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Kennedy, Declaring “I am a Pole,” Draws Cheers

May 25, 1987

GDANSK, Poland (AP) _ Sen. Edward M. Kennedy won thunderous cheers from thousands of Solidarity supporters when he declared, ″I am a Pole,″ and recalled visits to Poland by his slain brothers.

In an appearance Sunday in a sunny Gdansk courtyard with Solidarity founder Lech Walesa, Kennedy praised the banned free trade union movement for fighting ″against tyranny (and) repression and for human rights.″

Pinning a Solidarity button on his lapel, the Massachusetts Democrat declared to thunderous cheers, ″Jestem Polakiem″ - ″I am a Pole″ - stirring memories of his brother President John F. Kennedy, who told the people of Berlin, ″I am a Berliner.″

Kennedy and more than a dozen members of his family are in Poland on a four-day trip to present the 1986 Robert F. Kennedy Foundation human rights award to two Solidarity activists, Zbigniew Bujak and Adam Michnik.

They leave today for Rome, where Kennedy is scheduled Tuesday to meet Pope John Paul II.

Speaking in a courtyard near St. Brigida’s church in Gdansk, a Solidarity stronghold, Kennedy noted that his brothers Joseph and John came to Poland before World War II and that his brother Robert visited in 1964.

″My family has had a special feeling for your country,″ he said. ″And we’re having such a good time now; we’re going to come back again and again and again.″

As he introduced family members, the crowd began singing a traditional Polish song of welcome, ″Sto Lat″ - ″May You Live 100 Years″ - then broke into cheers for President Reagan, with whom Kennedy often has disagreed.

″Greetings for Reagan, greetings for Reagan 3/8″ they cried.

Color photographs of John, Robert and Ted Kennedy were passed out, setting off a mad scramble by the crowd. An eight-piece band played the Polish and U.S. national anthems, and the Kennedys flashed V-for-victory signs, the symbol of Solidarity.

The facade of the red brick rectory was adorned with large Polish and American flags and a photograph of the pope, a native of this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. John Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic president of the United States.

Walesa, taking the microphone from the Massachusetts senator, said: ″I want to thank Mr. Senator for visiting our city, and I want to ask the senator to pass greetings from Gdansk to the American nation and tell it that Solidarity lives and Solidarity will win.″

Solidarity, East Europe’s first independent labor federation, was formed in 1980 and suppressed during 1981-83 martial law. It remains outlawed.

Bujak, a former Solidarity underground leader, said: ″This place (Gdansk) is the heart of our Solidarity. The American ideals of human rights are exactly the same as those of Solidarity.″

He and Michnik, a historian and Solidarity adviser, on Friday received the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation award from the Kennedy family.

Both men accompanied Kennedy on a morning flight from Warsaw to Gdansk to meet Walesa. Also on the plane were Kennedy’s three children, three sisters and Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel and five of her children.

They joined Walesa, his wife, Danuta, and more than 5,000 worshipers at a memorial Mass at St. Brygida’s church for John and Robert Kennedy.

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