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Poles Mark Anniversary Of End Of Communism Amid Debates Over Legacy

Former Polish President Lech Walesa (file photo)

Poles have observed the 30th anniversary of democratic elections that helped end communism in the country, even as the nation remains divided over its legacy.

Donald Tusk, a former prime minister who is now head of the European Council, told a June 4 rally in the Baltic port of Gdansk that the 1989 vote was a landmark event in European history.

"Poland showed to Europe and to the whole world that you can build a democracy without violence or bloodshed," said Tusk, who was an activist in the Solidarity labor movement.

He cited another anniversary-- the Tiananmen Square massacre in China-- to contrast Poland's largely peaceful transition away from communism.

"These two visions are also present today in the world and in Europe.... This is a dilemma that also applies to our future, not just our past. We must remember this lesson about Poland and China,” he said.

In the June 4, 1989, vote, communist authorities made a portion of parliamentary seats available to candidates from Solidarity. In October 1989, Solidarity candidates helped form Poland's first noncommunist government. The following month, the Berlin Wall fell.

Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, former Polish president, and Nobel laureate, participated in the Gdansk ceremonies as well.

Current leaders from the country's right-wing Law and Justice Party have argued that the 1989 elections were flawed because they allowed communists to preserve some influence.

Law and Justice Party officials held observances in the Polish capital, Warsaw, that included a ceremonial session of the Senate, attended by President Andrzej Duda.

They argued that the country's transition to democracy could have been more rapid had the communist legacy been cut at the start.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP