GDANSK, Poland -- With his back to a stark monument to workers slain in anti-government strikes, and his eyes gazing across a sea of hopeful faces and fluttering American and Polish flags, President Bush on Tuesday delivered an emotional plea for freedom and democracy on the site where the Solidarity trade union was born.
"Your time has come," Bush said to thousands upon thousands of Poles overflowing the grassy square just outside the iron gates of the Lenin Shipyard and spilling for blocks down the broad sidewalks of Waly Piastowskie Street.
"It is Poland's time of possibilities," Bush declared. "Its time of responsibilities. Its time of destiny. A time when dreams can live again. Solidarity reborn."
The crowd--estimated at 20,000 by some, and at 40,000 by an overenthusiastic Solidarity official--began forming at 8 a.m., six hours before Bush arrived. When he appeared at the podium, the crowd chanted in Polish, "Long live Bush!"
The speech was the capstone on Bush's two-day visit to Poland.
From the public reaction--at which Solidarity leader Lech Walesa marveled aloud, "Fantastic, fantastic," as he and Bush rode through streets past thousands of admirers--to the fact that the campaign-like rally could even be held at the once off-limits Solidarity monument, the tour to Warsaw and Gdansk reflected the sudden changes taking place in Poland.
During the visit, Bush prodded the nation's leaders--Communist Party officials now sharing authority with Solidarity in the Soviet Bloc's first freely elected legislature--to accept economic reforms hand in hand with political reforms as a key step in obtaining crucial Western aid to bail out a struggling economy.
Walesa, reflecting the upbeat tenor of the President's visit, responded, "We have a chance to be the America of the East."
Introducing Bush to the crowd, he said, "We are shaking off the burden of Stalinism and trying to catch up with Europe and the developed world."
But he warned that economic and political reform must work in tandem. "This is the lesson of the events in China--not balancing both spheres led directly to the massacre in Tian An Men Square."
The joint themes--of freedom and democracy, of a Europe no longer divided by the ideological and geographical boundaries of the Cold War and of political and economic reform--are the backdrop, too, for the President's visit to Hungary, his second stop on a four-nation European tour. He arrived in Budapest from Gdansk on Tuesday evening.
In sunny Gdansk--where 50 years ago this Sept. 1 some of the first shots of World War II were fired--a cool Baltic Sea breeze wafted the dark gray shipyard smoke away from the crowd, and idle cranes offered a silent, skeleton-like backdrop in the distance.
"Today, to those who think that hopes can be forever suppressed--I say, 'Let them look at Poland.' To those who think that freedom can be forever denied--I say, 'Let them look at Poland,' " Bush declared.
It was an echo of one of President John F. Kennedy's most famous speeches, delivered in the divided city of Berlin on June 26, 1963, in which he challenged those who believed that communism was the wave of the future: "Let them come to Berlin."
At the front of the crowd, Czeslaw Tolwinski, the general manager of the shipyard, sat among the dignitaries. He appeared uncomfortable amid the U.S. and Solidarity flags that shared space with the Polish flag, but he applauded politely for Bush. Tadeusz Fiszbach, the local Communist Party chief and a leading party liberal, received polite applause from the crowd when he arrived.
Asking for Seats
But two Communist Party members who serve on the Gdansk City Council had to ask the head of the Solidarity chapter at the shipyard for seats.
"Make them kneel on the cobblestones," said a man in the crowd. But eventually they were given seats on folding chairs.
And Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, apparently exhausted by the grueling pace of the President's travels, nodded drowsily, his chin coming to rest on his chest.
Bush was dwarfed by the 130-foot-high monument, made of three metallic spires topped by cross bars and anchors. It memorializes 45 workers slain by government forces during strikes in December, 1970--workers, Walesa said, who died "for bread and freedom."
Saluting "the dream of freedom," Bush declared:
"Today the brave workers of Gdansk stand beside this monument as a beacon of hope, a symbol of that dream. And the brave workers of Gdansk know Poland is not alone. America stands with you.
"Americans and Poles both know that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come," the President said. "The dream is a Poland reborn--and the dream is alive."
The speech was translated simultaneously into Polish. The crowd could hear only the translation, because Bush's voice was not amplified. However, the President's voice was carried to American television and radio networks, and the speech was broadcast live in the United States.
Earlier, Bush and his wife, Barbara, had lunch at the home of Walesa and his wife, Danuta. Walesa gave the President a proposal to spearhead among Western nations a $10-billion investment program "that would fix our economic problems." Poland is suffering from inflation running at nearly 100% and a stifling foreign debt of $39 billion.
Proposed U.S. Aid
On Monday, Bush had proposed a $100-million U.S. program to promote private investment in Poland, linking it to efforts by Poland to tackle inflation--at the risk of increasing unemployment--and its foreign debt.
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the Bush Administration interpreted the figure used by Walesa as an indication of "the magnitude of sums that will be needed to really start to turn the economy around and reorienting it to private ownership and development."
Recognizing that "sacrifice and economic hardship" have been a hallmark of Polish life in the past, Bush said Tuesday, "Economic reform requires hard work and restraint before the benefits are realized."
But, he said, the result can be "a new and prosperous Poland in your lifetime."
Meanwhile, Fitzwater announced that the U.S. Labor Department would begin a $4-million program to assist Poland in job training and retraining, employment services, unemployment insurance and labor statistics.
The scope of the Bush proposal has disappointed some Poles, even as they cheered his visit.
"I'd call it modest, let's say, maybe because our official press tried to heighten expectations. Some people used to say it would be like a Marshall Plan. Certainly it's not that way," said Piotr Mierzewski, a specialist in pediatric kidney disease and a once-imprisoned Solidarity activist who listened to the President's speech with his wife, Magda, a lawyer, and their 21-month-old daughter, Natalie. The Marshall Plan was the U.S. program of massive aid for Europe following World War II.
"We all trust in what Bush said," said Barbara Kierkowska, 60, a teacher. "We have gone through so much repression; there was a long period when you couldn't even come near this monument. So you must understand what this means to us."
She noted that her 30-year-old daughter, Isabela Kierkowska, had emigrated to Pasadena, Calif., to pursue a career as a physicist. "I wish she had not had to leave Poland, but there was no future for young people here," she said.
Pietr Pronko, a manager for a private electrical equipment firm, said he found Bush's message "very moving," but added, "I hoped for more promises of economic aid. That is the most important thing, and it wasn't mentioned" in the address.
Pronko, 40, his wife and their four children interrupted their vacation at a lakeside cottage to drive to Gdansk for Bush's speech, he said.
In his speech, Bush brought a good-natured cheer from the crowd--"Stay with us!"--when he said that if he were a young Pole, "in this time of bright promise . . . I would want to stay in Poland," rather than emigrate to the United States.
Several Solidarity activists said they heartily agreed with Bush's suggestion, but a younger man, 19-year-old Dariusz Switalski, scoffed at the President's exhortation. "There is no future here," he said. "It takes 230 years to get an apartment. People line up all night to buy meat. You can't even find toilet paper in the markets. . . . I would move to America tomorrow, if I had the money."
Times staff writer Doyle McManus contributed to this story.
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8:55 a.m. today--Meeting with Communist Party General Secretary Karoly Grosz and Premier Miklos Nemeth at Parliament building.
12:25 p.m.--Var, Old Prison on Castle Hill. Informal discussion with students.
1:15 p.m.--Karl Marx University. Address to students.
2:10 p.m.--Meets with State Minister Imre Pozsgay, Economics Minister Rezso Nyers and leaders of new political parties.
6:50 p.m.--Hosts reception at U.S. ambassador's residence.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun