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Nobel Prize Anniversary Bash for Wałęsa

January 8, 2009

Warsaw Voice
17 grudzień 2008
 
Leading European politicians, artists and human rights activists from both Poland and abroad met in the coastal city of Gdańsk in early December to mark 25 years since Lech Wałęsa, the legendary Solidarity trade union leader who went on to become Poland's president, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.
 
As part of the anniversary celebrations, an international conference entitled Solidarity for the Future was held in Gdańsk Dec. 6. In addition to Wałęsa, it attracted four other Nobel Peace Prize winners: the 14th Dalai Llama, Tenzin Gyatso, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people; former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk; Argentinean architect and sculptor Adolfo Perez Esquivel; and Iranian lawyer and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi.
 
In his opening speech, Wałęsa said efforts to build European unity should be based on lasting values, especially those originating from religion. He said that the fall of communism in Poland was made possible by people's solidarity, loyalty and adherence to the Christian value system, and that the pontificate of the late Polish-born pope John Paul II was a source of strength and hope for all Poles.
 
Speaking at the opening session of the conference, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, "Dear Lech, you were, are and will remain a legend, a great hero of our national legend." Tusk praised Wałęsa for leading the Solidarity union and the country toward peaceful political and economic changes in 1989, which he said today are quoted as an example of a bloodless transition from totalitarianism to democracy.
 
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said, "The idea of solidarity is now more important than ever. We live in a world based on interdependence. The global financial crisis has shown how much dependent we are on each other. We need solidarity more than ever. Europe relies on solidarity-between states, regions and people."
 
French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivered a speech entitled From Solidarity to a Europe Based on Solidarity. "Lech Wałęsa, you are a great symbol of Poland, Europe and the whole world, a symbol showing than any totalitarian system has to fall," he said. "I wish to give my great thanks to you. Gdańsk became the heart and symbol of fighting for freedom and against oppression. Today, we are paying tribute to the fight waged by the Polish people. I also wish to honor the memory of Pope John Paul II, a great European who did a lot for peace in the world."
 
Sarkozy, whose country held the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of December, added, "Wałęsa triggered a great political movement that resulted in the weakening and then fall of the communist system. Without Wałęsa's determination this incredible power of freedom would not have been present, a power that showed something unimaginable-that Soviet domination could be overcome... You contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain, which was a 'curtain of shame' because it was a shame that Europe was divided into two parts."
 
While in Gdańsk, Sarkozy met and held a long talk with the Dalai Lama. This triggered sharp criticism from Chinese authorities in Beijing. The country's Xinhua press agency calling the meeting "an opportunistic, rash and short-sighted approach to handling the Tibet issue." It said Sarkozy's decision to meet with the Dalai Lama "not only hurts the feelings of the Chinese people but also undermines Sino-French ties."
 
Xinhua added, "The Chinese government and people firmly oppose [the Dalai Lama's] activities aimed at splitting China conducted in any country under any disguise. They also stand firmly against any foreign leader's contact" with the Dalai Lama "in any form."
 
A church service was held at the Our Lady Basilica in Gdańsk Dec. 7 to end the Wałęsa Nobel Prize anniversary celebrations. More than 1,000 people attended. Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk, the papal nuncio in Poland, officiated at the mass, which-as he said-was meant to thank God for Wałęsa's 65 years of life and for his efforts in building peace in both Poland and abroad.
 
Gdańsk archbishop Leszek Sławoj Głódź said during the mass, "Mr. President, the Nobel Peace Prize has become a bright sign of victory, a beautiful and strong sign of the sensitive conscience of Europe and the world." Głódź added that the anniversary celebrations were "the most important meeting in Poland after 1945" in terms of organization, topics discussed and participants.
 
Summing up the anniversary events, Wałęsa said he had "not expected such a great interest and so many words of recognition and support." Earlier, in the conference room, Wałęsa was so moved that he was unable to hold back the tears. To the applause of the participants, the Dalai Lama offered him a handkerchief. This part of the meeting was broadcast by many television stations.
 
Polish President Lech Kaczyński, who is at odds with Wałęsa, did not show up for the celebrations despite being invited. Many Polish politicians said his absence was embarrassing. Earlier, Kaczyński failed to invite Wałęsa to Independence Day celebrations Nov. 11.
 
Asked to comment on Kaczyński's absence, Wałęsa said, "Someone has lost out here, but it hasn't been me."
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