President Obama Commemorates 25th Anniversary of Polish Freedom Day


The President:
Hello, Warsaw! (applause) Witaj, Polsko! (applause) Mr. President; Mr. Prime
Minister; Madam Mayor; heads of state and
government, past and present — including
the man who jumped that shipyard wall to lead
a strike that became a movement, the prisoner
turned President who transformed this nation —
thank you, Lech Walesa, for your
outstanding leadership. (applause) Distinguished guests,
people of Poland, thank you for your extraordinary
welcome and for the privilege of joining
you here today. I bring with me the
greetings and friendship of the American people
— and of my hometown of Chicago, home to so many
proud Polish Americans. (applause) In Chicago, we
think of ourselves as a little piece of Poland. In some neighborhoods,
you only hear Polish. The faithful come together
at churches like Saint Stanislaus Kostka. We have a parade for
Polish Constitution Day. And every summer, we
celebrate the Taste of Polonia, with our
kielbasa and pierogies, and we’re all a little bit
Polish for that day. (applause) So being here
with you, it feels like home. (applause) Twenty-five years ago
today, we witnessed a scene that had once seemed
impossible — an election where, for the first
time, the people of this nation had a choice. The Communist regime
thought an election would validate their rule or
weaken the opposition. Instead, Poles turned
out in the millions. And when the votes
were counted, it was a landslide victory
for freedom. One woman who voted that
day said, “There is a sense that something
is beginning to happen in Poland. We feel the taste
of Poland again.” She was right. It was the beginning of
the end of Communism — not just in this country,
but across Europe. The images of that year
are seared in our memory. Citizens filling the
streets of Budapest and Bucharest. Hungarians and Austrians
cutting the barbed wire border. Protestors joining hands
across the Baltics. Czechs and Slovaks in
their Velvet Revolution. East Berliners climbing
atop that wall. And we have seen the
extraordinary progress since that time. A united Germany. Nations in Central and
Eastern Europe standing tall as proud democracies. A Europe that is more
integrated, more prosperous and
more secure. We must never forget that
the spark for so much of this revolutionary change,
this blossoming of hope, was lit by you, the
people of Poland. (applause) History was made here. The victory of 1989
was not inevitable. It was the culmination
of centuries of Polish struggle, at times
in this very square. The generations of Poles
who rose up and finally won independence. The soldiers who resisted
invasion, from the east and the west. The Righteous Among the
Nations — among them Jan Karski — who risked all to save the innocent from the Holocaust. The heroes of the Warsaw
Ghetto who refused to go without a fight. The Free Poles at Normandy
and the Poles of the Home Army who — even as
this city was reduced to rubble — waged a
heroic uprising. We remember how, when an
Iron Curtain descended, you never accepted
your fate. When a son of Poland
ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter, he
returned home, and here, in Warsaw, he inspired a nation
with his words — “there can be no just Europe without the
independence of Poland.” (applause) And today
we give thanks for the courage of the Catholic
Church and the fearless spirit of Saint
John Paul II. (applause) We also recall how you
prevailed 25 years ago. In the face of beatings
and bullets, you never wavered from the moral
force of nonviolence. Through the darkness of
martial law, Poles lit candles in their windows. When the regime finally
agreed to talk, you embraced dialogue. When they held those
elections — even though not fully free —
you participated. As one Solidarity leader
said at the time, “We decided to accept
what was possible.” Poland reminds us that
sometimes the smallest steps, however
imperfect, can ultimately tear down walls, can ultimately
transform the world. (applause) But of course, your
victory that June day was only the beginning. For democracy is more
than just elections. True democracy, real
prosperity, lasting security — these are
neither simply given, nor imposed from the outside. They must be earned
and built from within. And in that age-old
contest of ideas — between freedom and
authoritarianism, between liberty and oppression,
between solidarity and intolerance — Poland’s
progress shows the enduring strength of the
ideals that we cherish as a free people. Here we see the strength
of democracy: Citizens raising their voices,
free from fear. Here we see political
parties competing in open and honest elections. Here we see an independent
judiciary working to uphold the rule of law. Here in Poland we see
a vibrant press and a growing civil society that
holds leaders accountable — because governments
exist to lift up their people, not to
hold them down. (applause) Here we see the strength
of free markets and the results of hard reforms
— gleaming skyscrapers soaring above the city,
and superhighways across this country, high-tech
hubs and living standards that previous generations of Poles could only imagine. This is the new Poland you
have built — an economic “Miracle on the Vistula”
— Cud nad Wisla. (applause) Here we see the strength
of free nations that stand united. Across those centuries of
struggle, Poland’s fate too often was
dictated by others. This land was invaded and
conquered, carved up and occupied. But those days are over. Poland understands as few
other nations do that every nation must be
free to chart its own course, to forge its own
partnerships, to choose its own allies. (applause) This year marks the 15th
anniversary of Poland’s membership in NATO. We honor Polish service in
the Balkans, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as Americans, we are
proud to call Poland one of our strongest
and closest allies. (applause) This is the Poland
we celebrate today. The free and democratic
Poland that your forebears and some who are here
today dreamed of and fought for and, in
some cases, died for. The growing and secure
Poland that you — particularly the young
people who are here today — have
enjoyed for your entire lives. It’s a wonderful story,
but the story of this nation reminds us that
freedom is not guaranteed. And history cautions us to never take progress for granted. On the same day 25 years
ago that Poles were voting here, tanks were
crushing peaceful democracy protests in Tiananmen
Square on the other side of the world. The blessings of liberty
must be earned and renewed by every generation
— including our own. This is the work to which we rededicate ourselves today. (applause) Our democracies must be
defined not by what or who we’re against, but by a
politics of inclusion and tolerance that welcomes
all our citizens. Our economies must deliver
a broader prosperity that creates more opportunity
— across Europe and across the world —
especially for young people. Leaders must uphold the
public trust and stand against corruption, not
steal from the pockets of their own people. Our societies must embrace
a greater justice that recognizes the inherent
dignity of every human being. And as we’ve been reminded
by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, our free nations
cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we
share — a Europe that is whole and free
and at peace. We have to work for that. We have to stand with
those who seek freedom. (applause) I know that throughout
history, the Polish people were abandoned by friends
when you needed them most. So I’ve come to Warsaw
today — on behalf of the United States,
on behalf of the NATO Alliance — to reaffirm our unwavering
commitment to Poland’s security. Article 5 is clear — an
attack on one is an attack on all. And as allies, we have a
solemn duty — a binding treaty obligation —
to defend your territorial integrity. And we will. We stand together — now
and forever — for your freedom is ours. (applause) Poland will
never stand alone. (applause) But not just
Poland — Estonia will never stand alone. Latvia will never
stand alone. Lithuania will
never stand alone. Romania will
never stand alone. These are not just words. They’re unbreakable
commitments backed by the strongest alliance in the
world and the armed forces of the United States
of America — the most powerful military
in history. (applause) You see
our commitment today. In NATO aircraft in the
skies of the Baltics. In allied ships
patrolling the Black Sea. In the stepped-up
exercises where our forces train together. And in our increased and
enduring American presence here on Polish soil. We do these things not to
threaten any nation, but to defend the security and
territory of ourselves and our friends. Yesterday, I announced a
new initiative to bolster the security of our
NATO allies and increase America’s military
presence in Europe. With the support of
Congress, this will mean more
pre-positioned equipment to respond quickly in a crisis,
and exercises and training to keep our forces ready;
additional U.S. forces — in the air,
and sea, and on land, including here in Poland. And it will mean increased
support to help friends like Ukraine, and Moldova
and Georgia provide for their own defense. (applause) Just as the United
States is increasing our commitment, so
must others. Every NATO member is
protected by our alliance, and every NATO member must
carry its share in our alliance. This is the responsibility
we have to each other. Finally, as free peoples,
we join together, not simply to safeguard our
own security but to advance the
freedom of others. Today we affirm the
principles for which we stand. We stand together because
we believe that people and nations have the right
to determine their own destiny. And that includes the
people of Ukraine. Robbed by a corrupt
regime, Ukrainians demanded a government
that served them. Beaten and bloodied,
they refused to yield. Threatened and harassed,
they lined up to vote; they elected a new
President in a free election — because a
leader’s legitimacy can only come from the
consent of the people. Ukrainians have now
embarked on the hard road of reform. I met with President-elect
Poroshenko this morning, and I told him that, just
as free nations offered support and assistance to
Poland in your transition to democracy, we stand
with Ukrainians now. (applause) Ukraine must
be free to choose its own future for itself
and by itself. (applause) We reject the
zero-sum thinking of the past — a free and
independent Ukraine needs strong ties and growing
trade with Europe and Russia and the United
States and the rest of the world. Because the people of
Ukraine are reaching out for the same freedom and
opportunities and progress that we celebrate here
today — and they deserve them, too. We stand together because
we believe that upholding peace and security is the
responsibility of every nation. The days of empire and
spheres of influence are over. Bigger nations must not
be allowed to bully the small, or impose their
will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men
taking over buildings. And the stroke of a pen
can never legitimize the theft of a
neighbor’s land. So we will not accept
Russia’s occupation of Crimea or its violation
of Ukraine’s sovereignty. (applause) Our free
nations will stand united so that further Russian
provocations will only mean more isolation
and costs for Russia. (applause) Because after
investing so much blood and treasure to bring
Europe together, how can we allow the dark tactics
of the 20th century to define this new century? We stand together because
we know that the spirit of Warsaw and Budapest
and Prague and Berlin stretches to wherever the
longing for freedom stirs in human hearts, whether
in Minsk or Caracas, or Damascus or Pyongyang. Wherever people are
willing to do the hard work of building
democracy — from Tbilisi to Tunis, from
Rangoon to Freetown — they will have a partner in our nations. For in the struggles of
these citizens we recall our own struggles. In their faces
we see our own. And few see this more
clearly than the people of Poland. The Ukrainians of
today are the heirs of Solidarity — men and
women like you who dared to challenge a
bankrupt regime. When your peaceful
protests were met with an iron fist, Poles
placed flowers in the shipyard gate. Today, Ukrainians honor
their fallen with flowers in Independence Square. We remember the Polish
voter who rejoiced to “feel the taste
of Poland again.” Her voice echoes in the
young protestor in the Maidan who savored what
she called “a taste of real freedom.” “I love my country,” she
said, and we are standing up for
“justice and freedom.” And with gratitude for
the strong support of the Polish people, she spoke
for many Ukrainians when she said, “Thank
you, Poland. We hear you and
we love you.” (applause) Today we can say the same. Thank you, Poland — thank
you for your courage. Thank you for reminding
the world that no matter how brutal the
crackdown, no matter how long the night, the yearning
for liberty and dignity does not fade away. It will never go away. Thank you, Poland, for
your iron will and for showing that, yes,
ordinary citizens can grab the reins of history,
and that freedom will prevail — because, in the
end, tanks and troops are no match for the force
of our ideals. Thank you, Poland — for
your triumph — not of arms, but of the human
spirit, the truth that carries us forward. There is no change without
risk, and no progress without sacrifice, and no freedom without solidarity. (applause) Dziekuje, Polsko! God bless Poland. (applause) God
bless America. God bless our
unbreakable alliance. Thank you very much. (applause)

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