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Thousands rally at Gdansk shipyard to support democracy icon Lech Walesa

AP

Thousands gathered Sunday at the shipyard in Gdansk — the cradle of Poland’s 1980s Solidarity movement — to back Lech Walesa, the former democracy leader and ex-president who is facing renewed allegations of having collaborated with Poland’s communist-era secret police.

Files recently surfaced suggesting Walesa collaborated with the hated secret service from 1970-76 for money, before he founded the Solidarity movement in 1980 that eventually helped topple communism. Walesa says the papers are forged.

“We achieved freedom and Lech Walesa was our leader. Nothing will change that,” Henryka Krzywonos, another key player in the strikes and protests of 1980 that led to the birth of Solidarity, told the crowd.

Walesa, who still lives in Gdansk, sent his wife, Danuta, who told those gathered that he never did anything to hurt anybody and never took money.

Walesa’s supporters are furious at the current conservative leadership in Poland, whom they accuse of trying to tarnish the legacy of Poland’s democracy icon. The rally Sunday came a day after a larger pro-Walesa protest in Warsaw.

The organizers denounced what they called a “falsification of history,” arguing that even if Walesa signed documents agreeing to collaborate in the 1970s, that does not detract from the historic role he played in bringing down communism peacefully.

“We came here to tell Walesa that we thank him for a free Poland and for a bloodless transformation,” said Radomir Szumelda, a local activist. “Thank you for no Soviet army in Poland … no files or political order can kill this symbol.”

Many of those present had harsh words for the ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a long-time foe of Walesa. Walesa’s wife denounced the “small man who stands behind this government.”

Government leaders say Poland’s historical truth must be clarified.