Poles Celebrate Independence Amid Controversy | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.11.2008
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Poles Celebrate Independence Amid Controversy

Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was absent from the guest list marking the 90th anniversary of Polish independence attended by 16 heads of state including Germany's Angela Merkel.

Leaders of Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia and Germany at the Polish celebrations

Leaders of Ukraine, Georgia, Croatia and Germany at the Polish celebrations

Poland kicked off celebrations on Tuesday marking the 90th anniversary of the country's independence amid controversy at the omission of former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa from the guest list.

The state holiday included church services, parades, historic re-enactments and ceremonies at monuments to General Jozef Pilsudski, who led Poland towards independence in 1918.

Some 800 guests attended the events, along with 16 heads of state including the presidents of Georgia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

In Warsaw, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, along with the Ukrainian president and Poland's president and prime minister.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said the country fought for itself to become at that time one of the biggest nations in Europe.

Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa

"Fighting on many fronts, for over three years, we managed it ourselves," Kaczynski said. "Nobody gave it to us, nobody won the Second Republic (of Poland) for us."

"Our country is developing, and we realized our strategic goals - to enter NATO and enter the European Union."

Not on the guest list

But Lech Walesa - a Nobel peace prize winner and anti-communist icon - was not invited to an evening gala due to a long-standing tension with Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Walesa became a hero to many after leading the strikes in the Gdansk shipyards that challenged Poland's communist regime in the 1980s. Then in 2000, he won a court case that proved his innocence against allegations of his cooperation with communist secret police.

But Kaczynski has said he knows Walesa was a communist spy, while former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski - the president's twin brother - said he has seen original documents that prove Walesa's guilt. Prime Minister Donald Tusk, however, came to Walesa's defense recently and said he feared right-wing politicians such as the Kaczynski twins were using such theories for their own gains.

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