GDANSK, Poland – Polish officials unveiled a statue of former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II on Saturday, honoring two men widely credited in this country with helping to topple communism 23 years ago.
The statue was unveiled in Gdansk, the birthplace of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement, in the presence of about 120 former Solidarity activists, many of whom were imprisoned in the 1980s for their roles in organizing or taking part in strikes against the communist regime.
The bronze statue, erected in the lush seaside President Ronald Reagan Park, is a slightly larger-than-life rendering of the two late leaders. It was inspired by an Associated Press photograph taken in 1987 on John Paul’s second pontifical visit to the U.S.
The photographer who took the picture, Scott Stewart, expressed satisfaction that one of his pictures has helped immortalize “a wonderful moment in time between the two men.”
Reagan and John Paul shared a conviction that communism was a moral evil, not just a bad economic system. And Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity movement that led the anti-communist struggle in Poland, has often paid homage to both men.
Poles widely credit the Polish-born pontiff’s first visit to his homeland after becoming pope as the inspiration for Solidarity’s birth. During a Mass in Warsaw in 1979, he used subtle language to suggest that Poles should try to change their system. Poles also remember that when the communist regime imposed the martial law crackdown in 1981, rounding up dissidents and imprisoning them, Reagan lit candles at the White House to show his solidarity with the Polish people.
“When Reagan lit the candles, we knew we had a friend in the United States,” said Czeslaw Nowak, a former Solidarity activist who was imprisoned for his activism in the 1980s. He leads an organization of former imprisoned dissidents that worked for about four years to raise $59,000 for the statue.