By Dagoberto Valdés Hernández
For years I had a dream. Today it has been realized. Poland has always been part of my cultural, religious and freedom identity. Disappearing several times on the map of Europe, “semper fidelis” Poland maintained its nationality thanks to its rooted ancient culture. I learned from Poland, and its greatest son, Blessed Pope John Paul II, that culture is the soul of a people and the soul is immortal. Since then I have dedicated my entire life in Cuba to rescuing, promoting and cultivating the cultural identity of my Fatherland.
Later, I had the inexpressible honor to participate in the preparation for the Polish Pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998. And to be one of his colleagues at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Now I have arrived in twenty-first century Poland. I walk the path of his roots. The path of his history. I drink from the sources. Thanks to Lech Walesa Institute.
As luck would have it I arrived in this country on June 4, the anniversary of the elections won by the Solidarity Union. I’ve met its leaders. Heard their testimonies of their lives. Their love for Cuba. On Thursday June 6 I personally met the living legend of the last stage of Polish history, President Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize winner and and legendary leader of the Solidarity Trade Union.
Just after eleven o’clock he came hurrying to the headquarters of the Institute that bears his name and where he continues his work. He entered the meeting room and sat with confidence. He greeted us. He spoke briefly and quite frankly about his impressions of Poland and Cuba. Respectfully and cordially he gave us the floor to ask him questions or to give him news of the Nation where he said he wanted to go one day when we have freedom and democracy. Each one expressed his thoughts and his admiration for his work and the history of his nation.
Personally, I enjoyed the meeting. I looked at the lapel of his suit and found there, as always, the blessed image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Queen and Patroness of Poland. I heard him mention with deep devotion the name of Blessed John Paul II, his role on the long road to freedom in Europe and in his homeland. The support the Polish Pope always gave to Solidarity and its leader. His visits before and after the change.
I asked for the floor to express my respect and before it was turned over to me I heard an unmerited presentation about me and my work from my friend and interpreter Tomasz. I thanked him for the opportunity to meet him and told him I wanted to convey good news about Cuba.
I said that ordinary Cubans had become less fearful and the fabric of Cuban civil society had grown and strengthened and is poised for greater coordination for unity in diversity. He listened to me intently, nodding his head, staring at me. At the end of my speech that lasted less than three minutes, I got up from my seat and offered him a symbol of the workers and peasants of Pinar del Rio: a box of Cohiba cigars.
At the end we quickly took informal photos. He had spent more time than planned with the Cubans. He signed some books and reiterated his love for Cuba and wished us the best for the future. He left as fast as he had come. After the applause was a feeling of hope and confidence in ourselves, that “there is no freedom without solidarity” in which the peaceful path to democracy is not just an option but the only ethically acceptable option.
Over the long weekend, from 8 to 10 June, we went to the places where it all started: Gdanz, an ancient and beautiful city on the Baltic Sea. We visited Westerplate, where World War II began that September 1, 1939. We offered honor and prayers for all those who died in this horror of the twentieth century. On Sunday at early Mass at the Parish of Santa Barbara the Eucharist was offered for them all and for the conscience of mankind with that gigantic phrase on the memorial for the fallen: “No more war”. We could feel the terrible cross of a Poland invaded and bloody.
But there is no cross without resurrection. On Monday, we visited Gdanz Shipyard, door of life, a sanctuary for the rights of workers, temple of nonviolent struggle. Tabernacle of peace with justice, freedom and solidarity. So I wanted to express the famous Polish poet who was asked to write a verse to place forever in the back wall of the monument, but he refused humbly expressing that none of his poems could express what had happened and chose Psalm 29 verse 11 which proclaims: “The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord will bless his people with peace.” In fact, in this sacred place, the Polish people received “the power of the powerless” and not to use it for war and violence but for freedom and solidarity by way of peace is the gift and task.
We began what was for me a pilgrimage and a school, by the monument to the fallen workers in these yards. Over the intense and luminous blue of Gdanz, rise, solemn and serene, the three crosses with three crucified anchors. This symbol of hope and of the deep sea. This symbol of the Passion of Christ in his people. But it does not give the impression of a tragic monument. It looks like a giant flower of life that comes from the assumed cross and redemption. It looks like a lighthouse in the sea of oppression and injustice, that the eventful life of those who row tirelessly toward freedom loses neither its direction nor its way. I got the impression of an immeasurable arm of warning. A warning signal, a prayer which rises for all who decide to fight for their freedom, we take the paths of solidarity and peace.
I could not stop the tears as I joined this silent prayer and looked down to pay tribute to all crucified in their body or in their soul, I realized that the blood and tears of so many men and women had been marked by the artist’s hand, concentric circles on the pavement, widening from the center of the monument, it seemed to reach to each pacifist fighter and every crucified village. I wanted to kneel there and stay awhile open to expansive mysticism. But Magdalena’s voice dissuaded me, the passionate guide who told us that there was a wide balcony reserved for the contemplation of this triple cross, in the huge cultural center and museum that Solidarity built just below the monument and in line with the famous Door 2 which we approached reverently.
There it remains close to three decades later, the picture of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the portrait of Pope John Paul II that the shipyard workers had placed as shields during strikes where it all started. Then we passed through the vast hall of the Directorate of Health and Safety at Work, where the rounds of dialogue and negotiation were held over the 21 demands that the Solidarity Union demanded from the government that said it had been “the dictatorship of the proletariat” to guarantee the rights of workers.
In the end, we were cordially invited to the opening of Museum-Center of European Solidarity, which will be June 4, 2014.
Our friend David, mystic and musician from the Omni-Zona Franca project of Alamar, gave me a huge red pen with the image of Pope John Paul II, a true copy of the one Lech Walesa used to sign Gdanz Agreements. With it I wrote in the guestbook the incredible religious experience of having stepped on ground sacred to the history of mankind.
I did think of my suffering mother, of the example that my father left me on leaving this world too early, of my three children, my granddaughter who was born on May 20, the day of the independence of Cuba, of my family, of close friends and collaborators from the Civic Center, of that magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), and the current magazine Coexistence. And also forgiving all and each of those who have considered themselves my enemies or opponents with a prayer for the reconciliation of all Cubans.
This land has been inscribed with the letters of Solidarity the eternal message that full and true freedom can only be achieved through the paths of justice and peace.
I left with the deep conviction that it is worth spending a lifetime to inscribe, educate, empower, ethically and civilly, this message in the soul of the people, in the language and the circumstances in which each nation embarks on his own journey toward the civilization of love.
20 June 2013