BBG Watch Commentary
Poland’s Post Office is issuing a stamp in honor of Solidarity (Solidarność) trade union leader Lech Wałęsa. The stamp is being released Sunday, September 29, 2013, on the Nobel Peace laureate’s and Poland’s former President’s 70th birthday.
The commemorative envelope, also issued by Poland’s Post Office, includes a reference to American support for Lech Wałęsa. It shows a photo of Wałęsa speaking to the joint session of the U.S. Congress, one of the very few foreigners granted this honor. The envelope also has a photo of Lech Wałęsa’s wife, Danuta, receiving his Nobel Peace Prize on his behalf. Lech Wałęsa did not attend to the ceremony in 1983 being afraid that the communist regime would not allow him to return to Poland.
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.[aside]
“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.” – Lech Wałęsa, 2002
Throughout the 1980s, Lech Wałęsa’s and Poland’s struggle for democracy received strong support from the United States government and American people. Both Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, funded by U.S. taxpayers, reported daily on the 1980 strikes, the martial law, and subsequent negotiations between Solidarity and the regime which led to the peaceful fall of communism in Poland.
In the Polish election of 1990, Lech Wałęsa successfully ran for the newly re-established office of President of Poland. Wikipedia and other biographical articles point out that “he presided over Poland’s transformation from a communist to a post-communist state, but his popularity waned. After he narrowly lost the 1995 presidential election, his role in Polish politics diminished. However, his international fame remains. Wałęsa continues to speak and lecture in Poland and abroad on history and politics.”
In a 2002 interview with the Voice of America Warsaw correspondent Maria Bnińska, Lech Wałęsa said:
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.”
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.”
Maria Bnińska: What does the 50th anniversary of the Voice of America mean for you?
Lech Wałęsa: I think, it is the present victory; its role in this victory.
At the same time, it is contribution to general knowledge, my own and for generations that lived through this period.
Many did not see the effects of their work.
We must remember many, in history and in everything else; they have made a great contribution.
This is, I think, for today the great contribution of the Voice of America.
Maria Bnińska: Co dla pana oznacza i czym jest dla pana piędziesięciolecie (2002) Głosu Ameryki?
Lech Wałęsa: No myslę, że obecnym zwycięstwem, udziale w tym zwycięstwie.
Jednocześnie jest to uzupełnieniem wiedzy ogólnej, tak moim jak i pokoleń, które w tym okresie przewinęły się.
Wielu nie doczekało efektów swojej pracy.
O wielu musimy pamiętać, i w historii i w tym wszystkim, że mają wielki wkład.
To tym, myslę, tylko i wyłącznie na dzisiaj jest ta wielka zasługa jaką jest Głos Ameryki.
In 1987, the faltering government of General Jaruzelski agreed to a visit by Vice President George H.W. Bush who urged Jaruzelski to come to terms with Wałęsa. Subsequent negotiations between the regime and Solidarity-led democratic opposition led to a peaceful transition to democracy in Poland.
The Voice of America Polish Service director Ted Lipien covered Bush’s 1987 trip and reported on these statements from Wałęsa and the U.S. Vice President after their dinner on September 27, 1987 at the residence of the American Charge d’Affairs in Warsaw John R. Davis, Jr. who later became U.S. Ambassador to Poland.
From a VOA Polish Service 1987 report from Warsaw:
“Ja dziękuję bardzo za te słowa, które przyjmuję jako pochwałę Solidarności. Rzeczywiście postawiliśmy na pokojową walkę. … Dziękujemy bardzo ekipie Stanów Zjednoczonych za zrozumienie polskich spraw, Mamy nadzieje, że w tej reformie będzie tak jak dotąd pomocna naszemu krajowi.” – Lech Wałesa, Warsaw, September 27, 1987.
“The American people have great affection and, as you know from recent action, support you, support Solidarity and support the objectives that you’ve outlined here this evening. And to the people of Poland. we’ve had a marvelous visit” – Vice President George H.W. Bush, Warsaw, September 27, 1987.
Poland’s communist regime organized a referendum on political and economic reforms, which was held on 29 November 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.
This was not the first interview, the VOA Polish Service did with Wałęsa. Polish Service reporter Peter Mroczyk had done the first one by telephone from Washington in August 1985.
In his 1987 interview with in Gdansk, where Ted Lipien had gone by train from Warsaw avoiding police surveillance, Wałęsa did not attach much importance to the just concluded referendum, which — as he pointed out — had not been not organized according to basic democratic principles. For one thing, as he pointed out, Solidarity and other oppositions groups in Poland had not been consulted and had no access to domestic media prior to the vote.
In the interview, Wałęsa said, however, that Solidarity and the government have no choice but to reach an agreement.
At the same time, he strongly objected to the regime’s reluctance to enter into a real dialogue with the democratic opposition in Poland. 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 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 conditions prevent him from making a trip at this time.
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.
Lech Walesa: “The ideals which we presented and which we pursue are truly great.
We could not achieve them even if our organization had prospered. Therefore, there is much in front of us. We must still do much. …
This is very difficult because programs that have been proven successful elsewhere can’t be implemented where we are geographically located. This is our difficulty, because we must be mindful of the restrictions and remember that we can’t do everything.”
Peter Mroczyk (1947-2007), who recorded the interview, later became the last director of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe (1989-1994).
The last Voice of America Polish Service on-air radio program to Poland was heard on July 20, 2000 after almost 58 years from the first VOA Polish radio broadcast in 1942. Internet and feed service to radio and TV affiliates in Poland continued until May 2004.
Poland has now been independent, democratic, member of NATO and a strong U.S. ally for more than 20 years — in part thanks to Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America. But VOA’s role, which Lech Wałęsa so eloquently described, is still very much relevant and much needed in countries like China, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba, North Korea and many others. Some of these countries are dictatorships, some are ruled by anti-American authoritarian regime, almost all of these countries impose media censorship, and almost all have courageous individuals like Lech Wałęsa who are looking to the United States for news, information, opinions and moral support in their struggle for human rights and human dignity.
Ted Lipien and other former VOA journalists provided materials for this report.