A week after Gdańsk mayor’s assassination, Cracovians rally in support of charity leader

Jerzy Owsiak, pictured in 2011 wearing his iconic red-framed glasses (phot. Zorro2212)
Jerzy Owsiak, pictured in 2011 wearing his iconic red-framed glasses (phot. Zorro2212)

This afternoon, around 500 people rallied in Krakow’s Main Square to show their support for Jerzy Owsiak, the founder and face of Poland’s largest charity organization after he decided to resume his post.

Owsiak, 65, started the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy, WOŚP) in 1993 to raise money for children’s and geriatric healthcare. Along with being the largest NGO charity in the country, Polish public opinion polls show it is also the most trusted, and its huge annual fundraising drive has become iconic for the red heart (❤) stickers donors wear.

However, WOŚP and its founder have been cast in a harsh spotlight this past week after the mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, was assassinated at the charity’s grand finale. During the event last Sunday in the northern Polish city, a 27-year-old male attacker rushed the stage and stabbed the mayor, who was rushed to a local hospital but died the next day.

Later that same Monday, Owsiak announced that he was resigning as head of WOŚP. Although the assailant declared to witnesses that his motive was connected to a prison sentence he had served, Owsiak – who has become a target of right-wing ire for his outspoken criticism of the ruling PiS government – said he felt partially responsible for the murder.

However, in the week since then, much of the Polish public has encouraged the generally popular WOŚP leader to stay on in his role, apparently prompting him to change his mind. In a post published to his Facebook page, Owsiak said that “one heart went out, but millions of hearts opened.” He promised that, in memory of the late mayor Adamowicz, he would work “ten times harder” on behalf of the charity.

Jerzy Owsiak was born in Gdańsk in 1953 and has also worked as a journalist. Along with WOŚP, he started the  Pol’and’Rock Festival (formerly “Woodstock Festival”), a large rock music festival in Kostrzyn to thank the volunteers and supporters of the charities grand finale.

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