Lech Walesa

When he jumped a fence on Aug. 14, 1980, at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, Lech Walesa could not have known he would set off a chain of events that would help topple the Soviet Union. Walesa, then a 36-year-old electrician, entered the shipyard and gave direction to striking workers there. Three weeks later, he left as the leader of a peaceful revolution.

The strike forced Poland's communist government to allow free trade unions, and Walesa headed the first of these, Solidarity. But 16 months later, Poland's leaders tried to regain their tight grip, declaring martial law,...

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