Socialist Party member and Secretary of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, said that they would "hold an enquiry and name names". Many others denounced the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation position and defended those who fought back against the police attacks. Danny Burns (secretary of the Avon Federation of anti-Poll Tax Unions) for example said: "Often attack is the only effective form of defence and, as a movement, we should not be ashamed or defensive about these actions, we should be proud of those who did fight back."
The UK Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), which was blamed for the violence by some in the media and by Labour MP George Galloway, refused to condemn protesters, calling the events a "police riot". Pat Stack, then a member of the SWP's Central Committee, told The Times: "We did not go on the demonstration with any intention of fighting with the police, but we understand why people are angry and we will not condemn that anger."
A 1991 police report concluded there was "no evidence that the trouble was orchestrated by left-wing anarchist groups". Afterwards, the non-aligned Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign was set up, committed to unconditional support for the defendants, and to accountability to the defendants. The Campaign acquired more than 50 hours of police video. Use of these was influential in acquitting many of the 491 defendants, suggesting the police had fabricated or inflated charges.
In March 1991, the police report suggested additional contributing internal police factors: squeezed overtime budgets which led to the initial deployment of 2,000 men, insufficient given the number of demonstrators; a lack of riot shields (400 "short" riot shields were available); and erratic or poor-quality radio, with a lag of up to five minutes in the computerised switching of radio messages during the evening West End rioting. Prime Minister Thatcher was at a conference of the Conservative Party Council in Cheltenham; the poll tax was the focus of the conference—as coverage of the demonstrations unfolded, speculation developed for the first time about Thatcher's position as leader.
Abolition of the tax
Vehement national opposition to the poll tax (especially vehement in the north of England and Scotland) was the most important factor in its abolition. An opinion poll conducted in 1990 indicated that 78% of the population opposed the tax.
John Major announced in his first parliamentary speech as Prime Minister that the poll tax was to be replaced by Council Tax. The council tax came into effect in 1992. Similar to the previous system of rates, the new system set tax levels on property value. Although it was not directly linked to income, the council tax took ability to pay into consideration, unlike the poll tax.
- Anarchism portal
- 1990 Strangeways Prison riot
- 2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests
- Class conflict
- List of riots in London
- Nick Collins (9 March 2011), "Local government funding timeline: From rates to poll tax to council tax", The Daily Telegraph, retrieved 22 May 2018
- Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume Two: Everything She Wants, p. 58–9, at Google Books
- "Secret papers reveal push to 'trailblaze' poll tax in Scotland", BBC News, 30 December 2014, retrieved 10 October 2015
- Wilde, Robert, "Community Charge / Poll Tax", About Education, retrieved 10 October 2015
- Burns, Danny (1992), Poll Tax Rebellion, AK Press
- Channel 4 Critical Eye documentary, "Battle of Trafalgar", 9 July 1990, Despite TV
- Verkaik, Robert (21 January 2006), "Revealed: How police panic played into the hand of the poll tax rioters", The Independent, p. 10, retrieved 17 May 2008
- London: Anti Poll Tax Riot: The Violence | Archive Footage, ITN Source, 1 April 1990, retrieved 8 August 2012
- "Poll Tax Rebellion - Danny Burns". libcom.org. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
- "Poll Tax rebellion", AK Press 1992, p. 116.
- "Poll tax spurs riot", The Gainesville Sun, 1 April 1990
- "Bloody battle of Trafalgar – London poll tax riot", The Sunday Times, 1 April 1990
- Gross, David M. (2014), 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns, Picket Line Press, pp. 37–38, ISBN 978-1490572741
- Wood, Nicholas; Oakley, Robin (30 April 1990), "Poll shows 35% want to bring back rates", The Times, MORI found 35% wanted 'Rates', 29% a local income tax, 15% a 'Roof tax' combining property values with ability to pay, 12% the poll tax, with 9% in favour of neither of these options.
- Burns, D. (1992), Poll Tax Rebellion (PDF), London: Attack International/AK Press
- The Destruction of Toytown UK, London: BM Blob, 1990
- Like A Summer With A Thousand Julys, London: BM Blob, 1982
- Poll Tax Riot - Ten hours that shook Trafalgar Square, London: Acab Press, 1990
- Burns, D. (1992), Poll Tax Rebellion, AK Press
- On This Day, 31 March 1990, BBC archive
- Gallery of photographs from 31 March riot
- Role of The Militant in defeating the poll tax
- The Rise of Militant
- Politicising the Poll Tax, Anarchist Workers Group
- "The Poll Tax Revolt" documentary
- Poll Tax Riot: The day that sunk Thatcher's flagship, The Socialist Worker
- Anarchist Communist Federation: Anti-poll tax articles from Organise! (magazine), scanned articles about the anti–poll tax struggle (1988–1992) from Issues 14 to 27 inclusive
Lech Wa??sa is elected President of Poland.
Wałęsa in 2009
|2nd President of Poland|
22 December 1990 – 22 December 1995
|Prime Minister||Tadeusz Mazowiecki|
Jan Krzysztof Bielecki
|Preceded by||Wojciech Jaruzelski (de facto) |
Ryszard Kaczorowski (as last Polish President-in-exile)
|Succeeded by||Aleksander Kwaśniewski|
|Born||29 September 1943|
Popowo, Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia, Greater German Reich (today in Poland)
Solidarity Citizens' Committee (1988–1993)
Nonpartisan Bloc for Support of Reforms (1993–1997)
Solidarity Electoral Action (1997–2001)
Christian Democracy of the 3rd Polish Republic (1997–2001)
|Children||8, including Jarosław|
Lech Wałęsa (/ , /; Polish: [ˈlɛɣ vaˈwɛ̃sa] (listen); born 29 September 1943) is a Polish statesman, dissident, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who served as the first democratically elected president of Poland from 1990 to 1995. A shipyard electrician by trade, he became the leader of Solidarity, and led a successful pro-democratic effort which in 1989 ended the communist rule in Poland and ushered in the end of the Cold War.
While working at the Lenin Shipyard (now Gdańsk Shipyard), Wałęsa, an electrician, became a trade-union activist, for which he was persecuted by the Communist authorities, placed under surveillance, fired in 1976, and arrested several times. In August 1980, he was instrumental in political negotiations that led to the ground-breaking Gdańsk Agreement between striking workers and the government. He co-founded the Solidarity trade-union movement which membership rose to over ten million people.
After martial law was imposed in Poland and Solidarity was outlawed, Wałęsa was again arrested. Released from custody, he continued his activism and was prominent in the establishment of the 1989 Round Table Agreement that led to semi-free parliamentary elections in June 1989 and to a Solidarity-led government.
After winning the Polish presidential election of 1990, Wałęsa became the first President of Poland ever elected in a popular vote. He presided over Poland's successful transition from communism into a free-market liberal democracy, but his active role in Polish politics diminished after he narrowly lost the 1995 presidential election. In 1995, he established the Lech Wałęsa Institute.
Since 1980, Wałęsa has received hundreds of prizes, honors and awards from many countries of the world. He was named the Time Person of the Year (1981) and one of Time's 100 most important people of the 20th century (1999). He has received over forty honorary degrees, including from Harvard University and Columbia University, as well as dozens of the highest state orders, including: the 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 was the first foreign non-head of state to address the Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress. The Gdansk Lech Wałęsa Airport bears his name since 2004.
Wałęsa was born in Popowo, Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia, Germany (German-occupied Poland). His father, Bolesław Wałęsa (1908–1945), was a carpenter who was rounded up and interned in a forced labour camp at Młyniec (outpost of KL Stutthof) by the German occupying forces before Lech was born.[note 1] Bolesław returned home after the war but died two months later from exhaustion and illness. Lech's mother, Feliksa Wałęsa (née Kamieńska; 1916–1975), has been credited with shaping her son's beliefs and tenacity.
When Lech was nine, Feliksa married her brother-in-law, Stanisław Wałęsa (1916–1981), a farmer. Lech had three elder full siblings; Izabela (1934–2012),[note 2] Edward (born 1937), and Stanisław (born 1939); and three younger half-brothers; Tadeusz (born 1946), Zygmunt (born 1948), and Wojciech (1951–1988). In 1973, Lech's mother and stepfather emigrated to the US for economic reasons. They lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, where Feliksa died in a car accident in 1975, and Stanisław died of a heart attack in 1981. Both of them were buried in Poland.
In 1961, Lech graduated from primary and vocational school in nearby Chalin and Lipno as a qualified electrician. He worked as a car mechanic from 1961 to 1965, and then embarked on his two-year, obligatory military service, attaining the rank of corporal before beginning work on 12 July 1967 as an electrician at Lenin Shipyard (Stocznia Gdańska im. Lenina), now called Gdańsk Shipyard (Stocznia Gdańska) in Gdańsk.
On 8 November 1969, Wałęsa married Mirosława Danuta Gołoś, who worked at a flower shop near the Lenin Shipyard. Soon after they married, she began using her middle name more often than her first name, per Lech's request. The couple had eight children; Bogdan (born 1970), Sławomir (born 1972), Przemysław (1974–2017), Jarosław (born 1976), Magdalena (born 1979), Anna (born 1980), Maria-Wiktoria (born 1982), and Brygida (born 1985). As of 2016, Anna is running her father's office in Gdańsk and Jarosław is a European MP.
From early in his career, Wałęsa was interested in workers' concerns; in 1968 he encouraged shipyard colleagues to boycott official rallies that condemned recent student strikes. He was a charismatic leader, who helped organize the illegal 1970 protests at the Gdańsk Shipyard when workers protested the government's decree raising food prices and he was considered for the position of chairman of the strike committee. The strikes' outcome, which involved the deaths of over 30 workers, galvanized Wałęsa's views on the need for change. In June 1976, Wałęsa lost his job at the Gdańsk Shipyard because of his continued involvement in illegal unions, strikes, and a campaign to commemorate the victims of the 1970 protests. Afterwards, he worked as an electrician for several other companies but his activism led to him continually being laid off and he was jobless for long periods. Wałęsa and his family were under constant surveillance by the Polish secret police; his home and workplace were always bugged. Over the next few years, he was arrested several times for participating in dissident activities.
Wałęsa worked closely with the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR), a group that emerged to lend aid to people arrested after the 1976 labor strikes and to their families. In June 1978, he became an activist of the underground Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża). On 14 August 1980, another rise in food prices led to a strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, of which Wałęsa was one of the instigators. Wałęsa climbed over the shipyard fence and quickly became one of the strike leaders. The strike inspired other similar strikes in Gdańsk, which then spread across Poland. Wałęsa headed the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee, coordinating the workers at Gdańsk and at 20 other plants in the region. On 31 August, the government, represented by Mieczysław Jagielski, signed an accord (the Gdańsk Agreement) with the Strike Coordinating Committee. The agreement granted the Lenin Shipyard workers the right to strike and permitted them to form an independent trade union. The Strike Coordinating Committee legalized itself as the National Coordinating Committee of the Solidarność (Solidarity) Free Trade Union, and Wałęsa was chosen as chairman of the Committee. The Solidarity trade union quickly grew, ultimately claiming over 10 million members—more than a quarter of Poland's population. Wałęsa's role in the strike, in the negotiations, and in the newly formed independent trade union gained him fame on the international stage.
On 10 March 1981, through the introduction of his former superior in the army, Wałęsa met Jaruzelski for the first time in the office building of the Council of Ministers for three hours. During the meeting, Jaruzelski and Wałęsa agreed that mutual trust was necessary if the problems of Poland were to be solved. Wałęsa said "It's not the case that the name of socialism is bad. Only some people spoiled the name of socialism". He also complained about and criticized the government. Jaruzelski informed Wałęsa of the coming war games of the Warsaw Pact from 16 to 25 March, hoping he could help maintain the social order and avoid anti-Soviet remarks. Jaruzelski also reminded Wałęsa that Solidarity had used foreign funds. Wałęsa joked "We don't have to take only dollars. We can take corn, fertilizer, anything is okay. I told Mr. Kania before that I would take everything from the enemy. The more the better, until the enemy was weakened no more". 
Wałęsa held his position until 13 December 1981, when General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland. Wałęsa and many other Solidarity leaders and activists were arrested; he was incarcerated for 11 months until 14 November 1982 at Chylice, Otwock, and Arłamów; eastern towns near the Soviet border. On 8 October 1982, Solidarity was outlawed. In 1983, Wałęsa applied to return to the Gdańsk Shipyard as an electrician. The same year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was unable to accept it himself, fearing Poland's government would not let him back into the country. His wife Danuta accepted the prize on his behalf.
Through the mid-1980s, Wałęsa continued underground Solidarity-related activities. Every issue of the leading underground weekly publication Tygodnik Mazowsze bore his motto, "Solidarity will not be divided or destroyed". Following a 1986 amnesty for Solidarity activists, Wałęsa co-founded the Provisional Council of NSZZ Solidarity (Tymczasowa Rada NSZZ Solidarność), the first overt legal Solidarity entity since the declaration of martial law. From 1987 to 1990, he organized and led the semi-illegal Provisional Executive Committee of the Solidarity Trade Union. In mid-1988, he instigated work-stoppage strikes at the Gdańsk Shipyard. He was frequently hauled in for interrogations by the Polish secret police, the Security Service (SB), during the 1980s. On many of these occasions, Danuta—who was even more anti-Communist than her husband—was known to openly taunt SB agents when they picked Lech up.
After months of strikes and political deliberations, at the conclusion of the 10th plenary session of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR, the Polish communist party), the government agreed to enter into Round Table Negotiations that lasted from February to April 1989. Wałęsa was an informal leader of the non-governmental side in the negotiations. During the talks, he traveled throughout Poland giving speeches in support of the negotiations. At the end of the talks, the government signed an agreement to re-establish the Solidarity Trade Union and to organize semi-free elections to the Polish parliament; in accordance with the Round Table Agreement, only members of the Communist Party and its allies could stand for 65 percent of the seats in the lower house, the Sejm.
In December 1988, Wałęsa co-founded the Solidarity Citizens' Committee; this was ostensibly an advisory body but in practice a political party that won the parliamentary elections in June 1989. Solidarity took all the seats in the Sejm that were subject to free elections, and all but one seat in the newly re-established Senate. Wałęsa was one of Solidarity's most public figures; he was an active campaigner, appearing on many campaign posters, but did not run for parliament himself. Solidarity winners in the Sejm elections were referred to as "Wałęsa's team" or "Lech's team" because they had all appeared on their election posters with Wałęsa.
While ostensibly only chairman of Solidarity, Wałęsa played a key role in practical politics. In August 1989, he persuaded leaders of parties formerly allied with the Communist Party to form a non-communist coalition government—the first non-Communist government in the Soviet Bloc. The parliament elected Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the first non-communist Prime Minister of Poland in over forty years.
Following the June 1989 parliamentary elections, Wałęsa was disappointed that some of his former fellow campaigners were satisfied to govern alongside former Communists. He decided to run for the newly re-established office of president, using the slogan, "I don't want to, but I have to" ("Nie chcę, ale muszę."). On 9 December 1990, Wałęsa won the presidential election, defeating Prime Minister Mazowiecki and other candidates to become Poland's first freely elected head of state in 63 years, and the first non-Communist head of state in 45 years. In 1993, he founded his own political party, the Nonpartisan Bloc for Support of Reforms (BBWR); the grouping's Polish-language acronym echoed that of Józef Piłsudski's "Nonpartisan Bloc for Cooperation with the Government," of 1928–35, likewise an ostensibly non-political organization.
During his presidency, Wałęsa saw Poland through privatization and transition to a free-market economy (the Balcerowicz Plan), Poland's 1991 first completely free parliamentary elections, and a period of redefinition of the country's foreign relations. He successfully negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland and won a substantial reduction in foreign debts.
Wałęsa supported Poland's entry into NATO and the European Union, both of which occurred after his presidency, in 1999 and 2004, respectively. In the early 1990s, he proposed the creation of a sub-regional security system called NATO bis. The concept was supported by right-wing and populist movements in Poland but garnered little support abroad; Poland's neighbors, some of which (e.g. Lithuania), had recently regained independence and tended to see the proposal as Polish neo-imperialism.
Wałęsa has been criticized for a confrontational style and for instigating "war at the top", whereby former Solidarity allies clashed with one another, causing annual changes of government. This increasingly isolated Wałęsa on the political scene. As he lost political allies, he came to be surrounded by people who were viewed by the public as incompetent and disreputable. Mudslinging during election campaigns tarnished his reputation. Some thought Wałęsa, an ex-electrician with no higher education, was too plain-spoken and too undignified for the post of president. Others thought him too erratic in his views or complained he was too authoritarian and that he sought to strengthen his own power at the expense of the Sejm. Wałęsa's national security advisor Jacek Merkel credited the shortcomings of Wałęsa's presidency to his inability to comprehend the office of the president as an institution. He was an effective union leader capable of articulating what the workers felt but as president he had difficulty delegating power or navigating bureaucracy.[clarification needed] Wałęsa's problems were compounded by the difficult transition to a market economy; in the long run it was seen as highly successful but it lost Wałęsa's government much popular support.
Wałęsa's BBWR performed poorly in the 1993 parliamentary elections; at times his popular support dwindled to 10 percent and he narrowly lost the 1995 presidential election, winning 33.11 percent of the vote in the first round and 48.28 percent in the run-off against Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who represented the resurgent Polish post-Communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Wałęsa's fate was sealed by his poor handling of the media; in televised debates he appeared incoherent and rude; in response to Kwaśniewski's extended hand at the end of the first of the two debates, he replied that the post-Communist leader could "shake his leg". After the election, Wałęsa said he was going into "political retirement" and his role in politics became increasingly marginal.
After losing the 1995 election, Wałęsa announced he would return to work as an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyard. Soon afterwards, he changed his mind and chose to travel around the world on a lecture circuit. Wałęsa developed a portfolio of three lectures ("The Impact of an Expanded NATO on Global Security", "Democracy: The Never-Ending Battle" and "Solidarity: The New Millennium"), and reads them at universities and public events with an appearance fee of around £50,000 ($70,000).
In 1995, he founded the Lech Wałęsa Institute, a think tank with a mission "to popularize the achievements of Polish Solidarity, educate young generations, promote democracy, and build civil society in Poland and around the world". In 1997, he founded a new party, Christian Democracy of the 3rd Polish Republic, hoping it would help him to successfully run in future elections.
Wałęsa's contention for the 2000 presidential election ended with a crushing defeat when he polled 1.01 percent of the vote. His humiliation was increased because Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who was re-elected in the first round with 54 percent of the vote, is a former Communist apparatchik. Wałęsa polled in seventh place, after which he announced his withdrawal from Polish politics.
In 2006, Wałęsa quit Solidarity in protest of the union's support of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, and Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński—twin brothers who had been prominent in Solidarity and were now serving as the country's president and prime minister, respectively. The main point of disagreement was the Kaczyńskis' focus on rooting out those who had been involved in communist rule and their party's attempt to make public all the files of the former communist secret police. Until then only members of the government and parliament had to declare any connection with the former security services. Wałęsa and his supporters argued the so-called transparency legislation advocated by the government might turn into a witch hunt and the more than 500,000 Poles who had possibly collaborated with the communist secret police could face exposure.
Wałęsa is well known for his conservative stance on LGBT rights. In 2013, he said on Polish television that "he doesn't wish for this minority, which he tolerates and understands, to impose itself on the majority". Referring to Robert Biedroń, he argued that, considering that as they represent less than one percent of the Polish society, proportionally speaking, homosexual MPs should sit "in the last row of the parliament, or even behind its walls". After sharp international criticism, including City authorities of San Francisco's decision to rename Walesa Street as a result of those remarks, Wałęsa apologized for his comments, stressing that "being a man of old date, in his view one's sexual orientation should lie in one's intimate sphere". He said that "his intentions were distorted by the media" and "homosexuality should be respected". Over the last few years, Wałęsa has voiced his support for the introduction of same-sex marriage in Poland and has repeatedly met with Robert Biedroń, whom he called "a talent" and "a future President of Poland".
In 2013, Wałęsa suggested the creation of a political union between Poland and Germany.
In 2014, in a widely publicized interview, Wałęsa expressed his disappointment in another Nobel laureate, US president Barack Obama: he told CNN, "When he was elected there was great hope in the world. We were hoping that Obama would reclaim moral leadership for America, but that failed ... in terms of politics and morality America no longer leads the world". Wałęsa also accused Obama of not deserving his Nobel Peace Prize; during the 2012 US presidential campaign he endorsed Obama's opponent Mitt Romney. In September 2015, Wałęsa again hit the headlines after sharing his thoughts on the migrant crisis in Europe with media, saying, "watching the refugees on television, I noticed that ... they are well fed, well dressed and maybe even are richer than we are ... If Europe opens its gates, soon millions will come through and while living among us will start exercising their own customs, including beheading".
Wałęsa and secret police
Despite the 2000 ruling of a special lustration court affirming his innocence, for many years there have been allegations that Wałęsa was an informant of Służba Bezpieczeństwa, the communist security services, in his twenties. While vehemently denying being a regular SB informer, Wałęsa admitted to “signing something under interrogation in the 1970s”. In 2017, a handwriting study ordered by the government-controlled Institute of National Remembrance (INR), stated that signatures on several documents from the 1970s belonged to Wałęsa. The exact nature of Wałęsa's relationship with SB to this day remains a contentious question among historians.
The controversy resurfaced in 2008 with the publication of a book that purported to show that Wałęsa, codenamed Bolek, had been an operative for the security services from 1970 to 1976.
The question resurfaced again in February 2016, when the Institute of National Remembrance seized materials from the widow of Chief of secret police gen. Czesław Kiszczak, that were said to document Wałęsa's role as a spy for the security services.
On 12 August 2000, Wałęsa, who was running a presidential campaign at the time, was cleared by the special Lustration Court of charges that he collaborated with the Communist-era secret services and reported on the activities of his fellow shipyard workers, due to the lack of evidence. Anti-communists Piotr Naimski, one of the first members of the Workers' Defense Committee that led to the Solidarity trade union, and Antoni Macierewicz, Wałęsa's former Interior Minister, testified against him in the closed vetting trial. Naimski, who said he testified with a "heavy heart", expressed his disappointment that Wałęsa "made a mistake by not going openly to the public, and he has missed an important chance". According to Naimski, the court cleared Wałęsa on "technical grounds" because it did not find certain original documents—many of which had been destroyed since 1989—offered sufficient proof that Wałęsa was lying.
In 1992, Naimski, as a head of the State Protection Office, started the process of screening people suspected of being Communist collaborators in Poland. In June that year, he helped Antoni Macierewicz prepare a list of 64 members of the government and parliament who were named as spies in the police records; these included Wałęsa, then the Polish president. Wałęsa's name was included on the list after a wrenching internal debate about the virtues of honesty versus political discretion. In response to the publication of this list, President Wałęsa immediately engineered the fall of prime minister Jan Olszewski and the dismissal of Interior Minister Macierewicz. A parliamentary committee later concluded Wałęsa had not signed an agreement with the secret police.
A 1997 Polish law made the vetting a requirement for those seeking high public office. According to the law, it is not a crime to have collaborated, but those who deny it and are found to have lied are banned from political life for ten years. The 2000 presidential election was the first use of this law.
Despite helping Wałęsa in 2005 to receive the official status of a "victim of communist regime" from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), this court ruling did not convince many Poles. In November 2009, Wałęsa sued the president of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, over his repeated collaboration allegations. Five months later, Kaczyński failed to invite Wałęsa to the commemoration service at Katyn, which almost certainly saved Wałęsa's life because the presidential plane crashed, killing all on board. In August 2010, Wałęsa lost a libel case against Krzysztof Wyszkowski, his former fellow activist, who also publicly accused Wałęsa of being a communist agent in 1970s.
The most comprehensive analysis of Wałęsa's possible collaboration with secret police was provided in a 2008 book The SB (Służba Bezpieczeństwa; secret police) and Lech Wałęsa: A Biographical Contribution (SB a Lech Wałęsa. Przyczynek do biografii). The book was written by two historians from the Institute of National Remembrance, Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, and included documents from the archives of the secret police that were inherited by the Institute. Among the documents were registration cards, memos, notes from the secret police, and reports from the informant.
The book's authors said Wałęsa, working under the code name Bolek,[note 3] was a secret police informant from 1970 (after he was released from the arrest) till 1976 (before he was fired from the shipyard). According to them, "he wrote reports and informed on more than 20 people and some of them were persecuted by the communist police. He identified people and eavesdropped on his colleagues at work while they were listening to Radio Free Europe for example". The book describes the fate of the seven of his alleged victims; information regarding others was destroyed or stolen from the files. According to them, Wałęsa received over 13,000 zlotys as remuneration for his services from the SB, while the monthly salary at the time was about 3,500 zlotys.[note 4] The authors said oppositionist activity in Poland in the first half of 1970s was minimal and Wałęsa's role in it was quite marginal. However, according to the book, despite formally renouncing his ties with SB in 1976, Wałęsa went on to have contacts with communist officials.
The book also said that during his 1990–1995 presidency, Wałęsa used his office to destroy the evidence of his collaboration with secret police by removing incriminating documents from the archives. According to the book, historians discovered that with the help of the state intelligence agency, Wałęsa, Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski, and other members of Wałęsa's administration, had borrowed from the archives the secret police files that had connections to Wałęsa, and returned them with key pages removed. When it was discovered at the turn of 1995/96, the following prosecutorial inquiry was discontinued for political reasons despite the case attracting much public attention.
Sławomir Cenckiewicz also said that in 1983, when Wałęsa was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the secret police tried to embarrass him and leaked information about Wałęsa's previous collaboration with the government. By this time though, Wałęsa was already so popular that most Poles did not believe the official media and dismissed the allegations as a manipulation by the Communist authorities. The book's first print run sold out in Poland within hours. The book received substantial coverage in the media, provoked nationwide debate, and was noted by the international press. Wałęsa vowed to sue the authors but never did.
On 18 February 2016, the government-affiliated INR in Warsaw announced it had seized a package of original documents that allegedly proved Wałęsa was a paid Polish Security Service informant. The documents dated from the period 1970–1976; they were seized from the home of a recently deceased former interior minister, General Czesław Kiszczak. The documents' authenticity was confirmed by an archival expert, but the prosecutors demanded a handwriting examination. Eventually, the requested examination concluded that the documents were authentic, which suggest he was a paid informant. Wałęsa previously said that he had signed a commitment to inform document, but that he had never acted on it.
The dossier consists of two folders. The first is a "personal file" containing 90 pages of documents, including a handwritten commitment to cooperate with Polish Security Service dated 21 December 1970, and signed Lech Wałęsa – Bolek with a pledge he would never admit his collaboration with secret police "not even to family"; the file also contains the confirmations of having received funds. The second is a "work file" which contains 279 pages of documents, including numerous reports by Bolek on his co-workers at Gdańsk Shipyard, and notes by Security Service officers from meetings with him. According to one note, Wałęsa agreed to collaborate out of fear of persecution after the workers' protest in 1970. The documents also show that at first Bolek eagerly provided information on opinions and actions by his co-workers and took money for the information, but his enthusiasm diminished and the quality of his information decreased until he was deemed no longer valuable and collaboration with him was terminated in 1976.
The sealed dossier also contained a letter, hand-written by Kiszczak in April 1996, in which he informs the Director of the Polish Central Archives of Modern Records (Archiwum Akt Nowych) about the accompanying files documenting the collaboration of Wałęsa with the Polish Security Service and asks him not to publish this information until five years after Wałęsa's death. In his letter, Kiszczak said he kept the documents out of reach: before the 1989 revolution, trying to protect Wałęsa's reputation; and afterwards to make sure they did not disappear or were used for political reasons. This letter and the accompanying documents had never been sent.
On 16 February 2016, about three months after Kiszczak's death, his widow Maria approached the Institute of National Remembrance and offered to sell the documents to the archives for 90,000 zlotys ($23,000). However, according to Polish law, all documents of the political police must be handed in to the state. The administration of the institute notified the prosecutor's office, which conducted a police search of the Kiszczak's house and seized all the historic documents. Maria Kiszczak later said she had not read her husband's letter and had "made a mistake".
For years, Wałęsa vehemently denied collaborating with the Polish Security Service and dismissed the incriminating files as forgeries created by the SB to compromise him. Wałęsa also denies that during his presidency he removed documents incriminating him from the archives. Until 2008, he denied having ever seen his Security Service file. After the publication of the book SB a Lech Wałęsa in 2008, he said that while he was president "I did borrow the file, but didn't remove anything from it. I saw there were some documents there about me and that they were clearly forgeries. I told my secretaries to tape up and seal the file. I wrote 'don't open' on it. But someone didn't obey, removed the papers, now casting suspicion on me." Wałęsa's interior minister Andrzej Milczanowski denied the cover-up and said he "had full legal rights to make those documents available to President Wałęsa" and that "no original documents were removed from the file", which contained only photocopies.
Wałęsa has offered conflicting statements regarding the authenticity of the documents. Initially he appeared to come close to an admission, saying in 1992, "in December 1970, I signed three or four documents" to escape from the secret police. In his 1987 autobiography A Way of Hope, Wałęsa said, "It is also the truth that I had not left that clash completely pure. They gave me a condition: sign! And then I signed." He denied he acted upon the collaboration agreement. However, in his later years Wałęsa said all the documents are forgeries and told the BBC in 2008, "you will not find any signature of mine agreeing to collaborate anywhere".
In 2009, after the publication of another biography connecting him with the secret police (Lech Wałęsa: Idea and History by Pawel Zyzak), Wałęsa threatened to leave Poland if historians continue to question his past. He said that before revealing such information "a historian must decide whether this serves Poland". After the accusations against him resurfaced with the discovery of the Kiszczak dossier on 16 February 2016, Wałęsa called the files "lies, slander and forgeries", and said he "never took money and never made any spoken or written report on anyone". He said of the Polish public, which was about to believe in the allegations, "you have betrayed me, not me you" and "it was I who safely led Poland to a complete victory over communism". On 20 February 2016, Wałęsa wrote in his blog that a secret police officer had begged him to sign the financial documents in the 1970s because the officer had lost money entrusted to him to purchase a vehicle. Wałęsa appealed to the officer to step forward and clear him of the accusations.
In 1983, Wałęsa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, he has received more than 30 state decorations and more than 50 awards from 30 countries, including Order of the Bath (UK), Order of Merit (Germany), Legion of Honour (France) and European Human Rights Prize (EU 1989). In 2011, he declined to accept the Lithuanian highest order, citing his displeasure at Lithuania's policy towards the Polish diaspora. In 2008, he established the .
In 2004, Gdańsk International Airport was officially renamed Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport and Wałęsa's signature was incorporated into the airport's logo. A college hall in Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago), six streets, and five schools in Canada, France, Sweden and Poland also were named after Lech Wałęsa
Wałęsa was named Man of the Year by Time magazine (1981), Financial Times (1980), Saudi Gazette (1989) and 12 other newspapers and magazines. He was awarded with over 45 honorary doctorates by universities around the world, including Harvard University and Sorbonne. He was named an honorary karate black belt by International Traditional Karate Federation. Wałęsa is also an honorary citizen of more than 30 cities, including London, Buffalo and Turin.
In the United States, Wałęsa was the first recipient of the Liberty Medal, in 1989. That year, he also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the first non-head-of-state to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress. In 2000, Wałęsa received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.  Wałęsa symbolically represented Europe by carrying the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics. In 2004, he represented ten newly acceded EU countries during the official accession ceremony in Strasbourg. In 1993, the heraldic authority of the Kingdom of Sweden assigned Wałęsa a personal coat of arms on the occasion of his admittance into the Royal Order of the Seraphim.
Lech Wałęsa has been portrayed, as himself or a character based on him, in a number of feature and television films. The two most notable of them are:
- Walesa. Man of Hope (2013) is a biographical drama by Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrzej Wajda about the lives of Wałęsa (Robert Więckiewicz) and his wife Danuta (Agnieszka Grochowska) from 1970 to 1989. It shows Wałęsa's change from a shipyard worker into a charismatic labor leader. The film was shot in the historical locations of the depicted events, including the former Lenin Shipyard. It won three awards, including Silver Hugo for Robert Więckiewicz at Chicago International Film Festival and a Pasinetti Award for Maria Rosaria Omaggio at Venice Film Festival, and was nominated for five more awards.
- Man of Iron (1981) is another Andrzej Wajda film about the Solidarity movement. The main character, a young worker Maciej Tomczyk (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz) is involved in the anti-Communist labor movement. Tomczyk is clearly portrayed as a parallel to Wałęsa, who appears as himself in the movie. The film was made during the brief relaxation of censorship in Poland between the formation of Solidarity in August 1980 and its suppression in December 1981. Waida was awarded both the Palme d'Or and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival for the film. In 1982, it was nominated for Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film and gained seven other awards and nominations.
Both of these films were produced in Poland. In December 1989, Warner Bros. intended to produce a "major" movie about Wałęsa, to be made in 1990 and released in 1991. The company paid Wałęsa a $1 million fee for the rights to produce a biopic. Although the movie was never made, this payment sparked controversy in Poland when five years later it emerged that Wałęsa concealed this income to avoid paying taxes on it. The Gdańsk tax office initiated a tax fraud case against Wałęsa but it was later dismissed because the five-year statute of limitations had already run out.
- Polish actor Jacek Lenartowicz played Walesa in the 2005 television miniseries Pope John Paul II.
In 1982, Bono was inspired by Wałęsa to write U2's first hit single, "New Year's Day". Coincidentally, the Polish authorities lifted martial law on 1 January 1983, the same day this single was released. Wałęsa also became a hero of a number of Polish pop songs, including a satirical 1991 hit titled Nie wierzcie elektrykom (Don't Trust the Electricians) from the second studio album by the punk rock band Big Cyc which featured a caricature of Wałęsa on its cover.
Sid Meier's Civilization V video game lists Lech Wałęsa amongst its world leader rankings. Wałęsa is ranked 11th on a scale of 1 to 21, with Augustus Caesar ranked as the best world leader of all time and Dan Quayle as the worst. Wałęsa is immediately outranked by Simon Bolivar and is ranked just above Ivan the Terrible. Lech Wałęsa ranks 9th out of 21 in Sid Meier's Civilization VI, immediately outranked by Marcus Aurelius and ranked just above Hatshepsut.
- Wałęsa, Lech (1987). A Way of Hope. New-York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0805006680. LCCN 87021194. OL 2391768M.
- Wałęsa, Lech (1991). Droga do wolności [Road to Freedom] (in Polish). Warsaw: Editions Spotkania. ISBN 8385195033. LCCN 92155586. OL 1293474M.
- Wałęsa, Lech (1992). The Struggle and the Triumph: An Autobiography. Translated by Philip, Franklin. New York: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1559701498. LCCN 91035875. OL 1555547M.
- Wałęsa, Lech (1995). Wszystko, co robię, robię dla Polski [All That I Do, I Do for Poland] (in Polish). Warsaw: Kancelaria Prezydenta RP. ISBN 8390434709. LCCN 96130042. OL 18320510M.
- The German airfield Danzig-Langfuhr in Wrzeszcz-Gdańsk was located on the site of the former villages Młyniec and Zaspa (now neighborhoods of Gdańsk) and was serviced by prisoners of KL Stutthof forming the Außenkommando KL Stutthof – Danzig-Langfuhr. Source: "Standort Danzig". Lexikon-der-Wehrmacht.de. The airfield was heavily bombed by the Allies in 1945, but remained in use until 1974 (pl).
- Izabela Młyńska, after marriage
- Bolek was a main character of the popular children's cartoon series Bolek and Lolek, produced in Poland in 1962–1986. Wałęsa's father's name also was Bolesław (or Bolek in diminutive).
- In a book published in 2011, Wałęsa's wife Danuta said she believed the source of her husband's extra money during the 1970s was lottery winnings (Source: The Wall Street Journal).
- Wałęsa. Merriam-Webster.
- "Wałęsa - Define Wałęsa at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
- In isolaton, Lech is pronounced [ˈlɛx].
- Walker, Drew Hinshaw and Marcus. "Poland's New Nationalist Rulers Are Erasing Lech Walesa From History". WSJ. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
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- Traynor, Ian (6 February 2019). "Polish round table talks - archive, 1989". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
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| President of Poland
Iraq invades Kuwait which triggers events that eventually leading to the Gulf War.
On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait, triggering a series of events that would culminate in the 1991 Gulf War. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion, citing unfair Kuwaiti economic practices, perhaps owing to an unclear understanding of America’s position.
Hussein had become president of Iraq in 1979, though he had been the power behind the scenes for many years prior. That same year saw tremendous upheaval in Persian Iran, Iraq’s eastern neighbor. The Iranian Revolution was rooted in Islamic fundamentalism and rejected secular influences like capitalism, communism, nationalism and liberalism. By contrast, Hussein was an Arab nationalist leader who paid lip service to Islam, but who held Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin as his role models.
Afraid that Islamic fundamentalism might spread to Iraq, and wishing to expand his power in the Middle East, Hussein ordered a surprise attack upon Iran in September 1980. The resulting Iran-Iraq War proved to be one of the most barbaric in modern history. One reason why Americans feared Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in the early 2000s was because he had not only possessed but used WMDs in his war against Iran in widespread chemical weapons attacks. By contrast, the Iranians frequently used their soldiers as cannon fodder, even sending students into minefields to clear a path for their tanks.
Offering Iraq a measure of intelligence and logistical support, the United States also weapons to the Iranians, in what would become known as the Iran-Contra scandal, something even President Ronald Reagan’s staunchest supporters admitted was an ill-conceived scheme. After years of strategic stalemate, the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988.
In his book, “The Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988,” historian Efraim Karsh wrote: “Though the Iraqi regime went out of its way to portray the end of the war as a shinning victory, the truth was that Iraq, no less than Iran, emerged from the eight-year conflict a crippled nation. At least 200,000 Iraqis had lost their lives, while about 400,000 had been wounded and some 70,000 taken prisoner — an exorbitant price for a nation of 17 million people. In 1980, Iraq could boast a $35 billion foreign exchange reserve; eight years later it had accumulated a foreign debt of some $80 billion — roughly twice the size of its Gross National Product.”
Exact numbers for Iran’s war dead are still not known, though some have suggested that they may have lost as many as half a million citizens. Iraq’s debt stemmed largely from its agreements with other Middle Eastern states such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Not wishing to see a radical Shi’ite Muslim victory in the war, these Sunni states increasingly loaned Iraq the money it needed to fund its war. With the war ended, Iraq found itself heavily in debt to its fellow Arab states.
Like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and many other Arab states, Iraq’s principle source of income came from its oil exports. With so much of its economy smashed by the war, Iraq could not meet its financial obligations during the agreed upon timetables. To make matters worse, Kuwait and the UAE began overproducing oil, driving down prices across the Middle East. For Hussein, this was an unacceptable slap in the face to a nation that had bled to protect the Arab states.
Meeting with King Hussein of Jordan and Egypt’s President Mubarak in Amman in February 1990, Saddam Hussein formally stated a position he had been expressing for some time — that not only should Iraq not have to pay back its wartime debts, but that the Arab world should loan Iraq an additional $30 billion. He concluded the meeting by stating, “Let the Gulf regimes know, that if they will not give this money to me, I will know how to get it.”
In July, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz dramatically denounced Kuwait and the UAE to the secretary of the Arab League, historian John Keegan noted in his book “The Iraq War.” “A drop of $1 in the price of a barrel of oil leads to a drop of $1 billion in Iraqi revenues annually.” Aziz noted that Iraq had spent $102 billion in wartime costs and had lost another $106 billion because Iraq could not fully exploit its oil production during the war. Iraq had fought for the Arab world, he noted, so why were Kuwait and the UAE demanding repayment?
Aziz said, “How can these amounts be regarded as Iraqi debts to its Arab brothers when Iraq made sacrifices that are many times more than these debts in terms of Iraqi resources during the grinding war and offered rivers of blood of its youth in defense of the nation’s soil, dignity, honor and wealth?”
Increasingly, the Iraqi president verbally lashed out against his creditor nations, and even began sending troops to the border with Kuwait. In his book, “Islamic Imperialism: A History,” Karsh wrote: “As Iraqi troops were massing along the Kuwaiti border during July 1990… the Americans were fixated on Europe. This had been the case since the revolutions of 1989 had brought the East European communist regimes tumbling down. … The general mood was euphoric. A brave new world was around the corner. No minor disputes between Third World autocrats would be allowed to spoil this moment of celebration.”
Like Hitler, Hussein was always a risk-taker when it came to politics and war. With his preparations for an invasion of Kuwait in place, there was just one thing he had to know — what was the position of the United States?
On July 25, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met with Hussein in Baghdad, Keegan wrote. Hussein gave the ambassador a note to pass on to U.S. President George H. W. Bush, that read in part, “We don’t want war… but do not push us to consider war as the only solution to live proudly and to provide our people with a good living.”
The discussion between Hussein and Glaspie has been the subject of much controversy, given what followed, according to Keeghan’s “The Iraq War.” Glaspie told Hussein that his military buildup along the Kuwaiti border was cause for concern, but she also stated incomprehensibly that “we have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border dispute with Kuwait.” She then suggested possible intermediaries like the Arab League that could perhaps broker an acceptable solution. Hussein closed with the words, “But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq cannot accept death.”
In her official report following the meeting, Glaspie stated of Hussein that “his emphasis that he wants a peaceful settlement is surely sincere.” Apparently, she believed she had made herself clear, and that the U.S. and Iraq had an understanding. Clearly, Hussein must have seen Glaspie’s statement of “Arab-Arab conflicts” as a sort of green light.
After the invasion, Glaspie told The New York Times, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.”
Did she just expect Hussein to adjust the border by force and take some of Kuwait? Even that would have amounted to an enormous violation of international law. Most likely believing that America was distracted with Europe and disinterested with the Middle East, Hussein decided to launch his attack upon Kuwait on August 2. Kuwait was to become Iraq’s “19th province.”
In his book “The Iraq War,” Keegan wrote, “The Iraqi army was experienced and plentifully equipped. Fully mobilized, it numbered a million men, organized into 60 divisions, including 12 armored and mechanized. Seven of the divisions belonged to the Republican Guard, better equipped and chosen for political reliability. These, however, were only paper strengths; the coalition identified only 43 divisions on the ground.”
The Iraqis also boasted over 8,000 tanks and armored infantry vehicles, perhaps as many as a 1,000 mobile artillery pieces, and over 700 aircraft.
Compared to this massive force that, on paper, made the Iraqi military one of the largest on the planet, the Kuwaitis boasted an army of only 16,000 men. Decimating the Kuwaiti army, the Iraqis swiftly moved into the small nation. The elite Republican Guard units positioned themselves along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border, threatening not only Saudi Arabia, but also the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar.
Keegan wrote, “Nearly half the world’s oil reserves had fallen under the shadow of Saddam’s power.”
Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait reminded much of the world of Hitler’s unprovoked and illegal attacks prior to and during World War II. Despite the delicate situation unfolding in Eastern Europe, the United States assembled a coalition of nations, including many in the Arab world, to stand up to Hussein’s naked aggression. The Gulf War began in January 1991 and ended with the Iraqi army largely vanquished and Kuwait liberated a few weeks later.
After the 2003 Allied invasion of Iraq, Hussein hid from the occupational authorities. Discovered in December of that year, he was eventually tried and executed by an Iraqi court for crimes against the Iraqi people in 2006.
Massacre of 184 Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan Army in the Batticaloa District.
The uneasy relationship between Tamils and Sinhala has persisted for centuries, with cyclical exchanges of political power effected by means including war, economic dependence and turning-a-blind-eye coexistence. Periodically, the opposition explodes in frenzied violence at which both sides have considerable practice – without any warning.
In 1990 there was just such an explosion at Batticaloa, cm Sri Lanka’s east coast considered by the whole country to be a Tamil region not often involved with outright military confrontation. Episodes of violence there have generally consisted of ambushes, bombings and ‘guerrilla actions’. Severe incidents in which 20 or 30 people might be made to ‘disappear’ or be found dead and mutilated, increased in number until August 3 when armed Tamil Tiger personnel butchered 103 Muslims from the mosque at Kattankudy. The next day they killed over 300 men and boys from the Meera Jumma mosque on the Kandy-Batticaloa road, and about 40 more from the nearby Hussainya mosque.
Retaliation came in the shape of the Sri Lanka Army and Muslim guards, who on September 9 took 158 Tamil civilians sheltering in the East University Campus plus 184 Tamil villagers from Sathurukondan village and caused all 342 to ‘disappear’.
The Tamil attacks of August had included single-shot executions of men with their hands bound and horrific, very public mutilations by machetes, grenades and machine guns. SLA/Muslim attacks left less bloody evidence but many mass graves. Neither side achieved anything except more dates to be remembered with further violence. In the 20 years since, peace declarations have been made and refuted and actual war has flared repeatedly. The Batticaloa massacres serve only as a terrible example of pointless tit-for-tat violence executed on the civilians who have least to gain from either side winning power.
The Magellan space probe gets to Venus.
The Magellan spacecraft was the first planetary explorer to be launched by a space shuttle when it was carried aloft by the shuttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 4, 1989. Atlantis took Magellan into low Earth orbit, where it was released from the shuttle’s cargo bay and fired by a solid-fuel motor called the Inertial Upper Stage on its way to Venus. Magellan looped around the Sun one-and-a-half times before arriving at Venus on August 10, 1990. A solid-fuel motor on the spacecraft then fired, placing Magellan into a near-polar elliptical orbit around Venus.
The spacecraft carried a sophisticated imaging radar, which was used to make the most highly detailed map of Venus ever captured during its four years in orbit around Venus from 1990 to 1994. After concluding its radar mapping, Magellan also made global maps of Venus’s gravity field. Flight controllers then tested a new maneuvering technique called aerobraking, which uses a planet’s atmosphere to slow or steer a spacecraft. The spacecraft made a dramatic plunge into the thick, hot Venusian atmosphere on October 12, 1994, and was crushed by the pressure of Venus’s atmosphere. Magellan’s signal was lost at 10:02 Universal Time, 3:02 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time that day.
The Magellan mission was divided up into “cycles” with each cycle lasting 243 days,the time necessary for Venus to rotate once under the Magellan orbit.
In all, the highly successful imaging radar mapped more than 98 percent of the planet’s surface and collected high-resolution gravity data of Venus. The lessons learned from Magellan’s aerodynamic dive into the Venusian atmosphere will be applied to future planetary missions.
North and South Yemen join to create the Republic of Yemen.
Although there are no cultural, ethnic and linguistic elements that could divide the North and the South of Yemen, the process of unification did not happen without conflict. In 1972 and in 1979, simmering tensions between the two Republics of Yemen led to fighting and attempts towards unification after these conflicts did not succeed. However, a draft constitution for a united State was written in 1981. In 1988, an agreement was concluded to demilitarize the borderline and exploit in common the oil wells discovered in 1984. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the main sponsor of South Yemen, and the cessation of Saudi aid to North Yemen, were determining factors in the movement towards the unification.
On 22 May 1990, the Yemen Arab Republic and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) merged to form a sovereign State, the Republic of Yemen. Sanaa, the former capital of the YAR, became the political capital while Aden with its free trade zone became the economical capital. Unification implied a complete fusion of the institutions of both States, thereby obliterating the federal or co-federal options envisaged previously. Within 30 months elections had to take place in order to give legitimacy to the new government.
The main beneficiary of the unification was former President of North Yemen, Ali Abdallah Saleh, who became President of the united Yemen, while Ali Salem al-Beid, the former President of South Yemen became Vice-President. One of the positive consequences of the unification was the creation of a multiparty political system and the organization of free elections in May 1991, which guaranteed freedom of speech, press freedom and the right of association. The unification process did not go without some difficulties due to the differences in terms of territory and demographic weight. The period of unification can be divided in two phases.
Jack Kevorkian (“Doctor Death”)participates in his first assisted suicide.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian has been known as “Dr. Death” since at least 1956, when he conducted a study photographing patients’ eyes as they died. Results established that blood vessels in the cornea contract and become invisible as the heart stops beating. In a 1958 paper, he suggested that death row inmates be euthanized, and their bodily organs harvested. In 1960, he proposed using condemned prisoners for medical experiments.
In 1989, a quadriplegic, too handicapped to kill himself, publicly asked for assistance, and Dr. Kevorkian began tinkering on a suicide machine. But a different patient — Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old with Alzheimer’s — was the first to test the device. It worked. Kevorkian then provided services to at least 45 and possibly more satisfied customers. Kevorkian was arrested and tried for his direct role in a case of voluntary euthanasia. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served eight years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence. He was released on parole on June 1, 2007, on condition he would not offer advice nor participate nor be present in the act of any type of suicide involving euthanasia to any other person; as well as neither promote nor talk about the procedure of assisted suicide
In 1997, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Americans who want to kill themselves but are physically unable to do so have no Constitutional right to end their lives. Kevorkian is now serving 10-25 years in prison, and is reportedly in ill health.
An agreement is reached on the plan to reunite Germany.
The German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany to form the reunited nation of Germany, and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The end of the unification process is officially referred to as German unity, celebrated on 3 October. Following German reunification, Berlin was once again designated as the capital of united Germany.
The East German regime started to falter in May 1989, when the removal of Hungary’s border fence with Austria opened a hole in the Iron Curtain. It caused an exodus of thousands of East Germans fleeing to West Germany and Austria via Hungary. The Peaceful Revolution, a series of protests by East Germans, led to the GDR’s first free elections on 18 March 1990, and to the negotiations between the GDR and FRG that culminated in a Unification Treaty.Other negotiations between the GDR and FRG and the four occupying powers produced the so-called “Two Plus Four Treaty” granting full sovereignty to a unified German state, whose two parts had previously still been bound by a number of limitations stemming from their post-World War II status as occupied regions.
The united Germany is the enlarged continuation of the Federal Republic and not a successor state. As such, the Federal Republic of Germany retained all its memberships in international organizations including the European Community and NATO, while relinquishing membership in the Warsaw Pact and other international organizations to which only East Germany belonged.