Polish statesman Tadeusz Mazowiecki, whose appointment in 1989 as the first non- communist prime minister in the Soviet bloc helped usher in democratic change across eastern Europe, died yesterday aged 86.
Tributes came from Poland, Germany and beyond for the shy former dissident intellectual who was famously photographed making a victory sign in August 1989 after his appointment by the Soviet-backed Polish president, Gen Wojciech Jaruzelski.
By the end of that year, the Berlin Wall had fallen, communist regimes in Moscow’s other satellite states had collapsed and the cold war division of the continent was over.
"It is a shame that such a person has passed away," Lech Walesa, who replaced Gen Jaruzelski as Poland's first postwar non-communist head of state in 1990, told public broadcaster TVP. "Polish democracy is failing a bit these days and we could do with him here, but it seems he is also needed on the other side," added Mr Walesa, a devout Catholic.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, praised Mr Mazowiecki for his contribution to the reunification of Europe and of Germany.
“With his tireless dedication to freedom . . . he made an unforgettable contribution to overcoming authority and injustice and also to unifying Europe,” Dr Merkel said. “As prime minister of Poland at a time when Germany was undergoing big changes, he promoted . . . the reunification of our country.”
Gen Jaruzelski (90), also praised Mr Mazowiecki, with whom he negotiated Poland’s transition from a one-party state in talks that led to partially free elections in June 1989, won by the Solidarity trade union. “I have always admired his calmness, his resoluteness and his decisiveness,” he told TVP Info.