Why this story matters:
Few Poles are as iconic as Lech Wałęsa. The leader of the Solidarity movement, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and first president of post-communist Poland is a living legend.
Lech Wałęsa's political career started in a Gdynia shipyard. Trained as an electrician and famous for his uncompromising temper, he was an ordinary Pole. In 1980, he led the strike that would lead to the end of Communism in Poland.
The famous BHP hall, where Wałęsa signed the agreement between the workers and the authorities, was turned into a museum in 2010. His portrait was on show in the exhibition.
However, it has now been replaced by a small work of art commemorating the Smolensk plane crash of 2010, which killed then president Lech Kaczyński, twin brother of the influential right-wing party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. The change was spotted by journalist Jarosław Kuźniar:
Former president Wałęsa wrote on Twitter that he only cares about his place in the hearts of Poles.
While the Smolensk plane crash is a tragic and crucial element of recent Polish history, it has nothing to do with what the museum commemorates. This change is a purely political gesture, aimed at showing Wałęsa his place in the ruling party’s vision of the past.
Details from the story:
- The trade union "Solidarity", established in 1980 and led by Lech Wałęsa, quickly transformed into a social and political movement, numbering around 10 million members at its peak. It was the driving force of Poland’s peaceful transition to democracy in 1989.
- On October 5, 1983, the Nobel Committee announced the decision to grant Wałęsa the Nobel Peace Prize.
- In 1990, he was elected President of Poland.
- There have been conflicts between Lech Wałęsa and Jarosław Kaczyński, the ruling PiS party leader, since the early 1990s.
- PiS has made politics of memory one of its crucial fields of interests, resulting in the rise of nationalism and an international scandal around the so-called Holocaust Bill.