Polish politicianDied when: 88 years 204 days (1062 months)
Star Sign: Capricorn
Edward Gierek (Polish pronunciation: [ˈɛdvart ˈɡʲɛrɛk]; 6 January 1913 – 29 July 2001) was a Polish communist politician and de facto leader of Poland between 1970 and 1980.
Gierek replaced Władysław Gomułka as First Secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) in the Polish People's Republic in 1970.
He is known for opening communist Poland to the Western Bloc and for his economic policies based on foreign loans, which ultimately failed.
He was removed from power after labour strikes led to the Gdańsk Agreement between the communist state and workers of the emerging Solidarity free trade union movement.
Born in Upper Silesia to a devoutly Catholic family, Gierek emigrated with his relatives to France at a young age.
In 1934, he was deported to Poland for communist advocacy and campaigning, but subsequently moved to Belgium to work as a coal miner in Genk.
As a result, he was proficient in French, which benefited in pursuing his future political career.During the Second World War, Gierek was active in the Belgian Resistance against the Germans.
He returned to post-war Poland only in 1948 after spending 22 years abroad.In 1954, he became part of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) under Bolesław Bierut as a representative of the Silesian region.
Known for his openness and public speaking, Gierek gradually emerged as one of the most respected and progressive politicians in the country, whilst becoming a strong opponent to more authoritarian Władysław Gomułka.
Gomułka was removed from office after the 1970 Polish protests were violently suppressed on his authority.In December 1970, Gierek was appointed the new First Secretary and de facto leader of the Polish People's Republic.
The first years of his term were marked by industrialization as well as the improvement of living and working conditions.
Having spent time in Western Europe, he opened communist Poland to new Western ideas and loosened the censorship, thus turning Poland into the most liberal country of the Eastern Bloc.
The large sums of money lent by foreign creditors were directed at constructing blocks of flats and at creating heavy steel and coal industries in his native Silesia.
In 1976, Gierek opened the first fully-operational Polish highway from Warsaw to Katowice, which colloquially bears his name to this day.
However, by the end of the 1970s Poland submerged into economic decline.The country was so heavily indebted that rationing was introduced due to shortages as the government was unable to pay off the loans.
In 1980, he allowed for the Solidarity trade union to appear per Gdańsk Agreement, which formed a basis for workers' rights.
Seen as a radical move to renounce communism, Gierek was removed from office like his predecessor.Despite dragging Poland into financial and economic decline, Edward Gierek is fondly remembered for his patriotism and modernization policies; over 1.8 million flats were constructed to house the growing population, and he is also responsible for initiating the production of Fiat 126 in Poland and the erection of Warszawa Centralna railway station, the most modern European station at the time of its completion in 1975.
Numerous aphorisms and sayings were popularized under his term, in particular the ones referring to the food shortages were later promoted by Ronald Reagan.