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Mazowiecki, Solidarnosc Leader And Poland's First Postcommunist PM, Dies

  • RFE/RL

Tadeusz Mazowiecki (in suit and tie) and other members and supporters of Solidarnost jubilate after their Polish trade union was officially legalized again by a court, in Warsaw, on April 17, 1989.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki (in suit and tie) and other members and supporters of Solidarnost jubilate after their Polish trade union was officially legalized again by a court, in Warsaw, on April 17, 1989.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a luminary of Poland's Solidarity movement and the country's first prime minister after the fall of communism, has died.

Polish media reported Mazowiecki died on October 28 at the age of 86.

An early member of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) labor federation that smashed a crucial barrier erected by Communist authorities, Mazowiecki was one of the architects of the "Round Table" talks between Poland's communist leaders and the opposition that paved the way for Poland's peaceful transition to democracy in 1989.

Mazowiecki, a Catholic activist and journalist, had joined the Solidarity 1980 strikes in the Gdansk shipyard offering support for the protesting workers from the country's independent intellectuals.

He was arrested after the communist authorities declared martial law in December 1981 and was one of the last Solidarity activists to be released one year later.

He became an adviser to Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who tapped him as prime minister after Solidarity won the country's first partially free elections, in June 1989.

Mazowiecki became the first noncommunist prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe in 40 years.

As prime minister, he oversaw Poland's shock economic therapy of the early 1990s aimed at replacing the centrally controlled communist economy with a free market.

Then-newly elected Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki makes a "victory" sign as he exits parliament in Warsaw on August 24, 1989.

Then-newly elected Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki makes a "victory" sign as he exits parliament in Warsaw on August 24, 1989.

He also called for drawing a "thick line" under Poland's communist past, a position critics said amounted to turning a blind eye to communist crimes.

Mazowiecki and Walesa fell out and ran against each other in a presidential election in late 1990 that Walesa easily won.

Mazowiecki was appointed special UN envoy to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. He stepped down in 1995 to protest the world powers' lack of response to the Srebrenica massacre.

A 'Father Of Liberty'

President Bronislaw Komorowski said after news of Mazowiecki's death that Poles should think back with gratitude about everything that has happened in Poland since 1989.

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Polish radio that Mazowiecki was "one of the fathers of Polish liberty and independence."

National flags on Polish government building were lowered to half-staff.

Walesa said it was a "pity that such great people are dying. We could have used his wisdom today."

Poland's last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, praised Mazowiecki for his "calmness, moderation, and decisiveness."

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in a written statement, spoke of his "great sadness" at learning of Mazowiecki's death.

"As [the] first non-communist prime minister elected in partially free elections in 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the icon of the democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe," Barroso said. "He marked the end of an era only to engage into a new challenging project to reunify Europe and lead Poland on the path towards accession to the European Union. He devoted the rest of his life to promote European values, freedom and democracy in Poland, in other countries of the former Soviet bloc and in the European neighborhood."

Marcin Grajewski, spokesman for European Parliament President Martin Schulz, said Mazowiecki put Poland on the path that eventually led the country to EU membership.

"We have lost a freedom fighter, reformer, intellectual, and statesman who was instrumental in changing the history of Poland and Europe," Grajewski said. "As senior adviser of the Solidarity movement [in Poland] Mazowiecki played an important role in overthrowing oppressive communist regimes in Poland and the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. As Poland's first noncommunist prime minister after World War II, he put the country on the path political and economic reforms that eventually resulted in membership of the European Union."


Based on reporting by Reuters, RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, dpa, and AFP
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