The rise of Lech Walesa from shipyard electrician to leader of “Solidarity,” international icon of freedom, and first president of democratic Poland was closely bound up with rhetoric. Walesa's idiosyncratic verbal style galvanized the masses and successfully confronted communist propaganda. The revolution of the workers on the Baltic coast was to a large extent a revolution in language. Walesa was also a skilled negotiator. As president, however, he was a controversial figure; his conception of democracy as a continuing war of words is widely credited with spelling the end of the idealistic “Solidarity” era. Today, allegations remain that Walesa was an agent provocateur and that the Polish revolution may have been a provocation that got out of hand. Some allege that Walesa's myth was a creation of Western media, a function of people's desires, and an accident of the historical moment. While there is no proof that any of these allegations are true and the documentary record reveals Walesa's undeniable rhetorical prowess and political talent, his case provides material for reflection on the relationship between history, rhetoric, and political agency.

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