Poland celebrates the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity movement Wednesday. Some Poles say the highest unemployment and among the lowest wages in the European Union provide little reason to celebrate.
Events include a mass at the Gdansk shipyard, where leader Lech Walesa and fellow workers set up the trade union.
Among foreign leaders due to attend are EU Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and German President Horst Koehler.
Within months of its establishment, Solidarity had become a national political movement claiming 10 million members.
But not everybody thinks the anniversary is a real holiday.
“We ask ourselves what Solidarity has brought us over the last 25 years,” said Andrzej Mielcarz, 66, a retired clerk from Tomaszow Mazowiecki in central Poland, in an interview in Warsaw. ``We see that we are free, but freedom in our case means a complete lack of any control.''
With wages just 20 percent of the region's average, many Poles question the merits of a decade and a half of free-market economics and the benefits of joining the EU last year. Solidarity, the local protest at the Gdansk shipyard that became a mass movement, forcing the communist government to negotiate, has struggled to build on its initial success, Bloomberg reminds.
“There is a blanket trust in the so-called free hand of the market, money is wasted on bureaucracy, laws aren't properly implemented and corruption and crime are on the increase,” said Mielcarz, whose monthly pension is around half the average salary of 2,507 zloty ($755) in July.
Nine turbulent years later, Solidarity leaders negotiated the end of communism and a few months later, the Berlin Wall fell.
A quarter of a century after the movement's birth, an open-air mass at the gate of the Gdansk shipyard should be the highlight of three days of celebrations.
Up to 20 heads of state are to join Solidarity members and former activists at the ceremony on Wednesday morning, to be led by the Archbishop of Krakow.
The mass marks the role played by the Roman Catholic Church in toppling communism, particularly that of Poland's Karol Wojtyla, then newly elected as Pope John Paul II.