lech: hero to has-been

26156-8 L.Walesa

The first time I laid eyes on him was on the 18 or 19 August 1980. It was midday, the early days of the Gdańsk strike, the sky was clear, the sun was hot. In two dextrous movements he swung himself on top of the Gdańsk Lenin Shipyards’ second gate, raised his hands and shook his closed fists above his head. I was astonished. There I was, looking at a man who knew no fear and whose very demeanour wiped fear from everyone else’s hearts. I stood ten steps away from him, beneath the wooden cross stuck in the earth, listening to his voice from above the gate adorned by carnations, a portrait of the Pope and a picture of the Virgin of Jasna Góra, and could not believe my ears. His voice rang out with an incredible, indisputable, strong, iron certainty: “We shall win!” And a few minutes later, when an electric cart drove out of the shipyard gates carrying a plaster model of the Three Crosses Memorial which was to be erected outside the shipyards a few months later, I just shook my head: “This is sheer madness!” I heard people say that a few kilometres from Gdańsk large security squads were massing, getting ready to overpower the strikers but here he was, a few steps away from me, standing on that famous gate endlessly shown by the world’s TV stations all day long, shaking his fists high above his head, taunting the party leadership and the Eastern empire with that brazen smile beneath his black moustache.

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