BBG Watch Commentary

Thanks to Ted Lipien, former director of the Voice of America Polish Service (1982-2003), we are able to post comments Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa made about VOA’s important role in Poland’s struggle for independence and democracy as a provider of news, information, and opinions censored or banned by the communist authorities. Walesa made these comments in a 2002 interview with Polish Service reporter in Warsaw Maria Bninska.

The VOA Polish Service was one of the first Western media outlets to interview Walesa by phone after he was released from detention by the Polish martial law regime. The first VOA phone interview with Walesa was done by Peter (Piotr) Mroczyk in August 1985. Peter Mroczyk (1947-2007) later became the last director of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe (1989-1994). In 1987, Ted Lipien interviewed Walesa in person in Gdansk while the Solidarity leader was still under strict police surveillance. We are also posting some comments from the 1987 interview with Walesa, as well as from a Voice of America 1987 interview with Vice President George H.W. Bush recorded shortly before his trip to Poland where he met with Walesa, Church leaders, and General Jaruzelski.

“Nie wyobrażalne jest by mogło to mieć miejsce tak szybko i tak skutecznie gdyby nie Głos Ameryki.” — Lech Wałęsa, 2002.

“It is not conceivable that it would have happened so quickly and so effectively if not for the Voice of America.” — Lech Wałęsa, 2002.

October 5, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Nobel Committee announcement that the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to Lech Wałęsa — a news event covered extensively by the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service, Radio Free Europe, and other Polish-language Western media.

June 4 and June 18, 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the first post-World War II partly-free Polish parliamentary elections, which resulted in the resounding victory of the Solidarity opposition and paved the way for the fall of Communism in Poland.

Link to audio.

In an interview with Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service reporter Maria Bnińska, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa spoke in 2002 about the importance of VOA – Głos Ameryki – to the people in Poland during the Cold War when the country was under communist rule and local media were controlled and censored by the Communist Party.

Lech Wałęsa: “Oczywiście, ja, to co powiem, to jest ogólnie znane.

Trudno sobie wyobrazić — kiedy u nas obowiązywał system komunistyczny, kiedy zostaliśmy zdradzeni i kiedy nie zaniechaliśmy walki — żeby nie było innych ośrodków, które by zachęcały, może nie zachęcały ale pokazywały, udowadniały, mówiły prawdę, mówiły o tym co się dzieje tu i gdzie indziej — czego my sprawdzić nie mogliśmy będąc odcięci od prawdziwej informacji, walcząc w ograniczonych możliwościach.

Dlatego trudno sobie wyobrazić co by było gdyby nie było Głosu Ameryki i innych jeszcze źródeł przez które przeciskała się informacja prawdziwa, która pokazywała inny punkt widzenia, która mówiła o tym, że nie jesteśmy sami i że coś się w kraju dzieje, bo nasze publikatory tego nie robiły.

W związku z tym powiem krótko, nie byłoby tego co mamy bez tego wycinku propagandowego, który mieścił się w Głosie Ameryki. Nie wyobrażalne jest by mogło to mieć miejsce tak szybko i tak skutecznie gdyby nie Głos Ameryki.

Już jako dziecko pamiętam jak moi rodzice, ukrywając się, słuchali wolego słowa Głosu Ameryki i Wolnej Europy i innych. Ja też słuchałem, słuchałem kiedy oni słuchali.

I w związku z tym, budził się sprzeciw, i informacja i prawdziwy obraz, który ma miejsce tu i w wolnym świecie.

I dlatego wielka chwała Głosowi Ameryki i innym środkom, które pozwoliły nam na przetrwanie, na prawdziwe informacje, na porównywanie informacji, i tak dalej, i tak dalej.”

Lech Wałęsa:“Of course, what I’m about to say is well known.

It is hard to imagine – when the communist system was still in existence, when we had been betrayed but did not give up the fight — if there were would have been no other media that could encourage, may be not encourage, but to show, to provide the proof, to speak the truth, to speak about what was happening here and elsewhere — something we could not see for ourselves, being cut off from the real information, and fighting within our limited capabilities.

Therefore, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed a different point of view, which said that we are not alone and that something is happening in the country — because our mass media did not do that.

Therefore, I will say it briefly — we would not have what we have without the segment of propaganda, which was found in the Voice of America. It is not conceivable that it would have happened so quickly and so effectively if not for the Voice of America.

Even as a child I remember how my parents surreptitiously listened to the free word of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and others.

I also listened. I listened when they were listening.

And because of that, opposition was awaken, and the information and the real image of what was taking place here and in the free world.

And so, the great glory to the Voice of America and other media that had enabled us to survive, [gave us] the real information, [ability] to compare information, and so on, and so forth.”

In 1987, Poland’s communist regime organized a referendum on political and economic reforms. The referendum was held on November 29, 1987. Around a third of eligible voters did not participate, defying the regime. It was the first time that Communist authorities in Eastern Europe had lost a vote.

Ted Lipien covered the referendum for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service. After the vote, he took a train from Warsaw to Gdańsk and interviewed Wałęsa who by then had been already freed by the communist authorities from martial law detention but was still under strict police surveillance. The interview was recorded at the parish house of Wałęsa’s church in Gdańsk. The recording was sent by phone to Washington and broadcast the next day to Poland.

Link to audio.

In the 1987 interview, Wałęsa did not attach much importance to the just concluded referendum, which — as he pointed out — was not organized according to basic democratic principles. For one thing, as he pointed out, Solidarity and other oppositions groups in Poland were not consulted on the referendum and had no access to domestic media prior to the vote.

In the interview, Wałęsa said that Solidarity and the government have no choice but to reach an agreement.

He strongly objected, however, to the regime’s reluctance to enter into a real dialogue. In answering a question under what conditions Solidarity would participate in talks with the Communist regime, Wałęsa answered:

“If the authorities invent terms such as ‘socialist pluralism’, ‘socialist economy’, ‘socialist law’ ‘socialist safety net’, then there is nothing to talk about. We can say that the law is good or bad, the economy works well or not, but not to invent absurdities.”

“We propose to the authorities political pluralism, so that we would not find out after 40 years what we are learning today: that Stalin was a murderer, that Khrushchev was an ignorant man who did not use the opportunity to really show himself, that Brezhnev destroyed chances and opportunities and cut the legs under socialism. We need political pluralism so that such things would not happen and we would not be ruled by murderers and others.”

“The condition is to say that there is only one pluralism and that there is no [such thing as] socialist pluralism. If we will talk in these terms, then there are no conditions. We are ready to talk.”

Asked about an upcoming meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Wałęsa expressed hope that during these talks a point would be made that without real reforms, Poland and the rest of the Soviet block would continue to represent a danger to the rest of the world due to instability and risk of unpredictable events and potential violence.

Asked about the visit to Poland by Vice President George H.W. Bush two months earlier, Wałęsa said:

“I’m personally very pleased that I had a chance to get to know such an outstanding representative of the American people, and now I know that the United States is in such an excellent position because it has such outstanding leaders. I hope that he will lead after the next elections.”

Wałęsa in effect endorsed George H.W. Bush for his planned presidential run in 1988. Asked whether he would like to travel to the United States, Wałęsa said that like everybody else he would like to see America but that current political conditions in Poland prevent him from making a trip.

Wałęsa made it to the United States in 1989. He was the first recipient of the Liberty Medal, on 4 July 1989 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and that same year received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the only Pole to have addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress (15 November 1989).

“There’s great affection from the American people for the people of Poland.” – Vice President George H.W. Bush, September 24, 1987


Also in 1987, Voice of America correspondent Wayne Corey and VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien recorded an interview with Vice President George H.W. Bush shortly before Bush left on his trip to Poland. The recording also includes comments from Vice President Bush on INF negotiations and the importance of consultations with Western allies. These comments have not been transcribed but are included in the recording.

Vice President George H.W. Bush: I’m very much looking forward to this visit. It gives me the opportunity to do two things: consult with the Western European leaders the alliance, NATO, discuss the recent developments in arms control, take a look at the future as well, in secondly to go to Poland.

There’s great affection from the American people for the people of Poland.

And this visit, the highest level visit some 10 years, will give the United States that America through me an opportunity to express our feelings about the Polish people, the heroism of the Polish people, to deal openly with the government and hopefully to move forward the relationship that has great potential in the future.

Wayne Corey, VOA: Poland will be the main focus of your trip. Why are you going to Poland now and is there anything specific you hope to accomplish in terms of agreements?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Well, there are one or two specific things that frankly I am not at liberty to speak about here that I do want to talk to General Jaruzelski about. It is a forward step in our policy and differentiation.

There is an affection in the United States for the people of Poland. It’s important that that affection be expressed through high-level visits from time to time. We have differences on the system but we want to narrow those differences as best we can.

I’ll be meeting with the leaders of Solidarność and our country stands for free unions and human rights. And I’ll have of opportunity to discuss these along the way that both the government and other others, Church people. So, it’ s visit of showing our belief and affection for the people.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service: What specific steps can the United States government take to help Poland economically and would such help depend on the human rights situation and economic reform?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Well again, I won’t go into the details on the specific steps, but clearly our policy is looking for changes in human rights, changes in respect for institutions and individuals. Some progress has been made, but we, the American people, believe firmly that more changes must take place, and that of course is the position of the (U.S.) government.

We have been helpful, things have improved, but I’ll be talking about some specifics, may be things we can do to make the lot of the Polish people better, but it needs, it will need cooperation from the government.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:Is there a consensus between the Administration and the Congress on U.S. policy toward Poland and generally toward Eastern Europe?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Generally, there is. As I mentioned, there’s a policy of differentiation. We recognize realities, but we want to encourage people to to come forward on human rights. We want to encourage more trade. We want to encourage more flexibility. These are sovereign countries. They should be as flexible as possible, move at their own pace as much as possible. So, the policy that’s referred to as a policy of differentiation does have the support, I think, of the Congress and of our government.

Lastly, I think we’re together with Congress on the approaches we should be taking to Poland, and part of that is because there are so many Polish Americans, so many people in our country who have this love and affection for the homeland. Poland has almost a unique standing in the government, with our government, and with the Congress itself. So, I think we’re together on the policy. There are some difference. Some people are harder-line on one point, softer-line on another, but basically our policy of trying to help with the economy, our policy on human rights has broad support.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:If I may go back to Poland. President Reagan has shown great personal interest in the situation in Poland. Did you have a chance to discuss this trip with him?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: Yes. As a matter of fact, I’ve just finished lunch with him, just discussed it. You know, it’s my fervent hope that President Reagan could go to Poland some day because, I tell you, he would get a very warm reception from the Polish people. Whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know, but I’m very glad to be going myself as the second highest official in the U.S. government.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service: Do you often have an opportunity to discuss the policy toward Poland with the Polish American leaders?

Vice President George H.W. Bush: I had some opportunity to do that. I visited the Polish-American national Congress out there. We had a visit from its President Al Mazewski here just the other day. I’ve stayed in touch with Polish sentiments through various people, including one of our top people at the State Department, former colleague in Congress Ed Derwinski. I’ve talked to Danny Rostenkowski, the Democratic leader in the Congress about his trip to Poland, to the (Poznan) Fair. So, I’ve tried to stay in touch with the heartbeat of Polish-Americans because we should be responsive to their concerns as we formulate our policy with Poland.

And I think it sums up that most Polish Americans want to help the Polish people but have some concerns about the regime and hope that a visit like this might give us an opportunity to forcefully present to the regime in Poland the concerns of the American Polish community. And I plan to do that and to be frank about it. And I think I’ll have an opportunity to do just that.

Also, the Church. As you deal with Polish Americans you realize over and over again the importance of faith, of the Church itself in Poland. And I go to Poland looking forward to seeing Cardinal Glemp and hopefully other leaders in the Church.

Ted Lipien, VOA Polish Service:Will you also meet with Lech Walesa?

Vice President George H.W. Bush:I think it’s scheduled to do that. And I think it is very important that I do that. And it’s more than symbolism. We respect him as an individual for his courage. That’s been stated over again. But we also want to see Poland lighten up, if they can, on the on the trade union movement. And I think it’s important that Polish leaders know from high-level in this Administration how strongly we feel about individual rights, human rights, the opportunity for individuals to get ahead. And when they are able to make some movement in terms of whether it’s more privatization on farming or whatever it is, and we say hey, that’s good, we like to see more of that.

And they don’t have to do it our way, but to get the kind of support from the United States that many Americans would like to see go to the Polish people, there has to be some forward movement. And, that’s all I’ll say. They can do what they want, but we’re the United States and here are our standards and here is where we would like to see progress.