Edward Gierek 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 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.