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Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland

March 21, 1990

The President. Prime Minister Mazo- wiecki and all members of your distinguished delegation, and to all the many friends of Poland who have joined us here this morning, welcome to the White House. And let me first recognize three distinguished Americans, Board members of the Polish American Enterprise Fund: Chairman John Birkelund, Nicholas Rey, and Lane Kirkland.

Mr. Prime Minister, it is my great pleasure to welcome you here to Washington. Since you took office 6 months ago, we've had occasion to consult one another several times, and I've come to value your counsel, come to think of you as a friend. And today, for the first time, we meet in person, and I'm delighted to have this chance to sit down together to discuss the many changes and challenges that affect our two nations.

And of course, Barbara and I welcome this opportunity to repay in some small way the warm reception that we felt this past summer on our last visit to Poland -- everywhere from the streets and squares of Warsaw to the gates of a now-historic shipyard at Gdansk. The warmth I felt in your country was a sign of the friendship between the people of our two nations, of the unbreakable bonds that link the people of Poland and the United States, not just the millions of Americans of Polish ancestry who trace their roots to the old country but all of us who share a common love of freedom.

And it's that love of freedom that lights our way today, that sparked the changes we've seen this past year -- remarkable changes. On this day 1 year ago, the leaders of Solidarity and the Communist authorities were deep in the midst of those roundtable discussions. Mr. Prime Minister, you sat at the roundtable through the winter weeks of February and on into March. The fate of your nation hung in the balance. All of Poland awaited the outcome. And on April 5, 1989, Poland took its first step towards its democratic destiny. For the first time in more than 40 years in Eastern Europe, a people's voice would speak in free elections.

Here in our country, we celebrate the Revolution of 1776; but we remember April 19, 1775, the day the Revolution began, the day the "shot heard round the world" was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts. In your country, Poles will always remember April 5th, the dawn of the Revolution of '89. The revolution that began in Poland touched off a chain reaction that changed Europe and the world. Mr. Prime Minister, those two revolutions share a common aim that unites our two nations in the cause of freedom. At Hamtramck, Michigan, nearly a year ago, I pledged America's strong support for Poland's economic reform and its democratic transition. I said then: "Liberty is an idea whose time has come in Eastern Europe." The enormous changes of this past year have indeed brought that idea, the idea of liberty, to all of Eastern Europe.

Today we welcome to the White House a great Polish patriot and patron of freedom, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, one of the founding fathers of Solidarity -- a man who survived the dark days of December 1981 and the heavy hand of martial law, endured a year in prison, life in the underground, editor of the illegal newspaper of an outlawed trade union.

Mr. Prime Minister, you survived. Solidarity survived -- survived and triumphed. Today you and your heroic union lead a nation -- lead the Polish people from revolution to rebirth.

In the past year, Poland has taken its first steps on the path to a democratic rebirth. For the past 6 months, navigating the difficult transition to democracy has been your daily task. You've shown a great personal courage -- courage in taking the necessary steps to clear away the economic wreckage of a system that produced more long lines and empty shelves than anything else. You deserve great credit for introducing a bold economic reform program which aims to build a free market economy on the ruins of central planning. All of us know this transformation, this road to reform, is not painless. The book of history teaches that the Polish people are well schooled in pain and suffering. But history also teaches a lesson about the Polish spirit: always hopeful, always strong. And today, in this time of trial, there is this difference: Poland's sacrifice is blessed by freedom -- the sacrifice of a nation determined to make its destiny democracy.

Mr. Prime Minister, this is my message to the people of Poland: America wants to help Poland succeed. We want to welcome Poland as a full partner in the community of free nations. We want to see Poland prosper, see your people enjoy the fruits of free enterprise. We want to see the nation of Poland achieve its full measure of democracy and independence. In any decisions affecting the fate of Poland, Poland must have a voice.

At this time of great and turbulent change, let me assure you, sir, that the United States will remain a European power, a force for freedom, stability, and security. We see a new Europe in which the security of all European States -- and their fundamental right to exist secure within their present borders -- is totally assured. And in this new Europe, NATO, linking the United States to Europe in a defensive alliance of democratic states, will remain strong and united. And we want Poland and its neighbors to join with us in building a Europe whole and free.

Once again, Mr. Prime Minister, it is my privilege to welcome you to Washington and to the White House. And may God bless the people of Poland.

The Prime Minister. Mr. President, I express my deep gratitude for your invitation for me to pay this official visit to the United States. We're living in a time of great acceleration of history -- acceleration which has affected my homeland, Poland, as well as Europe, and thereby, in fact, the history of the whole world. The visit which I'm now beginning is one of the visible signs of that acceleration. Our presence here today, just as that of other Eastern and Central European visitors, would not long ago have been totally inconceivable.

Yet in a special way, we have always been here. Throughout all those years, when in the name of building an ideal system we were put into enslavement, the spirit of freedom never died in our hearts. We also felt -- and legitimately, I believe -- that it was the same spirit which had inspired your Constitution and that the Poles persevering, working up their way to independence, was to you Americans particularly close.

Today such strivings are no longer an exclusively Polish phenomenon. The year 1989 became the year of Eastern and Central Europe, one in which that part of the world made its way toward the recovery of freedom peacefully, though not without the sacrifice of blood at the very end.

We are coming here to talk, above all, about the future -- about the future of Polish-American political cooperation in the face of momentous changes in the heart of Europe, about the future of Polish-American economic cooperation, so vital in our building an economy based on free enterprise.

The United States was the first country to adopt, several years ago, the ideals of human rights as a supreme principle of its foreign policy. Poland came to be the first country in Central Europe where the ideals of human rights became the victorious program of a whole nation. It was us who sparked the process of democratic revolution across Eastern Europe. The victory of that revolution will, in a large measure, depend on our success. Therefore, we must succeed, and I do believe that we will.

The time of the present crucial acceleration of history is also one in which partnership is being put to test. Coming to you, I have no doubt that this will be genuine partnership. My conviction springs from our hitherto common experiences, particularly over the past decade when so many signs of a well-wishing attitude and affection for us were shown by the United States, both by your people and the administration. For all this, allow me today to warmly thank you, Mr. President, and the millions of Americans.

I would also like to say that your greatest contribution to the community of man is not material. In the words of your Declaration of Independence, all people are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. The ultimate inalienable right is a universal value of political freedom. That same brightly burning light of freedom has nowadays guided the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe into the splendid dawn of the 1990's. We have come here as free people. We have come from a country building a new democratic order. We have come from a country which wants to and can play a significant role in the new emerging order in Europe.

I trust that our talks will be fruitful. I trust that our meeting with America will make us stronger. This is the hope which I'm bringing with me to the White House. God bless America.

Note: The President spoke at 10:11 a.m. at the South Portico of the White House, where the Prime Minister was accorded a formal welcome with full military honors. The Prime Minister spoke in Polish, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter. Following the ceremony, the two leaders met in the Oval Office.

George Bush, Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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