World leaders praise Solidarity and its peaceful road to democracy

As brilliant sunshine lit the streets of Gdansk yesterday, Georgia's President, Mikhail Saakashvili, hailed the "second wave of Solidarity" that brought him to power in 2003. President Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the orange revolution from neighbouring Ukraine, told the invited leaders: "Solidarity has become a road for everyone." The German President, Horst Köhler, said: "Poles freed not just themselves, they launched a process which radiates until today. The fact Poland threw off the yoke of Communism led to the unification of Europe, led to a united Germany." Speakers marvelled that Solidarity had achieved regime change through dialogue between revolutionaries and tyrants, rather than force, and served as a model for the so-called rose, tulip, orange and cedar revolutions that have taken place in the former Soviet bloc and beyond during the past two years.

Poland's President, Aleksander Kwasnieswki, personifying the pragmatism of the Solidarity revolution that finally achieved victory in 1989 - he is a former supporter of the Soviet-backed regime turned democrat and capitalist - brought the memorial vividly into the present.

Motioning to another former Communist, Mr Yushchenko, Mr Kwasnieswki referred to the poison-scarred hero of the orange revolution as the latest to reap the rewards of the Solidarity legacy.

Mr Yushchenko in turn referred to Solidarity as a "banner of independence" that was "symbolic for the Ukrainian people". Mr Saakashvili added: "Solidarity was the best thing which happened in the 20th century."

But not everyone in Gdansk yesterday was ready to join the celebrations. "What we have in Poland today is not what my parents fought for," said a Gdansk city councillor, Grzegorz Sieletycki, who at 25 was born just days after Solidarity was created on 31 August 1980.

"Once we were the slaves of Moscow, now we are the slaves of Washington and Brussels. The workers fought Communism because they wanted honourable working conditions," he said. "Frankly, those working conditions have got worse, and there's no solidarity if Polish lawyers have to go and wash English dishes for want of work here."

Mr Sieletycki, a representative of a section of Polish youth frustrated with the harsh capitalism that Solidarity finally won for Poland, is a member of the right-wing League of Polish Families, and speaks with admiration of Margaret Thatcher.

Anna Walentynowicz, the Gdansk shipyard worker whose dismissal sparked the strike that Lech Walesa then led to form Solidarity, has staged a counter-commemoration, and maintains that Mr Walesa made too many compromises with Communists.

Lech Walesa, a former shipyard electrician, acknowledged during his speech at the site of a new European Solidarity Centre yesterday that "freedom came, but it is still hard to get bread."

Comments