Nobel Laureate to speak on campus

The leader of the anti-communist "Solidarity" movement and the former president of Poland is scheduled to speak about how faith helped him in his struggle on campus today.

Nobel laureate Lech Walesa is scheduled to speak and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in the Varsity Theatre at 4 p.m. A reception will follow in the Alumni Memorial Union Monaghan Ballroom.

The 1983 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is speaking as part of an extended Mission Week event, representing the theme of "Hope and Freedom."

The event is open to students and faculty who have tickets, which were made available during Mission Week and are now sold out.

"I think his work in Poland has shown us a model of what it means to be in solidarity," said Susan Mountain, director of the Manresa Project and volunteer at the event. "It's so important to give people a voice. His leadership in Poland has allowed people in Poland to have a voice. We need models of leaders who respond to the needs not only of the rich but of the poor and working class and Walesa is that kind of a leader."

Born in Popowo, Poland, on Sep. 29, 1943, Walesa grew up to become a mechanic. He first protested Communism and led his fellow workers in strikes in 1970, at which time he was arrested and sent to jail for a short period of time. Six years later he was fired and had to provide for himself and his family by working at part-time jobs, according to the Nobel Prize Web site.

In 1978, Walesa and activists organized underground non-communist trade unions and various protests and strikes, during which they were closely monitored by the Communist government and was sometimes put in jail.

Walesa came to be seen as the leader of the anti-communist, pro-labor movement when he lead the famous Lenin Shipyard Strike in 1980. His demand for workers' rights and the freedom to unionize led to the development of "Solidarity," which became the slogan for his anti-communist movement, according to the Nobel Prize Web site.

Walesa's demands were met when the government, through many negotiations, released the Gdansk Agreement in August of 1980.

The following year, Walesa met with Pope John Paul II, who supported the "Solidarity" movement. He traveled to Italy, Japan, Sweden, France and Switzerland as a guest of the International Labour Organization, formed as part of the 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty. In 1981, Walesa was elected as the Solidarity Chairman at the First National Solidarity Congress in Gdansk, according to the Web site.

Three months later, Walesa was detained and kept in a remote country house as part of the government's efforts to limit Solidarity and impose martial law. Walesa was released the following November and continued to work at the Gdansk shipyards, where he kept in touch with the underground Solidarity movement while being kept under strict government surveillance. In July 1983, the government stepped back from martial law and three months later Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize.

"When I was in college Mr. Walesa received the Nobel prize and I remember watching that on TV and being very excited about it — and now to think after all those years that he will be here on our campus to share his thoughts with us is very exciting and a great day," said Stephanie Quade, associate dean of Student Development.

In the following years, Poland's economic conditions worsened and the people grew to strongly dislike the Communist government. In 1990, they elected Lech Walesa as the first Democratic President of Poland. He served as president for the next five years until he was defeated in the 1995 elections.

"Lech Walesa had an immense impact on the course of history in Eastern Europe," said Stephanie Russell, executive director of University Mission and Identity. "His faith and his willingness to put faith into action speak strongly to all of us about what it means to become women and men for others. I am delighted that President Walesa can be here as this year's Mission Week speaker and another of the Nobel Laureates who have enriched our campus."

Walesa has been honored with many awards and recognitions. He holds honorary degrees from Harvard and the University of Paris and received the Medal of Freedom from the United States, the Award of the Free World from Norway and the European Award of Human Rights. He has appeared in Time Magazine, The Financial Times, The London Observer, Die Welt, Die Zeit, L'Express and Le Soir, according to the Marquette press release. Walesa became the third person in history to address a joint session of the United States Congress in 1989.