WARSAW -- Jacek Kuron, who led the struggle against Poland's communist leaders as a dissident in the 1970s and later became a popular government minister, died yesterday after a long illness. He was 70.
Details of the illness were not immediately known.
Mr. Kuron was believed to have played an important role in the founding of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement, which went on to play a central role on postcommunist Polish governments. Walesa said Mr. Kuron brought "extraordinary merit to Poland."
"He was the unquestionable leader of anticommunist struggle in the 1970s and '80s," Walesa said. "There would have been no success or victory without him, without his in tellect."
Vaclav Havel, who led the peaceful Velvet Revolution that brought down communism in Czechoslovakia, said Mr. Kuron had also been an inspiration to dissidents in his country.
"When we met for the first time, we were shining with energy, ideas, and ideals, and we were lucky to live long enough to see the implementation of at least some of them," Havel said.
"Jacek Kuron can leave this world with honor and with the feeling that he has achieved a great deal."
Born March 3, 1934, in the eastern Polish city of Lvov, now in Ukraine, Mr. Kuron became a strong supporter of the communist regime imposed by the Soviet Union following World War II.
But he had become disenchanted by 1964, and wrote a letter to the party accusing its members of betraying communist ideals and infringing on people's freedoms. The party reacted by expelling Mr. Kuron and jailing him for more than three years.
Many other incarcerations followed between 1966 and 1984, as Mr. Kuron took on a leading role in organizing student and worker demonstrations and other prodemocracy agitation.
While Walesa was the popular leader of the Solidarity movement, Mr. Kuron was widely seen as the intellectual driving force behind its founding in 1980.
He was jailed Dec. 13, 1981, in a nationwide nighttime sweep that netted hundreds of Solidarity leaders after the country's communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, imposed martial law.
Mr. Kuron played a major role in the 1989 round-table talks between Solidarity and the communist authorities that led to Poland's first free elections and the ouster of communists.
He became labor minister in the first democratic government, between 1989 and 1990 under Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, gaining wide popularity in his fight to help the country's poor.
In that role, he introduced welfare programs for the unemployed and opened outdoor soup kitchens to feed people -- starting the program by himself taking to the streets to serve the food.
In a nod to his efforts, welfare payments became popularly known as "Kuron's Money" and the food as "Kuron's Soup."
Mr. Kuron, who was almost always clad in jeans and a denim jacket no matter the occasion, served again as labor minister under Solidarity's third government, under Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka, between 1992 and 1993.
Mr. Kuron made an unsuccessful bid for president in 1995, after which his health deteriorated significantly and he retreated from public life.
He leaves his second wife, Danuta, who spent days at his hospital bedside, and his son, Maciej.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been set.