Address in pl. Zamkowy Square, 4th June 2014
Your Royal Highnesses,
Prime Minister, Deputies and Senators,
We are standing in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, a symbol of Polish statehood. A symbol of our country’s difficult history. On 1st September 1939, the second world war broke out. On 17th September, the Castle burned down under Luftwaffe bombs that is on the day when, in the middle of its defensive war, Poland was also attacked by the Red Army under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Poland lost its independence. The Polish people participated in the war from its first to its very last day. They would fight on nearly all fronts. And yet we were not granted the joy of freedom after the victory of Allied Forces over the Nazi’s Third Reich.
An opportunity of which we were left bereft by the decisions made in Yalta. There the victorious powers set up their areas of influence. Poland, much like many other countries in the region, found itself in the realm dominated by the Soviet Union, in the world governed by Stalin. For a few long, dark decades, the Iron Curtain severed Europe!
Yet our aspiration and dreams of freedom survived. The source of our strength flowed from national tradition, embracing the lively memory of the Miracle on the Vistula – the regaining of independence in 1918 and the victory over the Bolsheviks in 1920. The source of this power was the Polish family: one of the last enclaves of independence and the mainstay of the nation’s life. The root of power was the Catholic Church – the pillar of spiritual independence and a clear sign of our place in the Western world. Survivors also included enclaves of the normal economy: private farms and trade, and small enterprises.
Circumstances were changing, and so were the forms of our fight for freedom.
The drama of the post-war armed underground movement was not the only one. The worker rebellions in June 1956 and December 1970 were suppressed in blood, which finally abolished the myth of the “people’s” nature of the communist state, and the repressions after the rebellion of students and intellectuals in 1968 dispelling hopes for the reform of real socialism.
June 1976, was of special importance as at that time workers striking for bread gained the support of the indomitable circles of Polish intelligentsia. This is where the joint path leading the whole nation to freedom – the path to victory – began!
Tomorrow, together with many of my fellow underground activists, I will unveil the Free Speech Memorial in Mysia street in front of the headquarters of the communist censorship bureau. Yet on this day I already wish to pay homage to those who dared to fight for freedom of thought and freedom of speech. We began in dozens, soon to turn into hundreds and thousands. In 1980, after the victorious strikes initiated by the shipyard workers, there were ten million of us. Ten million people in Solidarity within the Soviet bloc! Addressing these millions and reaching their hearts was the Polish Pope, today’s St John Paul II, who called “Let your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth, the face of this land!”. These millions where headed by Lech Wałęsa.
Thanks to such a great number of us, the great movement of Solidarity survived martial law, the bloody pacifications of manufacturing plants, imprisonment and incarceration. It survived until the symptoms of the internal decomposition of the Soviet Union began to show. Then we all sensed that the time of the decisive struggle for freedom was at hand.
The communist system, its propaganda, and its dictatorship were all going bankrupt politically, morally, and economically. In Poland, this was accompanied by the strengthening resistance of the Solidarity underground – the clandestine camp for freedom. Every successive victim of the regime would reinforce the resistance and unite the people in opposition.
That is why communist power had to make concessions. That is why a political compromise was achieved at the Round Table. The decisions included the re-legalisation of Solidarity and the conducting of partially free parliamentary elections. On 4th June 1989, it was the powers of freedom that won the semi-free elections. The forces of the old system were defeated. It was a political knockout victory, accomplished despite an unequal playing field, and preferential treatment and guarantees for the governing communist party.
The whole Nation decided the fate of Poland! It was won through the ballot. Without resorting to violence. Without spilling even a single drop of blood.
Communism finished in Poland 25 years ago, on 4th June 1989. We tore down the Iron Curtain of propaganda and lies to be able to live in the truth. We tore down the Iron Curtain which the authorities of the People’s Republic used to hide behind, in order to build a democracy, a system where authorities are held responsible before the citizens. On that day, for the first time, elections were no propagandist fiction but the making of a real choice.
We chose living in freedom!
Our success launched an avalanche of events. It became the first domino to fall that triggered the following ones. Regimes would tumble one after another. Until the disintegration of the Soviet empire of evil itself.
Freedom, when it is a dream, gives enormous power. The desire for freedom is contagious. That is why all tyrants recoil from it. Seen up close, freedom inspires human actions. Its triumphant march began in Poland. Soon it was attained by Hungarians, Germans from the GDR, and Czechs and Slovaks. The wall which divided the German nation and state, and symbolised the division of Europe, was overthrown in Berlin.
Once released, the wave of freedom spread further, engulfing Romania, Bulgaria, and the Balkans. It crossed the borders of the Soviet Union, bringing freedom to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and other nations of the collapsing empire.
We became free people. What we would make of the regained freedom, how we would manage and reinforce it, depended on us. Freedom that had previously been people’s dream now turned into a responsibility of the state.
For Poland, it was a time of daring, pioneering political, social, civic, and economic reforms. We implemented them in the spirit of compromise, with the broadest possible political consensus, overcoming the divisions from the days of the painful past. The patron of such activity was the first non-communist prime minister in this part of Europe – Tadeusz Mazowiecki. The last 25 years of Polish freedom has been a time of exceedingly difficult decisions, difficult work, much sacrifice, and also huge achievements. We are a number of times wealthier than in 1989, as we knew how to take up the challenge of economic change.
We were successful, not only in developing the economy, but also in building a democratic state of law. We strengthened our security by joining NATO and developing strategic partnerships, mostly with the United States. We became a member of the European Union.
What must also be counted among the great achievements of Polish freedom is the reconciliation with Germans and Ukrainians over our difficult common history. Perceived from that perspective, reconciliation with the Russian nation always remains a true challenge. For freedom, as a result of wise experience, also favours good relations with its neighbours. That is why it is with great satisfaction that, together with the President of Germany, Mr Joachim Gauck, we will name the A2 motorway connecting Warsaw to Germany, and further onwards to the entire Western Europe, the Motorway of Freedom. It is my dream that one day this Motorway of Freedom could extend eastwards from Poland as well.
We greatly appreciate the freedom we regained, although we began to treat it as natural and something obvious. We remember the bitter taste of the days when freedom was lacking and the price we had to pay for regaining it. There is a reason to be glad as now, 25 years into freedom, no fewer than 71% of Poles perceive the change of the system as positive. Moreover, 80% of people believe themselves to be happy, and 89% express acceptance of Poland’s participation in the Western world, in the European Union.
The 25th anniversary of regaining freedom is the best opportunity to thank the entire nation. I hereby thank all the Polish men and women for us having survived the evil times, for grasping that independence efficiently. I thank them for their courage and prudence, for the acceptance of difficult and often harsh reforms.
The 25 years of freedom have been a perfect opportunity for us to enjoy it together. To relish it together in our good fortune. An exceptionally good fortune and a good time – and that at the scale of over a millennium of history of the Polish state.
This is an opportunity to thank everyone who dared to oppose evil in the days of communist totalitarianism, and to those who had the will to change our country with their hard work and effort throughout the 25 years of freedom.
Therefore, I thank the leaders and all the participants in the fight for freedom. My special words of gratitude I address to Lech Wałęsa.
I thank the presidents, prime ministers, ministers, members of parliament, and members of local and regional authorities for what they have achieved in all those 25 years.
I thank our friends – the nations with whom we broke free from the realm of post-Yalta dependencies and limitations. Those with whom we regained freedom.
I also thank our allies in the free world who showed understanding and support for our fight. I am glad that today, together with the President of France, Mr Francois Hollande, I will have an opportunity to unveil an exhibition commemorating the aid the people of the free world granted to the Solidarity underground.
I would like to express special thanks to the United States, represented here by the President, Mr Barack Obama, for raising the proud standards of human and citizen’s rights very high. They bolstered our faith in the sense of our efforts and the efficiency of our actions.
I also thank the ones who helped us to use our freedom wisely and to reinforce it. I thank those in the free world who believed in us, and who supported our endeavours to have Poland firmly anchored in the Western world through membership in NATO and the European Union.
I thank all the free people who show understanding to those fighting for freedom and sovereignty. I thank you for supporting those who want to follow the same path as we do, towards the West, towards freedom.
“There is no freedom without solidarity!” we would shout out loud in this square during the Solidarity demonstrations under martial law.
Today, in free Poland, in 2014, I will repeat this widely known truth. There is no freedom without solidarity! As there is no freedom without the solidarity of the free world, there is no freedom without solidarity with those who are dreaming about their freedom, who defend their freedom.
There is no freedom without solidarity with the countries of the Eastern Partnership, and especially with Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine! It is my wish to express these words clearly in the presence of the President-Elect of Ukraine, Mr Petro Poroshenko, as our solidarity is what is needed today in a very special way for the Ukrainian nation; a nation that is facing a threat of aggression and great challenges of modernisation. There is no freedom without solidarity with Ukraine!
For this reason, I am extending my thanks to the leaders of the Free World who have arrived so numerous in Warsaw today. Poles find your presence a source of pride and joy. Your presence here, in front of the castle raised anew from the rubble, substantiates the belief that the defence of freedom continues to move our hearts and minds. It substantiates the conviction that the defence of freedom remains the source of our solidarity and of our power!