Leading European politicians, including Germany's president, met in Poland to honor the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity movement.
The Solidarity movement changed the course of history
The message from all present was clear: The birth of the Solidarity trade union in a Polish shipyard 25 years ago represented a resounding victory of freedom over communism.
Poland's ex-president and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa greeted crowds
"Solidarity changed the modern world," said Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, addressing heads of state from 30 European countries, including President Horst Köhler from Germany, who had come to the northern port city of Gdansk to celebrate the anniversary,
Thousands had gathered for the ceremonies in the square in front of the Gdanzk shipyard. The gates to the shipyard, where in 1980 Walesa had led strikes for political reforms and independent unions, was decked with flowers.
On August 31, 1980. Walesa and the acting Polish Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed the Gdansk Accords, whereby for the first time a communist power allowed a free trade union to exist.
'The message lives on'
The idea of Solidarity is the "most important answer to the globalized world in the 21st century," Kwasniewski said. "The message of 'Solidarnosc' lives on, as we recently saw in during the orange revolution in the Ukraine," Kwasniewski shouted as he greeted his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko.
Ex-Polish President Lech Walesa, who in August 1980 led the strike at the Gdansk shipyards that led to Solidarity's founding, urged the crowd not to waste the chance brought about by his historic victory over communism.
Poland "took the bite out of the Russian bear," he said, referring to the events of 1989. "It no longer could harm any country that tried to gain freedom for its people."
German President Köhler, left, with Polish President Kwasniewski
For his part, Germany's Köhler said Poland gave the world a lasting example of what it means to love freedom.
"In the end, the Poles not only freed themselves," Köhler said. "They began a process of worldwide historic importance, which is still has an effect today. Witness (Georgia's) President Saakaschvili and (Ukrainian) President Yuschenko."
Solidarity a 'guidepost'
Yuschchenko said: "By storming freedom, Poland gives an example for the continuing path toward freedom. Each country does it in its own way. But Solidarity was a guidepost for all of us."
Also present was ex-Czech president and longtime dissident Vaclav Havel. "
Banners drape the Gdansk shipyard
On the 25th anniversary of Solidarity, we should all be reminded of the countries where there are still dissidents fighting for human rights, and where people are not free," he said.
"Solidarity does not only mean freedom, it means responsibility," he added, saying there were people in Belarus, Burma, Cuba and North Korea need clear signs of support.