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Helsinki Commissioner Smith Hails Lech Walesa and 25th Anniversary of Solidarity Union

Monday, September 26, 2005

WASHINGTON - Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) praised today the former President of Poland, Lech Walesa, in a speech commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity Union.

“Mr. Walesa is a man of bravery, tenacity, faith and innate goodness, who set the first domino in motion that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final defeat of the Soviet Union,” said Smith.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

“Lech Walesa was one of the great leaders of freedom who in the 80s gave voice to his people and helped them to be free. What he started with the Solidarity Union in 1981, he led Europe into what can only be called its second Renaissance,” added Smith.

Rep. Smith’s remarks were made at an anniversary luncheon held on Capitol Hill and sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. Also in attendance were former Secretary of State, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

“The world will be forever in the debt of this modest man of faith, this electrician from a shipyard in Poland. He and the other brave men and women in the Solidarity Union, and the people of Poland, lifted the totalitarian nightmare of communism and gave a new generation hope that freedom would triumph,” said Smith.

The Solidarity Union was founded in Poland in 1981 and is credited with helping to bring about the downfall of communism in central and eastern Europe. Lech Walesa eventually went on to serve as President of Poland and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize.

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    Polish Solidarity Trade Union - 25th Anniversary Today we continue celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Solidarity and in particular, the bravery, tenacity and innate goodness of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa. It is especially timely to host the former President owing to yesterday’s stunning election results that have ushered Solidarity’s ideological soulmates back into power.  Projections suggest that the Law and Justice Party got almost 28% of the vote and the Civil Platform gained 24%. Some time ago, I read Lech Walesa’s powerful and riveting autobiography, “A Way of Hope.”  Filled with insight and brutally honest, the book walks the reader through a series of volatile events—personal and public—that have literally transformed the world. In the book, we get a glimpse into Lech Walesa’s deep faith—and the role his beloved mother, and her Catholic beliefs had on him; “Neighbors came to our house to say the rosary.” he tells us in the book.  The book is filled with remembrances of family—and his love for his wife. On leadership he tells us: I’ve never wished or prepared for a leadership role: paradoxically, it’s because I never really wanted it, absorbed as I was by quite different concerns, different problems which needed solving, that I found myself out in front, leading the others—“leading the flock,” I call it with a smile. He tells us of the strike of 1970 “All we wanted was to free our fellow workers, we wanted no violence.” And that his worst fears were realized: “Poles had fired against Poles.” In the chapter “The Strike and the August Agreement” he tells us how the movement had matured: Until then I had been talking, bluffing, playing “on credit.” Although we pretended to be holding all the high cards, our opponents knew our game inside out, they’d been playing against us for years! But what they didn’t know was the nature of our very last card: the determination that had been maturing for ten years now, since the death of three of our colleagues right in front of the second entrance to the shipyard.  When His Holiness Pope John Paul II made his historic trip to his homeland in 1979, he counseled his flock and his country men and women, “Be Not Afraid.”  But Lech Walesa gave us additional insight into how Solidarity and Pope John Paul II were “inextricably bound together” and how it almost ended in 1981.   It was in Japan that we heard of the dramatic attempt on the Pope’s life. The news broke in the middle of the night May 13-14, 1981. We were in my hotel room in Nagasaki, discussing the events of the day, and our visit the next day to the museum set up in memory of the victims of the atomic bomb. The first news flash was terrifying: the Pope was dead! The next news flash retracted it: no, the Pope was still alive, he was fighting for his life. I was overcome by a feeling of immense loneliness; the whole world seemed to have turned upside down; with our lodestar gone, some of us were wandering in a wilderness with out hope. The tragedy of the Polish Pope was also the tragedy of Poland and of Solidarity: they were inextricably bound together; this was just the beginning.  Then the news changed, became less alarming; there was still hope. In his chapter “Martial Law,” Lech Walesa tells us how they decided that if the militia invaded the shipyard during the night, they decided on passive resistance: “Our greatest strength is precisely our weakness—our living bodies and empty hands confronting tanks and nightsticks.” His wife Danuta writes in the book how she was discouraged when he was locked up during marital law but “he seemed rather pleasant, …we had to be dignified about it all, because even in a place like this, we still had the upper hand; we, not they, were making history.” By 1989, Solidarity leaders sat across the table from Wojtech Jaruzelski, the same General who had imposed martial law in 1981.  And they negotiated what had seemed to most of the world impossible:  the peaceful transition from communism to free and fair elections.  In August of 1989, less than a decade after the Gdansk shipyard strikes that gave birth to Solidarity, Poland would elect its first non-communist Prime Minister since the communist takeover. Finally, Lech Walesa tells us in the book that in his school years “history was my weak point.”  But, I am here to say to you, Mr. Walesa, studying history does not matter when you are the one who makes history by bringing freedom, respect for human rights, and enduring democracy not only to your own country, but the entire region as well.

  • Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Res. 328, a resolution recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland in 1980 that led to the establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union.  This legislation praises Polish workers in the shipyards of Gdansk and Szczecin for rising up against the repressive Soviet controlled communist regime in demand of greater political freedom. The actions of these courageous and peaceful individuals were directly responsible for the establishment of the Solidarity Trade Union, a profound social movement that ultimately ended communism in Poland without bloodshed.  This resolution rightly expresses the sense of Congress that our government should recognize and honor the struggle and sacrifice of the citizens of Poland, whose tireless efforts succeeded in restoring democracy to their country while simultaneously highlighting the correlation between organized labor and strong democratic institutions.  Now, more than ever, it is important that Congress pay tribute to, and support, those nations that willingly and actively allow the unimpeded formation of labor unions. For it is those countries that exhibit the most free and fair democratic policies. No such phenomenon is better exemplified than in the case of the Solidarity Trade Union. The formation of this important group ultimately led to the election of Poland's first post-World War II non-communist Prime Minister, Mr. Tadeusz Mazawiecki.  Mr. Speaker, let me conclude by again expressing my support for this legislation and encourage my colleagues' support. It should be a priority of this Congress to pay homage to members of the Solidarity Trade Union on the 25th anniversary of its inception and acknowledge the ensuing bond of friendship that has flourished between our two nations on account of workers' rights.

  • Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to support H . Res . 328, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland that led to the founding of Solidarity. Mr. Speaker, Stalin once said that trying to impose communism on Poland was like trying to put a saddle on a cow. As history showed, that was one time the Soviet Union's dictator was right. From the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union spread its suffocating net across a Central Europe devastated by war, Poles struggled to be free. Time and again, from the 1956 riots in Poznan, when workers took to the streets “For Bread and For Freedom,” through the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, Poles struggled to stretch the boundaries of freedom. Each time, they came closer, but each time they were pulled back into the Soviet fold.  The year 1976 marked an historic turning point. In that year, Polish intellectuals stood outside the court room door while workers stood inside, waiting for verdicts to be meted out against them for their strikes at the Ursus tractor factory. At those trials, only family members were allowed to be present. And, as one onerous prison sentence after another was handed down, the intellectuals standing outside the courtroom would hear only the sobs of family members. The harshness of the regime only served to galvanize opposition to it.  By 1980, when the workers struck in Gdansk, they were no longer alone; they were joined by intellectuals who had been pursuing a parallel path. The newly elected, Polish-born Pope, John Paul II, had countenanced his countrymen and women to "be not afraid.'' And an extraordinary individual, Lech Walesa, scaled the walls at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk to lead his country to a place in history. The Gdansk shipyard workers had 31 demands, one of which was a call for the Polish Government to fulfill its obligations it had under the in the 1976 Helsinki Final Act.  By December 13, 1981, the Soviet Union had seen enough of this Polish experiment and martial law was imposed. But, it seems, the power of the people could not be truly repressed. The joining of workers and intellectuals in Poland produced the only mass dissident movement in all of Eastern Europe. In spite of mass arrests and other forms of repression during the 1980s, Solidarity remained a force with which to be reckoned and, by 1988, the tide was inexorably turning. In that year, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a Solidarity activist who--in a few years’ time--would be Minister of Defense, came to Washington and testified before the Helsinki Commission about the human rights situation in his country. It was the first time a dissident from an East European Communist country had testified before Congress and then actually returned to his country. Although authorities briefly considered bringing criminal charges against him for his daring appearance before the Helsinki Commission, those plans were quickly abandoned.  By 1989, Solidarity's disciplined strikes had forced Communist officials to the negotiating table. These so-called “Round-Table Talks” produced an agreement to allow a fraction of the seats in parliament to be openly contested in June elections--the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. In July, when Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected Poland's first non-Communist Prime Minister in the post-War era, a delegation from the Helsinki Commission, led by Senator DeConcini, sat in the gallery of the parliament and watched this extraordinary moment unfold.  Mr. Speaker, there are many factors that led to the collapse of communism, and many heroes--some tragically fallen--who deserve credit for restoring freedom to Eastern Europe. The Solidarity Trade Union played a singular role in achieving that great goal, and I give my wholehearted support to this resolution which honors the men and women of that movement.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December (2004) meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Briefing: Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: a Status Update

    A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. The Helsinki Commission held three prior hearings on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This briefing surveyed developments since the Commission's July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region. Particular attention was given to the progress, or lack thereof, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania in removing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals--including U.S. citizen claimants--and religious communities seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    This briefing was the fourth hearing held by the Helsinki Commission held on restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist-era Central and Eastern Europe.  The goal of the briefing was to discuss developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    The importance of this briefing, which then ranking member of the Commission Senator Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was underscored by the fact that a central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individual and religious communities. Communism’s demise in 1990 sparked hope that regional governments would redress wrongful seizures of private and communal property. This briefing was the fourth hearing that the Helsinki Commission held whose focus was on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist era Central and Eastern Europe. A goal of the briefing, then, was to survey developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

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