Good morning everybody. It’s great to be here. Thank you, Carl [Gershman], for inviting me to represent the United States Government here and to mark the anniversary of President Walesa’s speech before Congress. I’m honored to be among you today and to share the podium with such honored guests.
Let me start first by addressing President Walesa: we’re inspired by your presence today, just as we were on that day 30 years ago when you stood at the podium in the House chamber. We are deeply impressed by the rise of Poland that began under your visionary leadership—and we thank you for your service to the Polish nation to the world.
And to you, Mr. Balcerowicz, we extend our recognition and gratitude for the difficult choices you made to reform the Polish economy. Your courage in the face of criticism transformed it into the powerhouse that it is today.
Mr. President, I’ll begin my remarks today with the same words that you used to introduce your speech before Congress: “We the People.”
The storm of applause from the assembled Members and Senators confirmed that Americans and Poles understand that a yearning for freedom was written by the Creator into the design of the human spirit. The applause confirmed as well that “We the People” yearn to be free together. That is, we’re individuals whose nature demands that we act in solidarity with our families, friends, co-workers, and fellow citizens. Mr. President, you first inspired your fellow workers, then the nation, and after that, the world.
Your road was not easy. Your brothers and sisters in the Solidarity movement shook the foundations of communism. As their leader, you gave voice to their aspirations and exposed the lie at the heart of the Communist project. And for that, you and your fellow countrymen and women paid a tremendous price: martial law, mass arrests and detentions, brutal dispersions of peaceful demonstrations and strikes, and the murder of innocent workers and priests. Solidarity’s victory came at great cost, but it transformed Europe in the world. It was a victory for human rights: a reaffirmation of the inherent dignity of workers and of the work they do—and of the crucial role that Solidarity plays in the life of democracies everywhere.
But how did the Polish nation succeed when so many other freedom fighters have been crushed by their Communist overseers? The answer, I think, lies in the credit you gave to Pope St. John Paul II for taking his visionary trip to Poland. You observed, and I quote, “He allowed us to see how many of us there were. He awoke the Polish people, and also the peoples around us.”
So I ask each of you in the audience today to think about that statement: close your eyes for a minute. Ask yourself, how many of there—how many of us are there? How many millions yearn to speak freely without fear of repression and retaliation? How many millions of workers want nothing more than to be treated by their employers as vital, intelligent, and talented human beings who literally put their hearts and souls into their work? How, I ask you, do we help them to make that vision a reality without getting killed or imprisoned in the process?
Our challenge, Mr. President and honored guests, is to make it possible for others to see that they’re not alone. That is, to see how many of us there really are.
And that, Mr. President, is one of the most important things we do in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Along with key partners, like the National Endowment for [Democracy] and the other core institutes, we support efforts to show how many there are. We suggest, both gently and forcefully depending on the circumstances, that nations become stronger and more dynamic as Poland has when people are free to be creative together—and where the government protects access to public spaces, both physical and virtual, that they need to share and realize their visions for a better future.
The revolutions of 1989 were not private affairs. They were public expressions of the will of the people. Without solidarity strikes, there would have been no electoral victory in 1989. Without the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig, there would have been no fall of the Berlin Wall. And without the protests on Wenceslas Square, there would have been no Velvet Revolution. Your affirmation of We the People was and remains a testament to our human spirit and to our nature as individuals, working and living together in community.
Your struggle in victory 30 years ago challenges us to reaffirm our vision of freedom and our duty of solidarity with those who labor under the yoke oppression.
We see that yearning in Russia. When Muscovites had the audacity to ask for real choices in city elections, the Russian government responded with beatings and mass arrests.
We see the cries in China, where government forces thousands of Uighurs to work in re-education camps, where they, and the workers with whom they are competing in other countries, are robbed of the basic dignity and value of honest human work.
And we see it in Iran, where the regime prioritizes spending to spread regional chaos rather than paying the pensions of truck drivers, schoolteachers, and others who earn the money in the first place.
The list goes on in Africa, South Asia, and the Americas, to name only a few of the places. So while we commemorate Solidarity’s victory, we also remember that “We the People” remains a very dangerous phrase in many parts of the world. It’s also a challenge: We the people must do more than honor the legacy of Solidarity: we have to live it.
We must commit, as governments, organizations, and individuals, to help our fellow men and women around the world to reclaim the freedom that totalitarian regimes are stealing from them. We must show them, by word and deed, how many of us there really are.