Like every other sensate human being with access to the media I registered the news of the air disaster over Smolensk which yesterday took the lives of 96 of Poland’s political and military elite. But not until today did the sheer enormity of this tragedy become apparent. That realisation came when I learned of the death in the plane crash of free trade unionist Anna Walentynowicz.
Walentynowicz was a hero of the revolution which saw off a stalinist regime that had been in place since 1945, when the Russian army liberated Poland from Nazi occupation. A former communist party cadre, this diminutive figure worked as a welder in the Gdańsk shipyard, and played a leading role in the Solidarność union. It was Walentynowicz’s dismissal by shipyard bosses just a few weeks prior to her planned retirement which launched the 1980 strike that led ultimately to the collapse of the communist government.
Poland may have lost its president, but Anna Walentynowicz was arguably the greatest of those whose lives came to a premature end in the Smolensk air disaster.