Warsaw-Forty years after the Solidarity movement united Poles and sparked their peaceful triumph over communism, the EU member is now deeply divided as concerns mount over the health of its young democracy.

In what has become an iconic image, on August 31, 1980 freedom hero Lech Walesa used an enormous pen to ink an agreement with the communists that gave rise to Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s first and only independent trade union. Ten million Poles -- workers, intellectuals, farmers, teachers, artists, students -- joined the peaceful movement that was unlike anything the country had ever seen. It was all but crushed a year later when General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law and Walesa was arrested and interned.

But Solidarity still went on to win Poland’s 1989 semi-free elections.

“The Solidarity movement was exceptional as much for its size as for its peaceful strategy and played a primary role in the destruction of the old system,” he told AFP.  Today, Poland is a member of both the European Union and NATO. Its economy, the EU’s sixth largest, saw uninterrupted growth for 30 years until the coronavirus pandemic struck.  While its economic transformation has been a success, on the political front the country is now divided more than ever.