Inauguration Address by the President at the opening of the Conference: “The Downfall of Communism. 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe”
Excellencies, Ambassadors, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
All Distinguished Guests!
Above all - our Dear Guests from abroad, our Distinguished Foreign Guests, friends from the countries which at that time, like Poland back then, were behind the Iron Curtain. The countries which then, in 1989 and later, in subsequent years, won freedom, independence and sovereignty for themselves; everything that we enjoy so much today, the attainments which later led most of us into NATO, into the European Union, led us to become, not only in cultural and identity terms, but also in political terms, members of Western community.
I would like to emphasize that we have always been members of Western community in cultural sense, in terms of our tradition, our mentality. This has never been taken away from us, and we have never allowed to be deprived of it - I want to stress it very emphatically. This was one of the factors that have just led us to become free and independent states, thanks to whom we have managed to break free from the Iron Curtain.
I am delighted to welcome you today to the Presidential Palace in Poland; precisely in the Hall where the agreement concluding the Round Table's Talks was signed, on 5th April 1989, the occasion whose 30th anniversary will be marked tomorrow. But earlier, in May 1955, also here, in this very room, the Warsaw Pact was signed. Whereas in July 2016, the NATO Summit was also held in this Hall. These are the meanders which history takes.
Of course, as we have just heard in the announcement, one can come up with various assessments of that time today. I am delighted, however, that those who took part in those events at that time and were shouldering the responsibility for what was happening at that time, are with us today. Likewise, I am extremely pleased with the presence among us of those among who, as experts and historians, examine those events, reflect on them, analyse those processes today.
Of course, as I said, opinions and positions vary both among the participants of those events and among those who are investigating them: “It was possible to do it another way", "it was only possible to do it this way", "they missed the opportunity ", "they tapped the opportunity", etc., and so on. It is easy to make such judgements today, especially for those who did not make decisions at the time. Speaking for myself, when I am confronted with the need to take different kinds of political decisions, I can claim with all responsibility that I know how difficult these processes are. Obviously, not every decision is ingenious, and not every decision leads to best results.
I am in a position to evaluate those events from the Polish point of view, referring to those that unfolded in my country, which I could then observe as a 17-year-old, and then as an 18-year-old boy. My feeling at the time was that of great, immeasurable joy, great excitement and a great feeling that we have just approached something we had been dreaming of - that we have approached the freedom in which we can live and develop, that from now on everything will be different.
I have already said here in this Hall that I was asking my father then: "Dad, when will it be with us like in the West? In five years' time?” He said: "In five, maybe not, but in 10-15 years, there is a chance it will be the case”. Today it is almost like in the West, but we still have a lot of work to do. Thirty years have passed, so today we can certainly assess these actions differently.
Today we can recall the great figures of that time, who certainly made history and whose role at that time was absolutely groundbreaking. I am thinking of the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, the later President of the United States, and then Vice-President George Bush Sr.,about Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the then leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev.
And I think, of course, of the Pope of that epoch, our Holy Father John Paul II, whose role certainly cannot be overestimated here, obviously the role that is most touching and moving for us, Poles. But when we look at the historical photographs, when we see Him talk to either Ronald Reagan or to Margaret Thatcher, we know that He participated in important arrangements and great decisions made at the time, and ultimately led us to our freedom. That is one point.
Freedom would not have been possible without the mindset, without articulated will, without the sense that freedom is needed. In this connection, of course, I will look at it from the Polish point of view, because naturally closest to me are the events in our country. That being said I would like our friends from Hungary to know that we remember very well their 1956 uprising. I want our friends from the Czech Republic and Slovakia to know that we remember fully well the Prague Spring and everything that happened in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
I hope that everyone remembers the Poznań Uprising of 1956 in Poland and the events of 1968 - events unfolding mainly here, in Warsaw, but also in other cities. I am referring here to the students' protest. That they remember 1970 mainly on the Coast, where ordinary people going to work were murdered, when for a few days there was a suppression of protests, involving the workers of the Coast back then. I am thinking of the year 1976 in Radom, Ursus, Płock, when workers once again rebelled against the authorities.
And, of course, I think of 1980 - preceded by the Holy Father's first pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 - when Solidarity was born. Then 1981, martial law - the black night of martial law, tragic for our nation, involving deaths of many people again. Strikes of 1988 – unrelenting attitudes. Finally, the Round Table talks, which today are judged in so many different terms.
Recently, some of the public, some of commentators were outraged when I said that I thought the Round Table was needed. What I did was to reiterate the words once uttered by the President, Prof. Lech Kaczyński, who participated in these Round Table talks as a member of the Solidarity movement and as a lawyer of the Solidarity movement, discussing changes concerning freedom of association, i.e. trade unions - trade union matters, discussing issues related to labour law. And, of course, many others that were on the agenda at the Round Table at the time. In brief, he was not only a witness, but also a participant in those events. Today, the participants of those events are also here in this Hall, for which I would like to express my wholehearted thanks.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Should the Round Table talks have been held? I reiterate: in my opinion, yes. They were of great importance. We can debate it today, but it is certain that they have led to one thing : to a bloodless revolution in Poland, in principle. They led to the fact that political transformations occurred in their wake: they led to the elections of 1989.
And here I agree with the critics of the developments that later evolved in our country. I will put it this way: in 1989, on 4 June, elections were held that were not yet fully free, free to the Upper House, to the Senate, which was then reborn, but unfortunately only semi-free to the Sejm, the Lower House of the Polish Parliament. But it' is not the point whether they were completely free or semi-free. It is about what the Poles demonstrated back then. The Poles went and decisively, in an absolutely spectacular way, rejected the entire communist elite. In a spectacular way, de facto abolishing the national list of candidates, de facto breaking the Round Table agreements. And this was a moment that should have been a turning point, but unfortunately it was not.
Because one can say that the Poles, going to the elections, voting with their feet and pen in hand, changed the decisions of the Round Table, and destroyed them. In principle, at that moment, they should have been null and void, putting an end to any compliance with them later, unfortunately, the compliance which continued in Poland for years, and proposed by the people originating from the Solidarity movement in the broad sense of the word. Then we should have started a real revolution and real changes in Poland, real democratic changes - as the public demanded, expressing its will in those elections. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Then came the black day, also on 4 June, only in 1992, when the government of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski was overthrown. Unfortunately, to a large extent this was done by people who also came from this broadly understood Solidarity movement. These events are extremely painful and tragic in our history, although they did not cause bloodshed, nothing like that, but they certainly substantially delayed the process of transformation in Poland. These changes - economic, honest, reliable, that would let us quit what was later called post-communism in Poland.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased that you will be discussing these topics. This is how I see it from my own perspective: the time of the Round Table, June 4, 1989, was for me the time when Andrzej Duda was running around Krakow with the leaflets of the Civic Committee of "Solidarity". For the first time are given a choice. Chose "Solidarity". I remember the slogan, I was wearing such a T-shirt at the time: vote for Jan Rokita. I was running in Krakow in a T-shirt at the time: vote for Jan Rokita, and encouraged people to vote - in front of the polling station, I remember as if it were today, in Krowoderska Street - even on the very day of 4 June, because there was no election silence. It was really a big time and it was a time when we felt the wind of change. These changes were coming.
Today we, the Poles, are proud to be the first society, the first nation, which then, in 1989, so clearly said “No” to the communists. But, of course, we do not forget about our neighbours and those who shared the same fate with us at that time. We do not forget about the triangular Hungarian table, we do not forget about the extraordinary official funeral of Imre Nagy, we do not forget about the Velvet Revolution, about the attitude of Czechs and Slovaks, then still in Czechoslovakia. We do not forget about the attitude of the Germans from the GDR at that time, who actually demolished the Berlin Wall later on, and dismantled it with their bare hands.
But we are very proud of the fact that it was thanks to those decisions, enabled by the Round Table taking place, twe can claim that we were the first. Those who initiated what was later often referred to by commentators and historians as the Autumn of Nations. Another time of great changes on the map of Europe and great political changes in Europe, which were the result of a great movement of social masses.
We do not forget the Baltic chain, how the Balts fought for their independence, so that they can live in independent, sovereign states. We do not forget all those who lost their lives then fighting for freedom, whether in Vilnius, the Television Tower, or in Bucharest, where Romanians took to the streets against the Ceaușescu regime, against the Securitate troops who remained loyal to him. Very many people died. Of course, we can assess these changes differently in our respective countries.
Today, Ladies and Gentlemen, one thing is certain - what I said at the beginning - we are in NATO, we are in the European Union; we are certainly, in a political sense, members of the West. It is up to us how we wish to proceed with our own causes. I only want one thing - that we should continue to be together and that we should cooperate with each other well, in a friendly manner. And I am glad that today we have formats such as the Visegrad Group, such as V4, and that we have cooperation within the Three Seas’ Initiative today. So that we have the formats of regional and Central European cooperation that bind us here - we often recall that we share the same fortunes of history.
It is also the Round Table in Poland, which is why I would like to thank you very much once again for taking part in this debate. I hope that these panel discussions and today's meeting will be very interesting for everyone and that we may be able to draw various new conclusions - after all, this is what research is for. Thank you very much.