Warsaw, Poland — A convicted criminal with a knife rushed on to the stage during the finale of a charity event and stabbed a Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz in the abdomen multiple times Sunday, leaving the politician in very serious condition in an attack Polish media said had a political motive.
The Polish mayor grabbed his belly and collapsed in front of the audience during the “Lights to Heaven” fundraiser organized by the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said he was informed “doctors succeeded in reanimating the heart of the seriously injured Mayor Pawel Adamowicz and there is hope, but his condition is very difficult.” He called for people to pray for the mayor.
Adamowicz was taken to a hospital where he underwent five hours of surgery, according to Dr. Tomasz Stefaniak, one of the doctors treating the mayor at the Medical University of Gdansk.
Almost seven hours after the assault, Stefaniak told reporters early Monday that “the patient is alive,” triggering applause, but added that the mayor remained “in a very serious condition.”
“The next hours will decide everything,” Stefaniak said, appealing for thoughts and prayers for the popular mayor.
Polish media reported that a number of political officials and Gdansk Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glod went to the hospital during the operation.
Polish broadcaster TVN said the assailant shouted from the stage he had been wrongly imprisoned under a previous national government led by Civic Platform, a party to which the mayor formerly belonged. The suspected attacker was arrested.
TVN broadcast footage of the perpetrator, just after the attack yelling his name was Stefan and “I was jailed but innocent. … Civic Platform tortured me.”
Police said the suspect was a 27-year-old with a criminal record and had carried out bank robberies. A police spokesman, Mariusz Ciarka, said the attacker gained access to the area with a media badge.
Radio Gdansk said Adamowicz was stabbed in the area of his heart, but did not cite its source, while Rzeczpospolita described the mayor’s condition as “critical,” citing unidentified sources. A spokesman for the hospital called his condition “very serious.”
TVN footage showed Adamowicz on stage just before the attack with a sparkler in hand telling the audience that it had been a “wonderful day” and then the attacker coming toward him. Adamowicz had been on the streets of his city Sunday collecting money for the charity, along with volunteers around the country.
The stabbing shocked the nation Sunday. Moments before the attack Adamowicz posted an image of the stage on Instagram, BBC News reports.
The head of the charity, Jerzy Owsiak, is a liberal critic of Poland’s current right-wing government. He blamed what he described as an atmosphere of hate under the ruling Law and Justice party for the attack on the mayor. Owsiak referred to being personally depicted in a defamatory manner in an animation that ran on state TV last week and also had anti-Semitic overtones.
The animation showed Owsiak as a clay figure being manipulated by a leading Civic Platform official who seized piles of cash he collected. A Star of David was on one of the banknotes. The broadcaster apologized after the animation triggered an outcry.
Adamowicz, 53, has been mayor of Gdansk, a Baltic port city, since 1998. He was part of the democratic opposition born in that city under the leadership of Lech Walesa during the 1980s. After leaving Civic Platform, he was re-elected to a sixth term as an independent candidate in the fall.
As mayor, he has been a progressive voice, supporting LGBT rights and tolerance for minorities. He marched in last year’s gay pride parade, a rare action for a mayor in Poland. He also showed solidarity with the Jewish community when the city’s synagogue had its windows broken last year, strongly denouncing the vandalism.
The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity raises money to buy state-of-the-art medical equipment for Poland’s cash-strapped hospitals, mostly for children. The last attack on a politician in Poland was in 2010 in Lodz. A man shouting that he wanted to kill Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski fatally shot an aide to one of the party’s lawmakers to the European Parliament. A second man was stabbed and injured.
At the time Law and Justice was in the opposition and Kaczynski blamed the attack at an “atmosphere of hate” under the rival party, Civic Platform.