Twenty-five years ago this month, the Polish communist government granted striking workers in the shipyards of Gdansk the right to organize their own democratic trade union. Under the leadership of Lech Walesa, a little known electrician, the independent labor movement known as Solidarity was born.
In December 1981, the Polish government, under pressure from Soviet Russia, declared martial law. Thousands of Solidarity leaders were arrested and imprisoned, including Mr. Walesa. The borders were sealed and airports were closed. In spite of being driven underground, the Solidarity movement continued to grow. Under Mr. Walesa's leadership and with the support of Pope John Paul the Second and the U.S., Solidarity became a national movement demanding nothing less than freedom and independence for Poland.
In 1989, Solidarity won the right for the Polish people to hold elections for the national assembly and elected a non-Communist majority in the legislature. Poland's peaceful march to freedom and democracy offered a beacon of hope to all those in Europe still under Communist rule. And in December 1989, just weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lech Walesa was elected President of Poland.
Daniel Fried is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. He says the significance of Solidarity and what it achieved grows with time:
"It was a movement which simultaneously brought together patriotism, workers' rights, a moral objection to Communism, and a democratic movement."
Poland's example continues to be an inspiration to other countries. As Mr. Fried said, "What was seen as impossible [in Poland] suddenly appeared inevitable and then it happened." Democracy has succeeded in many places where it was once regarded as impossible: East Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, South Asia, and Turkey. But every country's path to democracy is different.
In the Middle East, there are many voices making demands for justice, freedom, and democracy. "This is something that the people themselves are asking for," said Assistant Secretary of State Fried. And the United States wants to support those people just as it supported Poland's Solidarity.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.