Gandhi. King. Walesa. We know of the commitment to non-violence by the first two, but the results achieved by Lech Walesa of Poland using that same tactic are sometimes overlooked.

Walesa, who rose from a poor farming family to lead Poland's fight for freedom, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. In 1990 he became the first president of the Third Polish Republic. On Oct. 15, 1996, he will receive the Sam Houston Humanitarian Award at Sam Houston State University.

"General Sam Houston, an emigrant from the United States, led the fight for freedom in Texas 160 years ago," said Dr. Bobby K. Marks, SHSU president. "We are pleased to honor a modern hero from Europe, an area from which many emigrants have also come to help build Texas. Many of the descendants of those emigrants have made better lives for themselves and their families with an education from Sam Houston State."

Like Houston, who is known for leading a small army of Texas volunteers to victory against a much larger enemy force, Walesa led a triumph against great odds.

He was working as a shipyard electrician in Gdansk in 1970, and participated in food price protests. In 1980, when labor protests escalated, the Solidarity union was formed and he was elected its leader. As a result of the union-led revolt, the Polish communist government was forced to hold parliamentary elections in 1989, and suffered a humiliating defeat.

During the next three months, communist systems fell in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. By the end of 1991 the Soviet Union had collapsed, and with it communism suffered a death blow.

As Poland's president, Walesa turned his attention to establishing a market economy. Having been arrested, interned and repressed by the communists, he found that effort an equal if not greater challenge.

"The results have been both spectacular and painful," said Dr. Witold Lukaszewski, professor of political science at SHSU. A healthy 6-7 percent per year economic growth is projected to "slow" to a still respectable 5-6 percent in 1997.

There have been economic, social, and political costs, however.

"The introduction of market forces into a communist economy unavoidably caused havoc among the inefficient, state-controlled enterprises," said Lukaszewski.

Bankruptcies proliferated and unemployment rose to nearly 18 percent. Today approximately 13 percent of the Polish people live in poverty. Walesa, himself, became a casualty of his own strong economic medicine. In the 1995 presidential election Poland voted with its pocketbook and Walesa lost re-election by a 3.5 percent margin.

"His electoral loss, after leading Poland to freedom and political and economic success, had the same bittersweet aftertaste as did Churchill's in Britain after World War II," said Lukaszewski.

Walesa continues to work for freedom, democracy, and stability in Poland and Europe. He is especially interested in enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Poland and other democracies in the region.

One of the highlights of Walesa's trip to Texas is expected to be a visit to New Waverly, 60 miles north of Houston, which has a large Polish-American community. Walesa will meet with residents there at St. Joseph's Catholic Church at 4:40 p.m. Monday, Oct. 14.

The award presentation and a speech by Walesa are scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, in the Beto Criminal Justice Center's Killinger Auditorium. While in Texas Walesa will also participate in events sponsored by the Houston World Affairs Council Oct. 13 and the Dallas Council on World Affairs Oct. 14.

The Sam Houston Humanitarian Award was created in 1993 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of American statesman and Texas hero Sam Houston. Selection criteria include evidence of the same qualities exhibited by Sam Houston, including:


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak

Sept. 17, 1996