Delegations from some 30 countries have gathered in the Polish port city of Gdansk. They are commemorating the 25th anniversary of Poland's Solidarity movement, which marked the beginning of the end of the Communist system in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Participants at an international conference emphasized that building broad pro-democratic coalitions is essential for peaceful regime change in authoritarian countries.
Lech Wasa, the leader of Solidarity and former president of Poland, said Poles were never happy with communism and tried various forms of resistance against the unwelcome regime.
Speaking at a conference organized in Gdansk by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, he pointed out that Poles kept losing time and again because various social and political groups conducted their struggle separately.
Mr. Wasa said that during the first Papal pilgrimage to Poland in 1979, Poles realized they were connected by a deep spiritual bond and a common purpose.
Lech Wasa spoke also about global changes in technology and information, which require creativity and independent thinking - something that cannot be controlled or coerced through the use of force.
"So, if we think along these lines, the world that is developing and progressing will force on us the invention and introduction of new systems, both political and economic," Mr. Walesa said. "Of course, we can speed up the course of events if we look at other models and things happening throughout the world."
The Solidarity model of unity within diversity proved essential during the anti-Milosevic campaign in Serbia, said another participant at the conference, Marko Djurisic, member of the Serbian Parliament and president of the Democratic Party of Serbia.
"In the eyes of the world the crucial event happened on October 5 in the years 2000 when all the aspects of success reached their final stage," Mr. Djurisic said. " [The opposition took over the parliament and the media in Belgrade.] But before this event, 18 opposition political parties finally formed a broad coalition lead by the Democratic Party with its developed structure of regional branches and its trained and motivated membership."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Dan Fried, said democracy, by its very definition, cannot be imposed on any society from the outside. But he pointed out that countries like the United States can help pro-democratic forces by promoting the ideals of human and political rights.
There was a time, said Mr. Fried, when Washington was reluctant to defend foreign dissidents and preferred to deal only with their governments.
"This changed in the second half of the 1970s," Mr. Fried said. "And although he isn't here today - he will be here tomorrow - Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski deserves an enormous amount of credit for developing under President Carter the doctrine of human rights as a foreign policy objective for the United States in its own right. This policy was deepened and extended by President Reagan."
Mr. Fried said democracy depends primarily on the people who struggle for freedom in their own countries. But he said America now sees the worldwide victory of freedom as its chief political goal and is ready to act accordingly.
"And we have, as a government, decided to put ourselves behind the movements of freedom throughout the world," he said. "That is the meaning of the "freedom agenda." We will no longer be indifferent anywhere in the world to voices of freedom."
While the subject of unity was raised repeatedly during the Gdansk conference, signs of division among the heroes of 1980 marred Solidarity commemorations. Gdansk shipyard workers announced an overnight sit-in to protest what they call gross mismanagement of their enterprise. They also accused the organizers of the official events of "killing the workers' character of the anniversary." Meanwhile, a group of estranged Solidarity activists organized their own conference. They accused Mr. Wasa of betraying the movement during the 1989 talks with the government that led to the final collapse of the communist rule in Poland.