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Celebrations mark Poland's historic victory over communism

4th June 2009
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World leaders pay tribute to those who helped free Poland and Eastern Europe from communism

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A number of world leaders gathered in Kraków on Thursday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of elections in Poland that heralded the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk played host to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko, former Polish Presidents Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Ryszard Kaczorowski, former Czech President Václav Havel, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso at the event.

“Freedom and Solidarity is, and will always be needed,” Tusk told the televised gathering.

President Lech Kaczyński, meanwhile, attended celebrations at the Gdańsk shipyard, the spiritual birthplace of the Solidarity movement.

“I regret that in this hall, from among the highest members of the Republic, I stand here alone. Sincerely, in spite of our differences, I would have liked it to be different,” President Kaczyński added during a ceremony where he handed medals of distinction to people who were involved in the fight against communism.

Since the events of 1980's many members of the Poland's movement for democracy now find themselves on different sides of the political spectrum. Jan Hałas, who was deputy head of the Solidarność workers union during the 1990s, refused to accept a medal in protest at this devision. “It hurts to see people who are linked with Solidarity divided in this way. Be it the President of Prime Minister, [Civic Platform] or [Law and Justice], these are people from Solidarność and friends,” Hałas told Rzeczpospolita daily.

In his speech on Wawel hill in the former Polish capital, PM Tusk praised the efforts of the late Pope John Paul II, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko who was murdered by agents of the communist SB internal intelligence agency, former President and Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa and Lech Kaczyński – who himself was part of the Solidarity movement.

Ms Merkel praised Poland's pro-democracy campaigners for their steadfast determination and the legacy of their struggle for freedom “The [Berlin] Wall would not have fallen if it were not for Poland,” she said.

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