Looking at the emotion at the passing of Pope John Paul II, I would have liked to witness this moment in Poland, a country where the love for the pope was genuine and deeply rooted . I witnessed it from close when I cycled through Poland in the agitated summer of 1981 . I cycled all across the country, through villages and towns, camping most of the time . The country was in the middle of a struggle between Solidarnosc backed strikers, and the regime . Picture at left shows the Christ with his hand on his face, a common representation in Poland .
Warsaw had these big demonstrations by Solidarnosc to support the general strike . Lines of miliciamen were disposed where the crowd had gathered . Looks impressive, with the "milicja" trucks, but the mood was mostly quiet and peaceful on both sides . I shot quite a few pictures of the events . There was a feeling of excitement for something unusual going on here .
Warsaw was on "Strajk", on strike, and quite everything was on a standstill . The stunned population was looking at the Solidarnosc demonstrators, silently, concentrated, and visibly interested . They were sometimes in long discussions with the union members . There were visibly all kind of people in this crowd, intellectuals, workers, retirees, housewives . The unthinkable was happening right here in Warsaw , in front of them . What did they think would happen next ?
I recall young polish students as being very friendly and optimistic, in spite of the difficult economic situation . Here , this group invited me at their picnic . They were in such good mood . I don't know if their group was a regular polish state approved youth organization ( I would opt for it ) or a catholic church group, but they were so full of love and praise for their pope . I must confess that I did not share their enthusiasm but I remember how genuinely happy and cheerful they were . Situation was chaotic, though, food stores were empty, but people were inviting me all the time, or giving me food , especially farmers . Very different welcome from the one I had in Finland and Sweden, where I cycled through before entering Poland .
I had been at the Gdansk shipyards and looked at the huge recent three-crosses monument erected there, where I saw the first marks of success of the new Solidarnosc movement . But the Warwaw situation was one involving so many people . You could feel History marching . Under bright summer days, people felt something like a great new hope, and that things indeed could change . See the discreet little cross this woman on the right wears .
All public transportation was immobilized . Solidarnosc union representatives sometimes spoke with loudspeakers from the top of a bus , or a truck . Speaking of the pope, I saw stores selling small busts of John Paul II, or images of him, in several towns , even in these difficult years when the communist regime was doing everything it could to hamper his aura .