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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » May 20, 2009
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Divided We Celebrate
May 20, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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High-profile celebrations to mark two decades since the historic elections that ushered in the end of communism have exposed the rift dividing Poland's leaders. Top politicians look set to spend the day of the anniversary at rival events commemorating the country's first free post-war elections on June 4, 1989.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk took the controversial decision May 7 to move the political part of the anniversary celebrations-a meeting of the prime ministers of the Visegrad Group-from the Baltic seaport of Gdańsk, the cradle of the Solidarity movement, to Cracow in southern Poland. Tusk cited the possibility of violence due to a planned anti-government demonstration by trade unionists.

"I do not want June 4 to see trade unionists under Solidarity banners beating up policemen and vice versa," Tusk said in explaining the change of venue. "I feel responsible for making sure that the people I invite see what Polish hospitality is really like. … I do not want June 4 to be associated by our guests with firecrackers and burning tires."

Apart from holding a summit in Gdańsk, the prime ministers of the Visegrad Group-Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia-were also scheduled to meet young people at the city's Monument to Fallen Shipyard Workers. But Tusk said he could not allow the young people to meet the ministers at the same time and place-on Solidarity Square between the workers' monument and the Gdańsk shipyard gate-where "the greatest troublemakers of recent years" were set to gather.

Tusk used the term "troublemakers" to refer to members of the Solidarity trade union in the Gdańsk and Szczecin shipyards, who had staged a demonstration April 29 in front of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw where the European People's Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament, was holding a congress. Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) party is a member of the EPP.

Police dispersed several hundred demonstrators and used pepper spray, which outraged the trade unionists. Andrzej Gwiazda, one of the historic Solidarity leaders who has been in conflict with both former union leader Lech Wałęsa and the government in recent years, called Tusk "Chemical Donald," arguing that he had no right to use force against "peaceful" protesters.

The demonstrators had thrown firecrackers, burned car tires and tried to break through a police cordon.

President Lech Kaczyński criticized Tusk's decision to move the anniversary celebrations and said he would be in Gdańsk on that day-just as he had been 20 years ago. He stressed Gdańsk was the "capital of Solidarity" and that he wanted to pay tribute to the largest national movement in Poland's history. As to his presence in Cracow, Kaczyński did not rule it out, but no further details have been disclosed.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the president's twin brother and leader of Law and Justice (PiS), the largest opposition party, said he would attend activities in Gdańsk and Warsaw, but not Cracow.

On the other hand, Lech Wałęsa, former Solidarity leader and ex-president of Poland, said he would be present in Cracow. "Obviously, on this day of great celebrations and great victory, one must not start trouble, fight or beat people with truncheons," Wałęsa said, arguing that Tusk's decision was a wise move rather than one aimed at raising the temperature.

The political maneuvering means two rival anniversary events will be held June 4. The leaders of the Solidarity trade union invited all "who share the union's ideals" to take part in a solemn mass at the workers' monument in Gdańsk. Solidarity leader Janusz Śniadek said it was not yet clear who would be speaking at the monument. He also said no individual invitations would be issued for the mass and the following anniversary ceremonies. The mass will be celebrated by Poland's Primate, Cardinal Józef Glemp, and the sermon will be delivered by Gdańsk Archbishop Sławoj Leszek Głódź.

Tusk said he would come to Gdańsk after the meeting in Cracow, but it is unlikely he will take part in the mass, which starts at noon. Nor is it clear how he would be received by the unionists, the hosts of the event. Tusk will probably attend the afternoon celebrations, which consist of the second part of a conference entitled Solidarity and the Fall of Communism in the Polish Baltic Philharmonic in Gdańsk. The conference, which will open in Warsaw June 3, is being organized by the European Solidarity Center. Among participants will be Wałęsa, who will deliver a speech, former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Slovak Prime Minister Jan Carnogursky, former Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev and other guests.

A five-hour concert featuring singer Kylie Minogue and the Scorpions band, known for their hit Winds of Change, about the political changes in Eastern Europe, will be held at the Gdańsk shipyard in the evening.
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