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11/29/2013

Polish watching events in Ukraine carefully

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Solidarity leader Zbigniew Bujak in Warsaw. (Tanya Talaga/Toronto Star)


In Warsaw, people are watching the events unfolding in the neighbouring Ukraine cautiously as pro-European demonstrators clash with a government that has suddenly turned eastward.

Poland spent decades under Soviet domination after the Second World War until the Solidarity movement succeeded in ending communist rule.

Ukrainian demonstrators on Friday, were trying to form a human chain from Lviv to the Polish border town of Przemysl, media reports say.

While Poland is currently not threatened by any Russian pressure, some fear Russian economic influence could eventually be used on other former Soviet states.
Pro-democracy activist Zbigniew Bujak, who spent six years leading Solidarity in the Warsaw region until his capture in 1986 and then eventually went on to being a government minister from 1991 to 1997, said in Warsaw on Thursday that the threat is very real.
“In the short run, I believe we are not in danger but when I see actions of Russia in Belarus and in Ukraine … I see a very big threat,” Bujak said in Warsaw.
A problem for both Poland and Ukraine is their reliance on Russia for gas and oil.
“They have a different kind of stranglehold on us that we have not managed to leave yet,” he said of the Russians supplying the two countries for much of their energy needs.
Nine years ago, Bujak spent three weeks in the main square of Kyiv during the Orange revolution and he said it was one of the “best experiences in my life because I could compare the revolution of Solidarity and the Orange revolution.”
The Orange revolution was led partly by former jailed, Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is now on a hunger strike over Ukraine’s sudden pivot towards Russia and away from signing a free trade deal with the European Union. The Orange revolution over the right to have free elections took place from 2004 to 2005.
“For Viktor Yanukovych it is very hard in deciding on freeing Tymoshenko,” he added.
Not only did Tymoshenko and Yanukovych exchange sharp verbal jabs in the media during the revolution, she also poses a serious challenge to Yanukovych at the ballot box, he added.

Tanya Talaga is the Star's global economics reporter. Follow her on Twitter @tanyatalaga

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