Pope in open challenge to Poland's martial law – archive, 1987

By Michael Simmons in Gdansk

The Pope came to Poland’s Baltic coast last night, and confirmed what he called “the important reality of the term ‘solidarity’ and its eternal significance.”

Speaking once again to a rapt audience of a million or more, each one hanging on his every word, he declared: “The word ‘solidarity’ was uttered right here, in a new way and in a new context. And the world cannot forget it.”

It was his most unambiguous and potentially explosive address of the week so far – one which can be read only as a calculated challenge to everything that the Polish leader, General Jaruzelski, has stood for since martial law was imposed 5 ½ years ago.

Last night, the Pope was due to meet Mr Lech Walesa, the leader of the banned Solidarity free trade union, in Gdansk. Mr Walesa said he would tell the Pope at a private meeting of the need to rebuild Polish society on the basis of Christian principles.

Mr Walesa praised the Pope for his “fantastic’” support for Polish society, as he prepared for the meeting.

“I will express my opinions openly,” he said. Referring to Poland’s Communist system, he said: “The shame is that the system that once was progressive now proved to be retrogressive. It hinders development.”

Opposition leaders said yesterday that police had rounded up more than 130 people on account of the Pope’s visit. Fifty-six were seized after the violent demonstration near the Pope’s mass in Krakow on Wednesday, opposition sources said.

Speaking at Gdynia, near Gdansk, the Pope said: “In the name of the future of mankind and humanity, the word ‘solidarity’ must be pronounced. Today it echoes like the waves that extend across the world. In view of this, we realise that we cannot live according to the principle ‘all against all’, but only according to the other principle ‘everybody with everybody, all for all’.”

He went on: “This word is your pride… People of Gdansk and Gdynia, your memories are still very much alive with the events of the 1970s and 1980s. We cannot forge ahead if we are pushed and shoved by the imperative of dizzying military armour, because this forebodes the prospects of war and self-destruction.”

Delivered in the calm of a barmy sunny evening, his words were addressed nominally to “the people of the sea,” but specifically he said they were directed also to shipyard workers as well as fishermen and sailors.

He was speaking down the coast road from the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, where the Solidarity trade union fought to be born and to survive, and finally, in December, 1981, was suspended by military rule.

At the Olivier Stadium, where the union held one of its last big meetings, several hundred soldiers have pitched camp for the night. After the clash in Krakow on Wednesday evening, where the sight of Solidarity banners was enough to prompt the police to use teargas and truncheons, the tension on the coast is almost tangible.

Only a couple of hours after this clash, the Pope was joining in a singsong with large crowds gathered late at night outside the archbishop’s palace, where he was staying.

The Soviet Union has no plans to invite the Pope to Moscow for next year’s observance of the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in Russia, a government spokesman said yesterday.