Solidarity trade union marks 25th anniversary

31st August 2005, Comments 0 comments

31 August 2005, WARSAW/GDANSK - Marking a quarter century since the rise of Poland's freedom-fighting Solidarity trade union, its legendary leader Lech Walesa insisted Wednesday that new ideas and structures were crucial to meet the challenges posed by globalisation.

31 August 2005

WARSAW/GDANSK - Marking a quarter century since the rise of Poland's freedom-fighting Solidarity trade union, its legendary leader Lech Walesa insisted Wednesday that new ideas and structures were crucial to meet the challenges posed by globalisation.

Global structures developed in the post-war period were now irrelevant, the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate told senior statesmen gathered Wednesday at the 'From Solidarity to Freedom' conference in the Polish Baltic port city of Gdansk.

"What is the role of the world's only super power? What is the role of the United Nations?," Walesa queried.

"I implore all of you - no generation had this much opportunity - opportunities for peace and prosperity. Our drama is that we have a new era, but old ideas," he said, urging lively economic, social and political debate to meet the challenges of the epoch of "intellect, information and globalisation."

Polands President Aleksander Kwasniewski expressed gratitude to both Lech Walesa and the Czech Republic's legendary anti-communist dissident Vaclav Havel, also present in Gdansk, for their historic leadership.

Havel called for solidarity with pro-democracy dissidents and activists still struggling for freedom in Belarus, Cuba, Myanmar and North Korea. "Solidarity and freedom also mean responsibility - if we are responsible we have to think of these people now and send them signs of our support," said the former Czech president.

"There is no Europe without freedom and solidarity," European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told delegates. Earlier this week he expressed hope that both values would prevail in Belarus, referred to by many senior Western leaders as "Europe's last dictatorship".

German President Horst Koehler also reflected on the pivotal role played by Solidarity and Poland in transforming Europe and the world.

"Twenty-five years ago, the world looked to the Gdansk Shipyard where Poles struggled for their rights and freedoms," Koehler told delegates.

"Solidarity became the symbol of this fight and a worldwide symbol of freedom," he said. "In the end Poles did not only liberate themselves - they began a process of historic meaning for the world which has impact even today," Koehler said, pointing to Georgia's 2003 Solidarity-inspired 'Rose Revolution' and Ukraine's bloodless pro-democracy 'Orange Revolution' just last year.

The hero of that mass movement, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko thanked E.U. newcomer Poland for its pivotal support during last year's tense struggle and insisted "Ukraine needs Europe and Europe needs Ukraine." Poland is pushing the 25-member bloc hard to meet Ukraine's aspirations for future E.U. membership.

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, said he was confident similar peaceful revolutions would make democracy victorious around the world, "even in Belarus."

A major Solidarity ally during the Cold War, former U.S. president George Bush attended Wednesday's ceremonies. Delegates also heard a message from U.S. President George W. Bush, delivered by the elder Bush's former Secretary of State James Baker, in which he praised Poland's current role as a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

The leaders met to celebrate the epic strikes which swept across Poland in August 1980 giving birth to the Solidarity trade union and movement which vanquished communism in Poland in 1989 by peaceful means.

Poles also celebrated 'Solidarity and Freedom Day' for the first time Wednesday to mark Solidarity's historic 25th anniversary. A formal proposal was also launched to the United Nations to declare August 31 as 'International Solidarity and Freedom Day.'

The European Centre for Solidarity, a new institution focusing on human rights monitoring and propagating democracy, freedom and independence around the globe was due to be inaugurated in Gdansk later Wednesday.

The late Pope John Paul II's former personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz celebrated a solemn mass in Gdansk Wednesday on the Solidarity anniversary. Lech Walesa himself credits the Polish-born John Paul as having inspired Poles with the courage to shed the oppressive yolk of communism.

This week, concerts, conferences and official ceremonies in Warsaw and Gdansk have marked a quarter of a century since the first mass strikes in the Soviet bloc which won Poles unprecedented human and civil rights behind the Iron Curtain.

After 15 days of work stoppages involving nearly 20 per cent of the country's workforce and tense negotiations between striking workers and communist rulers, the landmark 21-point Gdansk Agreement heralding the birth of Solidarity was signed on August 31, 1980 by Walesa and communist party leaders.

After the communist party's December 1981 brutal crackdown on the union, Solidarity rose again to negotiate a peaceful end to communism and free democratic elections in Poland in 1989.

The breakthrough heralded the later collapse of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia and ultimately, the demise of the Soviet Union.

Having rallied more than 10 million Poles under communism, the economic hardships and disillusionment associated with democracy and capitalism have seen membership in the Solidarity trade union dwindle dismally since the 1989 breakthrough.


Subject: German news

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