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Senator, Walesa Cheered at Solidarity Birthplace : 'I Am a Pole,' Kennedy Says in Gdansk

May 25, 1987|From Times Wire Services

GDANSK, Poland — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D--Mass.) stood with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa outside a church in the birthplace of the Solidarity independent labor union Sunday and told a cheering crowd of more than 5,000, "I am a Pole."

The scene was like that at a political rally in the United States. Bands played the U.S. and Polish national anthems. The enthusiastic crowd chanted his name and the name of the outlawed labor union.

The senator's party, some sporting Solidarity lapel pins, distributed 5,000 colored photographs of Kennedy and his assassinated brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, "as gifts for the people of Poland," he said. Many of the recipients later lined up for Kennedy family members to sign the photos.

Walesa was presented with a small bust of the slain president.

Fourteen members of the Kennedy family, including Robert Kennedy's widow, Ethel, accompanied the senator on his four-day visit to Poland which ends today.

Crowd in Courtyard

The crowd, thronging the courtyard of St. Brigida's Roman Catholic Church where the U.S. flag hung alongside the red and white Polish flag, erupted with cheering, clapping and chants as Kennedy, Walesa and others stepped from the church in this Baltic port city after a special Mass commemorating Kennedy's slain brothers.

Wearing a Solidarity badge and standing beside Walesa, Kennedy seized a microphone, gave the Solidarity V-for-victory salute, and, his voice booming from loudspeakers, declared: "Jestem Polakiem"-- I am a Pole.

The declaration was reminiscent of one made by President Kennedy on a visit to West Berlin in 1963, when he proclaimed: "Ich bin ein Berliner" --I am a Berliner.

"Schoolchildren back in the United States have long read the names of (Thaddeus) Kosciuszko and (Casimir) Pulaski," the senator said, referring to Polish generals who fought in the American Revolution. "Now they all read the name of Lech Walesa."

"Solidarity is alive and will win," Walesa said, "and we wish the Kennedy family all the best."

Solidarity, born seven years ago out of the discontent of shipyard workers in Gdansk, grew to a 10-million-member national movement led by Walesa. It was suppressed under martial-law in 1981. Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

'They Have Never Left Us'

"Those who work for peace and justice, freedom and human rights in the United States and Poland will say about John and Robert that they have never left us and will never leave," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a brief address.

After the service, Kennedy and Walesa went to the home of Father Henryk Jankowski, a close aide to Walesa, for talks and lunch.

Leading dissidents Adam Michnik and Zbigniew Bujak, to whom Kennedy presented the Robert Kennedy Memorial Award for human rights in a ceremony on Friday, were also present, along with local Solidarity activists.

Kennedy and Walesa earlier had laid flowers and prayed at the foot of three giant crosses towering over the shipyards in honor of Gdansk workers shot dead in riots over food price rises in 1970.

Walesa told several hundred people at the site, "This monument will be in eternal memory of those events, but let it also serve as a warning that strife cannot be solved this way and we must look for real solutions."

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