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“Find your own path” – meet the electrician who changed the course of European history

In Gdańsk, Poland, Luna and Achilleas met with a living legend whose name is linked with the city and Poland’s liberation from Communist rule: Lech Wałęsa.

Gdańsk/Danzig has been a major Baltic Sea shipping port for centuries. The trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) was born in the shipyard of Gdańsk in 1980. At the time, Poland was “behind the Iron Curtain”, a Communist-run satellite state of the Soviet Union. Solidarity started advocating workers’ rights and social change using the methods of civil resistance. Its influence grew rapidly and it inspired similar movements elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc. In 1989, it negotiated an end to Communist rule in Poland: a historical milestone resulting from an essentially non-violent struggle that changed the course of European and world history.

Lech Wałęsa was one of the cofounders of Solidarity and its leader, working as an electrician at the shipyard. He was the symbol of the revolt, and the Communist Party did its best to break him. He had just been released from internment when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for “the universal freedom to organise – a human right as defined by the United Nations” behind the Iron Curtain. From 1990 to 1995, he was President of Poland.

Luna and Achilleas met him next to the entrance to the Shipyards in the European Solidarity Centre (ESC), a museum dedicated to the history of Solidarity and everything associated with it, but also a centre for dialogue, a meeting place for people who love liberty and democracy. The centre was built with EU support and opened in 2014. The building was designed to give the impression of walls cracking and is covered in rust-coloured metal reminiscent of a ship’s hull,

Wałęsa told our travellers that if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change anything essential. He also gave them some advice very much in tune with the philosophy of the Solidarity Centre. So this was the advice: Learn from the past but do things your way. Talk things through with others and you will come up with new ideas. Find your own path.

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