Forty years after the Solidarity movement united Poles and sparked their peaceful triumph over communism, the EU member is now deeply divided as concerns mount over the health of its young democracy.
In what has become an iconic image, on August 31, 1980 freedom hero Lech Walesa used an enormous pen to ink an agreement with the communists that gave rise to Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s first and only independent trade union.
“I knew the communists wanted to deceive me, that they were trying to strike a deal with us but remain in power,” said Walesa, the shipyard electrician turned Solidarity leader turned Polish president.
“I wasn’t going to let them fool me. I told them to give me just a little but I was thinking I’d take the rest myself. And I did,” the Nobel Peace laureate told AFP.
Ten million Poles — workers, intellectuals, farmers, teachers, artists, students — joined the peaceful movement that was unlike anything the country had ever seen.
It was all but crushed a year later when General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law and Walesa was arrested and interned.
But Solidarity still went on to win Poland’s 1989 semi-free elections, ushering in the first democratic government of the former Soviet bloc and ultimately leading to the fall of communism.
Solidarity is still around, though today it is just a regular union with around 500,000 members. The present-day incarnation is also government-friendly, which has earned it criticism.
In a sign of the times, there will be two commemorations the 40th anniversary of the movement separately: Walesa and the opposition in the morning, followed by Duda and the government in the afternoon.
Read more via France 24/AFP