Warsaw, Poland, 11 December 2008 (By Louise Ireland, Reuters) - Forget the economic crisis, forget climate change, images of an elderly, bespectacled Buddhist monk in a maroon robe have dominated Polish newspapers and television screens all week.
The Dalai Lama has come to town and it seems everybody, from the president and prime minister to college students and housewives in this still-staunchly Roman Catholic country, want to meet and hear
Of course, the charismatic septuagenarian can bring out the crowds in many countries and counts among his worldwide fans heads of state and Hollywood stars. But he has struck a special chord in
Not by accident, the Buddhist leader kicked off his six-day tour of Poland in Gdansk at a party for another modern icon - Lech Walesa, leader of the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union which helped topple communist rule in Poland in 1989, the year the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although other Nobel laureates and European statesmen such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy were also in
The Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in
The Poles returned the compliment by turning out in their thousands in
"Our young people are eager to hear about moral values," said Marta Kudelska, a professor of Indian philosophy at
For Poles of older generations who remember communist oppression, she added, there is an instinctive empathy for the Dalai Lama and his cause.
"About a year ago, I got a call from the Chinese embassy (in
"For people of my generation, this memory of the past, of communist times, helps us to better understand the Dalai Lama's way; I think his way is similar to that of (
When I visited Tibet 20 years ago, I remember how monks, some of them just children, would furtively approach me in the Potala Palace - the Dalai Lama's former residence in the capital Lhasa - to ask, out of earshot of our Chinese tour guide, whether I had any pictures of His Holiness.
I did not - I had flown into .
Fast-forward 20 years, and both
What else has changed in the past 20 years is that the Tibetan cause itself has become much more widely known through the Dalai Lama's high-profile globe-trotting.
Asked whether he ever expected to see