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A Great Leader Lost: The Death of Bronislaw Geremek

  • Hon. Alcee L. Hastings
    US












House of Representative

110th Congress, Second Session

Madam Speaker, it is my sad duty to note the death last week of former Polish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chair-in Office Bronislaw Geremek, who was killed in a car crash in Poland. I am honored to pay tribute to a Polish patriot who had an impact far beyond the borders of his native country.

Born in 1932 to a Jewish family in Warsaw, Bronislaw Geremek was fated to confront the two great evils of the Twentieth Century: Nazism and communism. Having survived the first as a child, he later played an instrumental role in defeating the second.

Mr. Geremek trained as an historian – a serious scholar specializing in the history of medieval France. Indeed, as many obituaries have observed, he was the very image of the professional academic, complete with pipe and tweeds.

But it was in politics and political life that he truly made his mark and where he has left his legacy. Bronislaw Geremek was a great Polish patriot who knew that his country deserved better than the communist oppression of the post-war period.

He protested the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia; he stayed in Poland when anti-Semitic purges drove thousands of other Jews away; and most of all, he helped build necessary bridges between workers and intellectuals. That bond, between these two segments of Polish society, enabled Solidarity to become the mass movement it was.

His imprisonment after the imposition of Martial Law on December 13, 1981, did not deter him from his struggle to build a truly free and democratic Poland. In 1989, he was a member of the historic “Round Table” that negotiated the peaceful transition of power. In fact, a delegation from the Helsinki Commission, that included my good friend, and now-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, was in Poland in August 1989, and watched from the gallery of the Polish parliament when Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected the first non-communist Prime Minister in more than four decades. Bronislaw Geremek played a singular role in bringing that democratic transition to Poland – and the democratic transition in Poland helped bring democracy to all of Eastern Europe.

Bronislaw Geremek subsequently served his country in many ways: as a member of Parliament, not only as a Foreign Minister but the Foreign Minister who signed the treaty bringing Poland into NATO, and then as a member of the European Union Parliament.

As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I would especially like to note the important role Bronislaw Geremek played when, as Foreign Minister, he served as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE in 1998. Few people understood as well the historical role of the Helsinki Accords and he brought to that mission an unmatched moral leadership.

Perhaps most of all, however, Bronislaw Geremek personified the best of Eastern Europe’s intelligentsia – intellectually curious and accomplished, outraged by injustice and impelled to resist it despite the risks, and possessed of a wry sense of humor that endeared him to his colleagues.

Bronislaw Geremek’s time on this earth was not merely full, but profoundly consequential. The world is a better place for his having lived. We, in the post-communist-era, are all the beneficiaries of his passion, labor and achievements.

Madam Speaker, may Bronislaw Geremek rest in peace, honored by his countrymen and women, remembered fondly and missed by those fortunate enough to have been his friends, and invoked as a role model wherever brains and courage are sorely needed to face down tyranny.    

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