WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Donald Trump was welcomed Thursday by an enthusiastic crowd in Warsaw that chanted his name and waved U.S. and Polish flags when he delivered an address — just as Poland’s government had promised.
Poland’s conservative government had reportedly promised the U.S. president enthusiastic crowds in its formal invitation — and it clearly delivered. People chanted “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!” before and after a speech in which the U.S. leader honored Poland’s traditional patriotic values and sacrifices for freedom during World War II.
Many in the crowd, which Warsaw police estimated at 15,000, said they had come from distant cities and towns in buses organized by the country’s populist ruling Law and Justice party.
“We are here from our own convictions and belief,” said Stanislaw Niesyn, who traveled from the city of Bydgoszcz, 270 kilometers (165 miles) away.
In Poland — unlike many places in Western Europe — many people hold Trump in genuine admiration for the way he seeks to preserve national traditions and close off borders out of fear of Islamic extremism.
One Polish-American in the crowd, Lukasz Mellerowicz, 67, said he was a Trump supporter above all because he opposes abortion.
Trump himself has shifted stances on abortion. He was once avidly in favor of abortion rights but has since declared himself against abortion, although he did not make abortion rights a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
Many in the crowd were supporters of Poland’s ruling nationalist party, which is often at odds with its European Union allies due to the party’s strong anti-migrant policies and steps that have weakened Poland’s system of checks and balances.
Some in the crowd said they like the way both Trump and their own leaders are trying to rebuild national industries.
“The previous government tried to sell off the country,” said Zbigniew Bogdanowicz, who took a day off work to welcome Trump.
Many booed when Trump acknowledged democracy icon Lech Walesa, who was in the audience. Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is a major adversary of the ruling party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s most powerful politician.
Later, Polish critics of the government expressed dismay and embarrassment at how the crowd reacted to Walesa.
One Trump supporter, 70-year-old Elzbieta Dembczyk, said she traveled on one of 11 buses the ruling party had rented to bring a group from the city of Czestochowa, 200 kilometers (125 miles) away, to Warsaw. She called Trump’s speech “very moving” and said she was shocked at how well Trump seemed to know Polish history.
“He knows everything and he said everything exactly as it was,” she said.
There was also a small group that turned out to protest Trump’s presence in Poland.