The New Europe has its beginnings in Gdansk! “Wałęsa. Man of Hope” is a story of a contemporary hero – Lech Wałęsa (Robert Więckiewicz).
The movie begins with Oriana Fallaci (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) appearing at the Wałęsas’ flat in an apartment block to interview the future Nobel Prize winner. The emotion-packed conversation with one of the world most famous journalists constitutes a fabric of the movie narrative. Fallaci poses questions no one else ever wanted or dared to ask the legendary leader of the ”Solidarity” movement. By doing so, she unveils the truth of a man gifted with charisma and amazing political intuition.
The actual biographical story begins in 1970: Soon after the communist authorities have bloodily suppressed the workers’ protests, Wałęsa is forced to sign an obligation to collaborate with the Security Services. The following scenes showing hero’s path to political maturity are interwoven with the Wałęsas’ family life. The relationship between Lech and Danuta (Agnieszka Grochowska), their house full of kids and daily problems are as important as politics – they thought they were to live regular lives in their Gdansk apartment, but instead they were surrounded by momentous, political events, calling for taking a stand. Behind the strong man there is – as it turns out – a much stronger woman, his wife.
According to the real events, the scene when Lech is arrested together with his several months’ old daughter, in whose pram he’s smuggling illegal fliers, alternates with another scene showing Danuta having to face Security Services operatives once again rummaging through their flat full of children. Lech’s speech at the Shipyard on the 9th anniversary of the December 1970 massacre is the moment when, for the first time, Wałęsa demonstrates his leadership skills and his ability to enchant the crowds. Half a year later, in August 1980, he leads a strike at the Shipyard in Gdansk, becoming the ”Solidarity” movement’s leader, the symbol of opposition, and the struggle for democracy.
When the martial law is introduced in 1981, Lech is taken from his flat in Gdansk. His year-long internment proves to be a time of trial: Wałęsa – although cut off from any contact with the opposition activists – does not give up and does not agree to cooperate with the communist authorities, even though the offer is made several times. Lech Wałęsa getting a warm welcome in Gdansk after his return from internment as well as him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize are two signs of victory that is to be finally won in 1989 at the Round Table. The consequent first partly free, democratic elections in the Communist Block, result in turn in the following change of the political system. In the final scene of the movie Lech Wałęsa makes his speech to the US Congress, opening with the words: We, the People…
Lech Wałęsa – Biography
Lech Wałęsa, was born on September 29, 1943 in Popowo (Poland). Co-founder and a first leader of the Solidarity (“Solidarność”) trade union movement. In August 1980 he led the Gdansk shipyard strike. As a result of the strike, the communist authorities capitulated and agreed to sign Gdansk Agreement (August 31, 1980). He was fighting for a right of a working people to associate and for the dignity of human labour. During the martial law, which was introduced in December 1981, he was interned and isolated. Lech Wałęsa, a charismatic leader of the Polish opposition, has eight children with his beloved wife Danuta (married in 1969). When he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, it was she, who went to Oslo and read the acceptance speech: We desire peace – and that is why we have never resorted to physical force. We crave for justice – and that is why we are so persistent in the struggle for our rights. We seek freedom of convictions – and that is why we have never attempted to enslave man’s conscience nor shall we ever attempt to do so. During the following transformation process, he played a key role in talks between the communist party and the opposition. Wałęsa was elected as the President of Poland in 1990.
In December 1970 Lech Wałęsa is one of the leaders of the Gdańsk Shipyard strike and becomes a member of the Strike Committee.
In 1978 he starts collaboration with the Free Trade Unions of the Coast and distributes opposition’s press. He then becomes a co-worker of the Workers’ Defence Committee and joins the editorial staff of the independent biweekly „Robotnik Wybrzeża” (“Worker of the Coast”).
In August 1980 he is one of the organizers, alongside e.g. Bogdan Borusewicz of the Gdańsk Shipyard strike and becomes its leader. After other protesting groups join in, he proclaims it a “solidarity strike.”
December 13th, 1981 he is detained, transferred to Warsaw, then interned in government facilities in Chylice, Otwock Wielki and, finally, in Arłamów. When the decision of his internment is overturned in November 1982, Lech Wałęsa goes back to Gdańsk, where he is welcomed by crowds of people.
On October 5th 1983, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announces its decision to award Lech Wałęsa with the Nobel Peace Prize. His wife, Danuta Wałęsa, collects the prize on his behalf.
During the Roundtable Talks in Warsaw Wałęsa is a head of the “Solidarity” delegation. He also participates in confidential meetings at the Ministry of the Interior Affairs facility in Magdalenka, which are decisive in concluding the agreement. As a result, parliamentary elections are held in June 1989.
After two rounds of elections in November and December of 1990, he is elected President of the Republic of Poland. On December 22nd he is sworn in as the first president elected in the popular elections. Wałęsa remains in office until December 22nd, 1995. During his time in office the Soviet Army leaves the Polish territory.
The Prague Spring, ensuing attempts at liberalization of the communist regime by the reformist First Secretary Alexander Dubček, witnesses rising protests of students and intellectuals calling for freedom of the media, speech and travel. They are followed by the massive student and intelligentsia protests in Poland, known as March 1968, when the communist government forcibly crushes manifestations taking control over the universities. The consequent military intervention of the Soviet Block in the then Czechoslovakia, violently surpasses the growing popular opposition against the communist government.
Polish 1970 massive workers protest, known as December 70, lasts 5 days. 42 people are killed and more than 1000 wounded by the state militia. Protests begin after sudden increase of a food prices. In a result of the mass riots, Edward Gierek becomes new secretary of the communist party. Prices come back to their previous levels (as an effect of the party actions in the state-regulated economy).
The government announces a plan of a drastic increase of prices. In response, the workers of Radom and Ursus factories start to protest. Militia pacifies the crowds – over 150 people are killed. Under a pressure of Moscow, the governmental plan is however backed off. Many workers lose their job and are repressed. The opposition founds the Workers’ Defence Committee (KOR) to fight with the injustice. KOR is an example of the successful social self-organization dealing with the issues of a daily life. It becomes a precursor and inspiration for the Solidarity trade union few years later.
Cardinal Karol Wojtyła is elected a new pope. John Paul II future pilgrimages attract millions of Poles, strongly influencing people’s minds. The political role of the Catholic Church in Poland rises.
Meat prices increase. General economic situation in the country is very poor. Workers in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk begin a strike. On August 16th the strike is called back, but at night the InterFactory Strike Committee (MKS) lists 21 demands, including also the political postulates. The following talks between the opposition supported by intellectuals, and the government result in the Gdansk Agreement that is signed on August 31st. The main point for the workers is the establishment of a trade union, independent of the communist party control, and gaining a legal right to strike.
Trade union “Solidarność” (Solidarity) is officially registered. With this, many similar associations, likethe Independent Students Union, are also legalized.
Mass protests in the whole country. People start to speak openly about their needs.
Martial law is imposed. Many of the Solidarity’s leaders, including Wałęsa, are imprisoned.