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.
“The people who did this are still unpunished (including) Jaruzelski, who has the blood of hundreds on his hands,” said Sokolewicz. “Now he’s being buried with honors. There’s a bishop here. It should not be like this.”
Jaruzelski was an atheist, but a clergyman at the cathedral said that, 13 days before his death, he had asked a Catholic priest to administer the last rites.
Komorowski, in an address from the pulpit, said it was now up to God, and not other people, to judge Jaruzelski.
He described Jaruzelski as, “a politician, a soldier, a man carrying the burden of responsibility for the most difficult and perhaps most dramatic decisions in Poland’s post-war history.”
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Heinrich