GDANSK, Poland -- Polish officials unveiled a statue of former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II Saturday, honoring two men widely credited in this Eastern European country with helping to topple communism 23 years ago.

The ceremony took place in Gdansk, the birthplace of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement, in the presence of about 120 former Solidarity activists, many of whom were imprisoned in the 1980s for organizing or taking part in strikes against the communist regime.

The bronze statue, erected in the lush seaside President Ronald Reagan Park, is a slightly larger-than-life rendering of the two late leaders. It was inspired by an Associated Press photograph taken during John Paul's 1987 visit to the U.S.

Reagan and John Paul shared a conviction that communism was a moral evil, not just a bad economic system.

"Reagan should have a monument in every city," Walesa said in a recent interview.

Poles widely credit the Polish-born pontiff's first visit to his homeland after becoming pope as the inspiration for Solidarity. During a Mass in Warsaw in 1979, he used subtle language to suggest Poles should try to change their system.

Poles also remember that when the communist regime imposed the martial law crackdown in 1981, Reagan lit candles at the White House to show his solidarity with the Polish people.

"When Reagan lit the candles, we knew we had a friend in the United States," said Czeslaw Nowak, a former Solidarity activist. His organization of former imprisoned dissidents raised $59,000 for the statue.

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What LIers think of hot-button issues … Shirley ice rink … What's up on LI? Credit: Newsday

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