WARSAW, Poland – Former Polish president and anti-communist leader Lech Walesa unveiled a statue of Ronald Reagan on an elegant Warsaw street on Monday, honoring the late U.S. president for inspiring Poland's toppling of communism.
Though Reagan's legacy is mixed in the U.S., across much of central and eastern Europe he is considered the greatest American leader in recent history for challenging the Soviet Union.
The moniker he gave it -- the "evil empire" -- resonated with Poles, who suffered greatly under Moscow-imposed rule.
"I wonder whether today's Poland, Europe and world could look the same without president Reagan," Walesa said. "As a participant in those events, I must say that it's inconceivable."
The 11.5-foot bronze statue depicts a smiling Reagan in a historic moment -- as he stood at a podium at Berlin's Brandenburg gate in 1987 and said the famous words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
It sits across from the U.S. Embassy on Aleje Ujazdowskie, a street lined with embassies and manicured parks in the heart of the capital.
"Reagan gave us hope," said Janusz Dorosiewicz, the president of the board of the Ronald Reagan Foundation in Poland. He conceived of the monument and struggled for six years with bureaucracy to secure the prized location for the statue.
Several statues of Reagan have gone up this year, the centennial of Reagan's birth. Most notably, monuments to him have been erected in London and in Budapest, Hungary, and yet another is to be unveiled later this week in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
"We've been joking that there are so many statues that we should do a coffee table book," said Linda Bond, a representative of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, who was in Warsaw for the ceremony.