Adam Michnik was born in 1946, in Warsaw. In high school at 15 he co-founded a discussion club called The Seekers of Contradictions. As a history student at Warsaw University he was suspended twice - in 1965 for supporting an open letter to the Communist Party and in 1966 for co-organizing a meeting with Leszek Kolakowski, who would eventually become the philosophical grandfather of the democratic opposition. As a leader of the March 1968 student free-speech protests Michnik was expelled from the university and sentenced to three years in prison. Released under an amnesty after a year and a half (the first of an eventual total of more than six years in prison), he spent two years as a welder in the Rosa Luxemburg Lightbulb Factory, then worked as private secretary to the liberal and pacifist poet and columnist, Antoni Slonimski, and completed his history studies at Poznan University in 1975.
Following a severe government crackdown on protesting workers in 1976 Michnik co-founded the Committee for the Defense of Workers, known as KOR, to assist those imprisoned and their families. It was a breakthrough first step towards unaccustomed mutual support between workers and the intelligentsia that would soon flower in the Solidarity movement. Meanwhile KOR was a catalyst for the clandestine publication of independent bulletins, periodicals, and books, in which Michnik played an active role as editor and essayist. He also was a co-founder of the "Flying University", offering unauthorized courses in private apartments. His many books advocated a shift from the traditional belief in revolution-by-force to a commitment to incremental, evolutionary change, encouraged people to live as though they were living in a free country, and described ways to create small but widening spaces for an authentic "public life" within the system. As a key advisor to Solidarity, the first independent, self-governing trade union in the Soviet Bloc, established through negotiations at the Gdansk shipyards in August 1980 - and which came to represent virtually the whole society - he advocated a "self-limiting revolution". He publicly preached and personally practiced dialogue and non-violence.
Interned with thousands of others in December 1981 when the regime imposed martial law, it was while he was in prison yet again in 1985 that he was awarded an Honorary Degree by the New School for Social Research, the first of many more such honors to come. He rejected, on the other hand, the regime's offer of a villa on the Riviera if he'd just leave the country.
He was again a key participant in the 1989 Roundtable Talks between Solidarity and the regime that led to a non-violent transition from Communist rule, and he was elected to the Senate in Poland's newly democratic Parliament. Solidarity's campaign bulletin, the "Electoral Gazette", Gazeta Wyborcza, went on to become the largest daily in Central and Eastern Europe, with Michnik as Editor-in-Chief, who has made it more than a newspaper, but an on-going major platform for discussion on the principles and practices of democracy. For all that, and for his ongoing and varied contributions to international dialogue, the 15-year-old debater has become one of the most widely honored public figures in Europe.
His numerous awards, by way of example only, include The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1989, the Journalism and Democracy Award of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1996, Germany's Carl Bertelsmann Prize in 2001 for his contributions to Poland's transformation and "his courageous efforts on behalf of civil society and an engaged press", and that same year Holland's Erasmus Prize "for advancing the art of dialogue, tolerance, and intercultural understanding"... France's Legion of Honor in 2003& and other high honors from Lithuania, Hungary, Ukraine, Romania, Chile, Spain, and more.