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Europe

Celebrating Solidarity, 25 Years On

In Gdansk, Poland has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the birth of Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the communist bloc and a catalyst that led to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

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Walesa flashes "V" for victory on the trade union's anniversary

A quarter of a century ago, a strike at the sprawling Lenin shipyard on the Baltic Sea ended and Solidarity was born. Today, the main streets of the Baltic seaport were draped in the red and white of Poland, with Solidarity logos and huge posters recalling that the wave of strikes across the country in August 1980 -- but especially the much-publicized Gdansk shipyard strike -- were the first brave steps towards ending communism in Europe.

Graffiti commissioned by the city authorities at one of the entrances to the port remind visitors and residents of the names of key players and events in the heady days of 1980 that led to the birth of the movement.

Lech Walesa, Solidarnosc 1980

On one wall, an artist paid tribute to Anna Walentynowicz, the crane operator whose sacking sparked the shipyard strike on August 14, 1980. On another, graffiti depict an underground printing press, where workers published illegal fliers against the communist regime.

Spotlight on Walesa

On yet another, a street artist depicted a huge crowd gathered outside the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk during the August 1980 strike, as strike leader Lech Walesa signed an agreement with the communist bosses, giving victory to the workers.

On August 31, Walesa emerged from more than two weeks of talks between the strikers and shipyard bosses, and proclaimed to his fellow workers: "We have free, independent trade unions." Solidarity, described by Walesa as the greatest proletarian monopoly ever and the only movement able to take on communism, was born.

Solidarnosc Logo Polen

The Solidarity logo

"Every time I come here, my heart does ten to the dozen," shipyard worker Maria Wojciechowska told AFP outside the gates of the sprawling industrial complex, now a mere skeleton of its glorious past, when Poland built ships for the Soviets.

The austere perimeter walls were bedecked with flowers on Wednesday, a picture of the late Pope John Paul II and an effigy of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Evoking the pope

Walesa, a devout Catholic, is said to have worn a lapel pin of the Black Madonna during the shipyard strike, and was close to and inspired by the late Polish-born pope, whom he cited in a speech made to both houses of parliament on Monday to kick off three days of events to mark Solidarity's creation.

"What changed the face of this land came from us, from our hearts and our souls," Walesa said, paraphrasing a speech pronounced in 1979 by John Paul II on his first pilgrimage to Poland.

Near the entrance to the shipyard, by a towering monument to Polish workers killed by the communist government, some 20 heads of state and government will join dignitaries from around the world and Solidarity leaders for a ceremony to mark the occasion.

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