Thirty years after Polish workers won landmark trade union rights, lighting the fuse that eventually brought the end of communism in Europe, the strike leader who signed the historic deal is snubbing several anniversary events.
Lech Walesa still lives in Gdansk where shipyard workers under his leadership inspired thousands of others to defy the authorities. Disillusioned with the current state of Solidarity, the union he founded, he says he is too tired to take part in the main commemorations.
One senior official in the union today says nobody could have anticipated at the time what the end of communism would bring.
“Only in the 1990s did we realise that the changes were not what we’d expected,” said the vice-president of Solidarity, Marciej Janowski. “Free market rules were introduced and businesses had to adjust to them. Some sectors were liquidated. For the first time we experienced unemployment. This was a problem that many people, including some in Solidarity, could not face. Even today they are blaming the government or Solidarity for it not turning out the way they wanted it to.”
Walesa, who became Poland’s president for five years, was not among the two and a half thousand who gathered for the anniversary’s main event in the northern port city of Gdynia.
He is a strong critic of Solidarity’s support for Poland’s opposition Law and Justice Party.
US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent tribute messages to Solidarity, saying the Polish workers’ stand 30 years ago had inspired many to resist tyranny.