Past Honorees

At Central Synagogue

Adam Michnik
1991 Journalist and Anti-Communist Dissident

Adam Michnik, a fierce and unrelenting political dissident during the Communist regime in Poland, was editor-in-chief of Poland’s largest and best-selling daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. Imprisoned on many occasions for his anti-communist activities and writings, he played a vital role in the 1989 “Polish Round Table Talks” with the communist government, and is now an almost legendary figure in contemporary Poland.

Although born in Warsaw in 1946 to a family of Jewish communists, Michnik’s opposition to the communist regime started at a young age, as he aligned himself with various leftist groups during his school years. In 1968 he was expelled from the University of Warsaw and imprisoned for his activities in the Polish political crisis and crackdown (otherwise known as the March Events), ignited by anti-Russian allusions in a play at the National Theater. Released in 1969 under an amnesty, he was forbidden from continuing his studies until the middle of the 1970s.

After being involved in several different opposition groups in the 1970s, Michnik served as an adviser to Lech Walesa (eventually president of Poland from 1990-1995) in Solidarity, the first non-communist party controlled trade union in the Soviet bloc, from 1980-9. However, during this time spent a cumulative 4 years in jail: from 1981-1984 he languished in prison without a verdict for refusing to sign a loyalty oath under the newly imposed Martial Law, and in 1985 he was again arrested for organizing a strike in a shipyard.

Michnik continued his work for Solidarity, becoming a member of the Solidarity Citizens Committee and the Coordination Committee. He helped plan and participated in The Round Table Talks in 1989, which prompted the government to allow elections. In preparation for elections Lech Walesa told Michnik to organize a daily newspaper to serve as the mouthpiece for the Solidarity party – Gazeta Wyborcza (“Election Newspaper”). The newspaper became Poland’s most widely read daily newspaper, with Michnik as its paper’s editor-in-chief until 2004, when he retired.

Michnik has received many honors for his work, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1986, the French PEN Club Freedom Award in 1988, the OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy in 1996, the Erasmus Prize in 2001, and was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 2003. He has published several written works including Letters from Prison and Other Essays (1986), translated by Maya Latynski, a collection of writings smuggled out from his prison cell. He is currently a member of the Association of Polish Writers and the Council on Foreign Relations.