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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 3, 2008
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A Blow to Communism
December 3, 2008   
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Twenty-five years ago Lech Wałęsa, the leader and co-founder of Solidarity, the first independent trade union movement in the Soviet bloc, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Wałęsa, who after the fall of communism went on to become president 1990-1995, is the only Pole to have ever won the peace prize.

The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which has been awarding the prize since 1901, said in his presentation speech Dec. 10, 1983 that Wałęsa had been chosen for his efforts on behalf of human rights in Poland and the communist world generally.

The communist authorities that then ruled Poland refused to issue Wałęsa a passport to attend the ceremony to give his acceptance speech and collect his diploma and prize money. They had only months earlier, on July 22, lifted the martial law they imposed Dec. 13, 1981 to thwart the Solidarity movement. Wałęsa himself had been interned until November 1982. An opposition figure of Wałęsa's stature being awarded such a major international prize was seen by Poland's communist authorities and their Moscow overlords as a huge propaganda blow. They allowed only Wałęsa's wife Danuta and 13-year-old son Bogdan to attend the ceremony. Warsaw's Okęcie airport was virtually sealed off the winter's day the two flew out of the capital. All the streets around the airport were closed to vehicular traffic in an attempt to forestall any protests that the opposition or supporters of Wałęsa might have been planning. Only workers and passengers on other flights were allowed into the airport and only then after their documents had been thoroughly screened. Many public areas were closed, including the observation deck. The official reason was to carry out renovation work, although nothing was ever done.

The ceremony in Oslo was not even mentioned in Poland's state-run media. Wałęsa's compatriots had to turn to Polish-language broadcasts from the west, like Radio Free Europe or the BBC's Polish section, to learn that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. These were not that easy to pick up back then as the authorities went to great lengths to jam them, especially in the country's large cities.
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