born Nov. 15, 1954, Dojlidy, near Bialystok, Pol. Polish politician who was a former Communist Party official who became the second president of postcommunist Poland in 1995 by upsetting the reelection bid of Lech Walesa, who had won Poland's first direct presidential election in 1990. Kwasniewski studied economics at the University of Gdansk, where he was chairman of the socialist student group. He joined the Communist Party in 1977 and moved to Warsaw to edit two of the party's youth newspapersthe weekly Itd (198184; Etc.) and the daily Sztandar Mlodych (198485; Standard of Youth). Kwasniewski steadily rose through party ranks, appointed to the Council of Ministers in 1985 and named Minister of Youth Affairs and Physical Culture in 1987. The Communist Party, however, faced growing unrest, led by Walesa and his trade union, Solidarity, and in the late 1980s Kwasniewski took part in round-table discussions that ended communist rule, heading the committee that dealt with trade unions. After the fall of communism, he founded the Democratic Left Alliance, which won a plurality of seats in the parliamentary elections of 1993. Kwasniewski then formed a ruling coalition with the Polish Peasant Party, which was similarly composed of former communists. In the 1995 elections Kwasniewski capitalized on Walesa's waning popularity and was elected president in a narrow runoff victory. He continued Walesa's reform efforts toward a market economy and in 1999 oversaw Poland's admittance into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

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