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Solidarity Honored as Catalyst for Democracy

Solidarity Honored as Catalyst for Democracy in Eastern Europe

President Bush praises Solidarity's "contributions to the spread of liberty"

By Tim Receveur
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – World leaders gathered in the city of Gdansk to pay tribute to the 25th anniversary of Poland's Solidarity movement, the first free trade union in the former Soviet bloc and the catalyst for the birth of democracy in Eastern Europe.

Led by shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, Solidarność – Solidarity – was officially recognized on August 31, 1980, by the communist government. Despite being suppressed in late 1981, Solidarity grew into a broad anti-communist social movement with 10 million members and helped end Communist Party rule in Poland after a decade of struggle.

From the United States, President Bush sent a statement recognizing Solidarity's "vital and important contributions to the spread of liberty."

“As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity movement, we are reminded that all people are entitled to choose their form of government and their leaders," Bush wrote. "Those striving for democratic rights need our support, and they can look to Solidarity as a shining example of liberty and justice."

In Gdansk, German President Horst Koehler told leaders that “the fact that Poland threw off the yoke of communism led to the unification of Europe, led to a united Germany."

"Poles freed not just themselves – they launched a process which radiates until today," he said. "The presidents of Ukraine and Georgia can confirm this."

"For the Ukrainian people the idea of Solidarity was symbolic," said Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. "For millions it was a banner of independence."

Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili said he sees his country’s Rose Revolution and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine "as a second wave of Solidarity."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who noted that the European Union expanded in 2004 to include eight ex-communist countries, said that "without the Solidarity movement we would not have had the European Union that we have today. And we know that there is no Europe without freedom and solidarity."

Speaking at the commemoration, Walesa said, "Why did we do all of it? To launch a new epoch, one without divisions. Without one shot, our generation was able to do it."

Later in the day, Walesa, Yushchenko and other leaders signed the founding act for the European Solidarity Center, an institute in Gdansk that will work to propagate democracy, monitor human rights in the world and commemorate Solidarity's legacy.

The United States sent a presidential delegation led by former Secretary of State James Baker to Gdansk. One of the members was Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs.

In an August 26 interview, Fried said that Poland and Solidarity show “democracy can triumph, that politics – that democratic politics – can prevail over the secret police. And that's a lesson worth remembering throughout the world.”

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