Poland's Walesa kneels in prayer at funeral mass for former foe Jaruzelski

Fri May 30, 2014 8:21am EDT
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By Jakub Iglewski

WARSAW (Reuters) - Lech Walesa, head of the Solidarity movement that ended Communism in Poland, knelt in prayer on Friday at a Catholic funeral mass for General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Communist leader who for decades was his sworn enemy.

Angry shouts from protesters in the street could be heard inside the cathedral where the mass was held, a reminder that many Poles are not ready to reconcile with Jaruzelski, who oversaw violent crackdowns on pro-democracy activists before the Iron Curtain fell in 1989.

Jaruzelski died on Sunday aged 90 and is to be given a low-key state funeral at a military ceremony later on Friday. He declared martial law in 1981 to put down an uprising by Walesa's movement, and his subordinates killed dozens of people.

Yet he has also been credited for his role in ushering in democracy in Poland: he allowed partially-free elections to take place, and when they were won by his anti-Communist opponents, he stepped aside without bloodshed.

Walesa, 70, dressed in a black suit and black tie, sat at the front pew of the Cathedral of the Polish Army, alongside serving president Bronislaw Komorowski and former head of state Aleksander Kwasniewski.

When Bishop Jozef Guzdek, who was celebrating the mass, asked worshippers to offer each other the sign of peace, Walesa crossed the aisle and shook the hands, in turn, of Jaruzelski's widow, Barbara, his daughter Monika and his school-age grandson.

About 300 protesters gathered outside the cathedral. Some shouted a traditional anti-Communist chant: "Hit the Red bastards with the hammer and the sickle!"

Tomasz Sokolewicz was holding a black-and-white photograph of a young man, Emil Barchanski, whom he said had been murdered by the Communist-era secret police.   Continued...

Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski (R) and former Polish presidents Lech Walesa (L) kneel as Aleksander Kwasniewski (C) stands during a mass ceremony before the funeral of the last Communist leader general Wojciech Jaruzelski at a church in Warsaw May 30, 2014. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel