President-elect Lech Walesa pledged to use his office to fulfill the demands of fellow shipyard workers killed by communist police 20 years ago.
Walesa Sunday laid a wreath at a monument to fallen shipyard workers in Gdansk whose protests over higher food prices led security forces to open fire on Dec. 16, 1970, on orders from communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. More than 50 were killed, according to the official count.The deaths, which occurred as part of a wave of protests along the Baltic coast, radicalized the Polish population. The deaths also boosted the rise of the independent Solidarity union - led by Gdansk shipyard electrician Walesa - a decade later.
"I gave speeches in this place many times - in good times and hard times," Walesa said at the monument of three giant crosses with intertwined anchors at their crest. "I am with you as president-elect. I can execute the demands of those fallen in 1970."
Walesa, who was elected Dec. 9 as the country's first directly elected president, said Poland faces difficult work in coming years to overcome the legacy of 40 years of communist rule.
"This is why I am calling on all my compatriots from this place: Take things in your hands. Do not wait," he said. "The president of Poland, who has been elected by your will, will do everything so that you have as few obstacles on the road to reform as possible."
The monument was erected by shipyard workers in 1980 following the creation of Solidarity with the reluctant approval of the communist government.