Poland honors Solidarity with new culture center

GDANSK, Poland (AP) — Poland’s new European Solidarity Center should help raise future generations with an appreciation of freedom and democracy, President Bronislaw Komorowski said as the center opened on Sunday.

Komorowski and Lech Walesa, the legendary Solidarity leader and former president, both spoke at the opening of the multi-purpose center in the Baltic port city of Gdansk that marked 34 years since eastern Europe’s first free trade union was founded. Solidarity led to the ouster of communism from Poland and to a democratic state.

“Freedom is not an easy thing, but it is truly a beautiful and extremely important thing,” Komorowski said. “We must take care of our freedom … but first of all we must remember the times when we did not have it, when it was only a dream.”

Komorowski’s words had additional weight at a time when Poland’s two neighbors, Ukraine and Russia, are locked in armed conflict.

The ceremony was disturbed by a small group representing pensioners and the unemployed who chanted “traitors, thieves” to demonstrate their discontent with the Solidarity-rooted government.

The Solidarity center houses documents and photos detailing Solidarity’s history from its rise and its reluctant endorsement by the communist authorities in 1980, through incarceration and persecution of its activists under martial law in the 1980s, until successful negotiations that ended communism in Poland. It has a library, a conference hall and an education center for students. Walesa has his new office there.

Solidarity was born in August 1980 out of worker protests in Gdansk shipyard and soon became a nationwide freedom movement. In 1989 it peacefully toppled Poland’s communist rulers, paving the way for similar change in other Soviet bloc nations.

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