Pope John Paul II, who was the first non-Italian Pope since 1523, was an important figure not just to the Catholic Church, but also in the political reform movement. He came to Gdynia in June 1987 and he made a speech which mentioned the word ‘solidarity’ on several occasions. This was a deliberate reference to the Solidarity movement which had sprung up in Gdansk, and in other Polish cities, wanting reform and modernisation of the country.
Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Polish head of state at the time, wasn’t best pleased at this speech, as he had been saying quite clearly that Solidarity was finished and had no future. Jaruzelski, who was later fortunate to avoid trial for serious crimes against humanity because of his age, wasn’t entirely correct, as Lech Wałęsa from the Solidarity movement became the democratically elected President of Poland in 1990. Jaruzelski later renounced communism, although his reputation by that time was shattered beyond repair and I do wonder what he thought of Poland by the time he died in 2014.
Tens of thousands of people turned up to hear Pope John Paul II when he visited and this statue recalls some of the words that he said at the time. The city of Gdynia has also renamed one of its main streets, al. Jana Pawła II, after the Pope.