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Poland marks Solidarity's birth


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Poland marks Solidarity's birth

Foreign leaders have paid tribute to Poland's Solidarity movement at events to mark the founding of the first free trade union in the former Soviet bloc.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the movement had launched an irreversible process towards freedom in eastern Europe.

He was speaking at a conference in Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity.

Afterwards, a mass took place by the Gdansk shipyard, where Lech Walesa and fellow workers founded the movement.

Solidarity, officially recognised on 31 August 1980, is credited with playing a key role in the collapse of communism.

Within months of its establishment, Solidarity had become a national political movement claiming 10 million members.

Nine turbulent years later, Solidarity leaders negotiated the end of communism and a few months later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Shipyard gate

A quarter of a century on, correspondents in the movement's birthplace say its streets are festooned in the red and white of Poland.

An open-air mass at the gate of the Gdansk shipyard is the highlight of three days of celebrations.

Heads of state joined Solidarity members and former activists at the ceremony led by the Archbishop of Krakow.

The mass marks the role played by the Roman Catholic Church in toppling communism, particularly that of Poland's Karol Wojtyla, then newly elected as Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict XVI praised the Polish movement on Wednesday as a "breath of a new spirit" that changed Europe.

Speakers in Gdansk are to include Mr Walesa, the unemployed electrician who led the city strike that led to the formation of Solidarity. He went on to become the country's president.

The first stone will also be laid for a European Solidarity Centre to be built at the site.

Speaking to the BBC ahead of the celebrations, Mr Walesa recalled the day Solidarity was born.

He said: "The further history moves on, the clearer it becomes how important that moment was.

"The European Union couldn't have expanded, the unification of Germany would not have been possible.

"And other countries wouldn't have got their freedom if the Poles had not broken the Soviet bear's teeth. When other countries did their own thing, the bear could no longer bite."

Story from BBC NEWS:


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