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During a weeklong study-tour in Poland last week to explore several aspects of recent Polish history that struck me as pertinent to current developments in the Arab world, I made sure to visit the Gdansk shipyards where the Solidarity labor movement was born in 1980 . I have long admired that movement's pivotal role in initiating workers' strikes and sit-ins, collective bargaining, political negotiations and, ultimately, an agreement in 1989 with the Soviet Union for a liberalization of political governance in Poland. Recognizing that victory would only come cumulatively and in stages, Walesa said their movement's nonviolent resistance, protest and strikes always included demanding practical, limited rights from the state, rather than asking for impossible concessions.Some Polish rulers under Russia's thumb who saw this did not defend the system strongly, which made it easier for Solidarity to negotiate with the external Russian enemy it faced, he said.Walesa led the first independent free labor movement in the Soviet world, and in 1990 was elected president of the democratic country, only to lose his luster a decade later when his party was badly defeated in the 2000 elections. What lessons does he retain from managing a democratic system?
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