Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gorbachev Signs Poland's Solidarity Banner

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday signed a banner of Poland's anti-Communist Solidarity movement, joining other world leaders whose signatures decorate the now historic banner.

A rectangular piece of white cloth with the word "Solidarnosc" emblazoned in red, the banner once hung above the entrance to Solidarity headquarters in the Polish city of Gdansk, the birthplace of the trade union.

Bev and Gene Prusa, a Polish-American family who obtained the flag during a visit to Poland in the late 1980s, said they then displayed the banner in their home, until they decided to donate it to the Polish Museum of America in Chicago, Ill., to honor those who helped bring down communist rule.

"We figured it didn't belong to us," Ms. Prusa said Thursday.

Since coming up with the plan to donate the banner in 1999, the couple has traveled around the world to obtain the signatures of prominent world leaders and pro-democracy figures, including Solidarity's legendary founder Lech Walesa, Czech President Vaclav Havel, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

On Thursday, they were in Moscow to meet with Gorbachev, whose democratic reforms as Soviet president set off the collapse of the Communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe, and helped end the Cold War. However, Gorbachev during his only visit to Poland in 1988 did not meet with leaders of Solidarity which made a historic comeback that year.

On Thursday, Gorbachev praised the union, saying that "everything that is linked with Solidarity is important for our common history, the history of Europe and the world."

"This was a truly popular organization that forced the authorities to reckon with it, and build a road into a new world for Poland," he said.

Prusa said they next hoped to get the signatures of Pope John Paul II, who supported Solidarity's anti-Communist crusade when it began 20 years ago.

Jan Lorys, the director of the Polish history museum, said the display would be a tribute to those who liberated millions of Poles and other Eastern Europeans from Communist oppression, and helped lift the fears of a nuclear war.

"We honor military heroes by statues and museums, but we don't honor those people who make peace," Lorys said. "So this was an occasion to honor peacemakers."

Gorbachev also expressed hope that the achievements of pro-democracy forces of the 1980s and 1990s will not be reversed, and that future governments will learns from the lessons of the oppressive past.

"If we get rid of the biggest fault of the 20th century - our failure to learn from our mistakes - then the 21st century will be a better one," he said.