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Dr. Paula J. Dobriansky - Embassy of Poland

Remarks at a Tribute to Those Who Opposed and Endured the Martial Law Imposed on Poland

Dr. Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Embassy of Poland
Washington, DC
December 13, 2006

Good evening, and thank you, Ambassador and Mrs. Reiter, for organizing this tribute to those who opposed and endured martial law in Poland. I especially would like to recognize Madame Spasowski, who with her husband showed tremendous courage during trying circumstances.

This event is deeply significant and necessary.

Twenty-five years ago, I served in the White House as Director of European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council, advising President Reagan on Central and Eastern Europe. We had been inspired by the stirrings of liberty in Poland led by Solidarity during 1980-81. The Polish regime, which claimed to represent its workers, tried to crush a genuine labor and social movement with martial law. We were appalled, and angry. President Reagan-the only American president who had been a union leader-resolved both to help the Polish people and to take action against the Communist regimes in Warsaw and Moscow. As he said at the time, "[t]he Polish nation, speaking through Solidarity, has provided one of the brightest, bravest moments of modern history. The people of Poland are giving us an imperishable example of courage and devotion to the values of freedom in the face of relentless opposition."

One of the first steps President Reagan took was to speak to Pope John Paul II. In 1978, the election of the Pope-a son of Poland, a true man of faith, and a champion of freedom-had energized the forces of liberty in his home country, and he served as a stalwart defender of human dignity around the world. President Reagan imposed sanctions against the governments of Poland and the Soviet Union, and simultaneously stepped up our assistance to the people of Poland. The President recognized the courage, the fortitude, and the steadfastness of the Polish people. He stated, "Poland's government says it will crush democratic freedoms. Well, let us tell them, ‘You can imprison your people. You can close their schools. You can take away their books, harass their priests, and smash their unions. You can never destroy the love of God and freedom that burns in their hearts. They will triumph over you.'"

Reagan was right. Before Christmas Eve, 1981, the President asked Americans to light a candle in their windows to show solidarity with their Polish brothers and sisters. Lech Walesa, who had been imprisoned in the crackdown, had said, "There will always be a glow within us." That glow was the light of liberty, which had shined in the Polish people throughout a modern history of tragedy and struggle. Martial law could not extinguish that light; to the contrary, it burned more intensely.

Two years before America declared its independence, and nine years before it secured its freedom, a patriot named Nathaniel Niles gave a discourse on liberty in which he said, "each individual has a proportion of influence on some neighbour at least; he, on another, and so on; as in a river . . . . [M] ighty floods have their rise in single drops from the rocks, which . . . . unite, proceed, enlarge, till mountains tremble at their sound."

For Poland, Communist oppression began with the Soviet invasion in 1939 and the Katyn Forest massacre in 1940. You ended it in a triumph of nonviolence, and courage, and truth. Less than ten years after the imposition of martial law, you forced the regime to agree to concessions that led to elections, and, soon thereafter, a free Poland. You were the victims of the Cold War who became its victors. In the process, you showed the way for others; the springs of freedom that emerged in the Gdansk Shipyards in 1980 grew into a flood that swept Communist rule from Europe. As Ambassador Reiter wrote in today's Washington Post, your opposition to martial law and continued oppression truly was the beginning of the end of communism.

It is my privilege to continue to work closely with you in helping to secure the freedom of those who still live under tyranny. It is right and fitting to pay tribute to the Polish men and women who opposed and endured martial law twenty-five years ago. Let us honor them by rededicating ourselves to the advancement of liberty.

Released on December 13, 2006


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