Poland has celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first freely contested elections in the former Soviet bloc.
Official celebrations were given added poignancy by recent events in Ukraine, with many people drawing parallels between the two countries.
Thousands packed into central Warsaw to remember the elections of 4 June, 1989, that helped trigger a wave or revolutions across central Europe and consigned communism and the Cold War to history.
US president Barack Obama joined Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski, Ukraine president-elect Petro Poroshenko and other heads of state for commemorations in the Polish capital.
In a speech to a crowd of about 6,000, Mr Obama hailed Poland’s self-liberation from Moscow as an inspiration to Ukraine. “We stand together because we believe people and nations have the right to determine their own destiny – that includes the people of Ukraine.
“Thank you for reminding the world that no matter how brutal the crackdown, no matter how long the night, the yearning for liberty and dignity does not fade away. It will never go away.
“Thank you, Poland, for your iron will and for showing that, yes, ordinary citizens can grab the reins of history, and that freedom will prevail – because, in the end, tanks and troops are no match for the force of our ideals.”
Focusing on Ukraine and Russia, he accused the Kremlin of using the “dark tactics” of the Cold War and aggression against its neighbour, and promised countries on Nato’s eastern flank now feeling vulnerable will not be left to fend for themselves.
“Poland will never stand alone. Estonia will never stand alone. Latvia will never stand alone. Lithuania will never stand alone. Romania will never stand alone,” he said.
Earlier yesterday Mr Obama met Mr Poroshenko in their first meeting since his victory in presidential elections on 25 May. Mr Obama pledged £3 million in non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, including night-vision goggles, communications equipment and body armour.
Mr Poroshenko thanked Mr Obama for his support in the “fight” for the “Ukrainian people, for freedom, for democracy, for building up independent sovereign European state”.
Mr Komorowski also expressed Poland’s “solidarity” with Ukraine, but much of his speech was dedicated to events 25 years ago.
The 1989 elections led to the formation of a government led by the Solidarity trade union that demolished Poland’s communist state, and so delivered a fatal blow to Soviet domination in eastern Europe.
“I want to pay tribute to those who had the courage to fight for freedom of thought and free speech,” said Mr Komorowski, referring to Solidarity, which spearheaded the destruction of the communist order. “Twenty-five years ago, on 4 June, 1989, communism ended in Poland,” he said. “The Iron Curtain of propaganda and lies was torn down. In order to live in truth we destroyed the curtain.”
Later Mr Obama flew to Brussels for an evening meeting of G7 countries. Russia had been set to host a G8 summit but following its annexation of Crimea the meeting was moved to Belgium and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was excluded.