GDANSK (AFP) - Lech Walesa, Poland's anti-communist icon, on Friday accused British Prime Minister David Cameron of being "unreasonable and shortsighted" in tightening benefit rules for migrants from eastern EU states.
"Britain earned a lot (of money) on Poles finishing off communism, he (Cameron) shouldn't forget it and he should tally it all up," Mr Walesa told AFP, pointing to the economic boom sparked by the reunification of Europe after the demise of communism in 1989.
"Then he would understand that countries like Great Britain are once again behaving unreasonably and shortsightedly," he said in a telephone interview.
Poland was among 10 mostly ex-communist countries to join the European Union in 2004, when Britain and Ireland were among the few older members to fully open their labour markets for newcomers.
Mr Cameron has termed that open door policy a "monumental mistake".
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from eastern EU states have made Britain their home since 2004. The biggest group came from Poland. Around 640,000 Poles live in Britain, according to official statistics released in 2012, but the Polish community estimates the real figure might be as high as one million.
A decade after concerns soared over an invasion of "Polish plumbers", Cameron's conservative government recently tightened migrant benefit rules due to concerns over migration levels from Bulgaria and Romania when restrictions are lifted on January 1.
Under the plans, migrants will not receive out-of-work benefits for the first three months in Britain and payments will be stopped after six months unless there is a "genuine" chance of them getting a job.
Mr Walesa, a shipyard electrician turned leader of the Solidarity trade union that peacefully toppled communism, became Poland's first democratically elected president in 1990. "I could tell the prime minister (Cameron) that maybe it was our (Poles') great mistake that we finished off communism," Mr Walesa told AFP.
If Europe were still divided as it was during the Cold War, "Britain would have to spend a lot more money buying arms than it does now," he added.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's right wing opposition, said in an open letter to Cameron that he was "shocked and surprised" by his negative assessment of Britain's 2004 open door labour policy.
Some 50,000 Bulgarians and Romanians are set to arrive in Britain in each of the next five years when restrictions are removed, according to research group MigrationWatch UK.
The Bulgarian Ambassador in Britain believes the figure will be much lower, predicting around 8,000 arrivals per year.