Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006

Lech Walesa: 1981

At the center of the Polish revolution in 1981 was one of history's more improbable heroes. As TIME noted in naming him Man of the Year in 1981, "With a double chin, a bit of a paunch, and a height of only 5 ft. 7 in., Lech Walesa, 38, hardly has an imposing physical presence. His working-class Polish is rough and often ungrammatical; his voice, perhaps from years of heavy smoking, is hoarse and rasping.

His speeches frequently are riddled with mixed metaphors and skewed analogies; Solidarity's leaders admit that Walesa is more intuitive than intellectual. He rather defiantly claims that he has never read a serious book in his life." Yet Walesa got through his message of hope to his countrymen. The irony of his shipyard protests in Gdansk: An authentic proletarian revolution had risen, much as Marx had predicted, only to be put down by the guns of the oppressor class: the Communists themselves.

Researched by Joan Levinstein, the Time Inc. Research Center