BRONISLAW GEREMEK , 76
Ex-d issident, foreign minister
Bronislaw Geremek - a key figure in the Solidarity trade union that helped topple communism and, later, Poland's foreign minister - was killed in a car accident yesterday, police said.
Mr. Geremek was driving a Mercedes that collided head-on with a van yesterday afternoon near the western Polish village of Miedzichowo, said Hanna Wachowiak, a regional police spokeswoman.
The activist-turned-politician had been serving as a member of European Parliament since being elected in 2004. Mr. Geremek was highly respected in Poland as a scholar, statesman and key adviser in the Soviet bloc's first free trade union, Solidarity.
"Polish sciences and politics have lost a great man," Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in a statement.
Born in Warsaw, Mr. Geremek earned a doctorate in 1960 from the Polish Academy of Sciences, where he later became a professor and specialized in medieval history.
He quit the Polish Communist Party in 1968, after 18 years' membership, to protest the Warsaw Pact's invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In the 1970s, Mr. Geremek became a leading figure in Poland's nascent democratic opposition movement, pushing for more rights and freedoms from the country's Moscow-backed communist regime. He supported the nationwide strikes centered at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in August 1980 that shook communist Poland to its core and gave birth to Solidarity.
When Poland's communist leaders declared martial law Dec. 13, 1981, Mr. Geremek was jailed along with other leading Solidarity figures - including Lech Walesa, who went on to serve as Poland's president from 1990 to 1995.
After the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, Mr. Geremek earned a seat in Poland's parliament in the country's first free elections.
Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek appointed him foreign minister in 1997, a post he held until 2000. Mr. Geremek successfully ushered Poland into NATO, achieving in 1999 his primary goal of ensuring the country's security in post-communist Europe.
Mr. Geremek, whose wife died in 2004, is survived by two sons. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.