by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the event celebrating the Polish Solidarity / Solidarność Movement
Thank you Ambassador Szatkowski,
Ladies and gentlemen. Mesdames et messieurs.
Behind me you can indeed see the latest addition to NATO’s growing collection of historic artifacts.
The world famous ‘Solidarność’. This sign is forever linked with the struggle for freedom in Poland in the 1980s.
It represents people’s struggle for a better life after decades of Communist dictatorship and Soviet domination.
A struggle depicted in the images on show in the Agora.
It was local poets who helped supply the name ‘Solidarność’.
While Polish artist, Jerzy Janiszewski, produced its iconic design.
Developing it during the strikes of August 1980, exactly 40 years ago.
The independent trade union and movement, Solidarity, led by Lech Walesa, and many other leaders, from the ship yards of Gdansk, united the Polish people against the Communist regime. And as the Ambassador has mentioned at one point, 10 million citizens of Poland were members of this movement.
A quarter of Poland’s population.
That unity, that solidarity, they were vital during the long, dark days to come.
And especially after the introduction of the martial law in 1981. I was a kid in Romania, I still visualize and remember those dark moments.
In time, Solidarity’s commitment to peaceful protest would prove incredibly successful and powerful.
By the end of the decade, Poland’s leaders would sit down with its democratic opposition in ‘Round Table’ talks.
And by August 1989, Poland had its first non-Communist Prime Minister since the war, Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
Within months, the wall in Berlin had fallen, the Soviet Union had collapsed and Communist rule was no more.
Solidarity has inspired Poland.
And Poland has inspired the world.
These events were followed very closely in my own country and in all former communist countries, and in indeed all over the world.
They helped to inspire my countrymen and country-women in Romania to embark on the Romanian Revolution, the last tragic and bloody episode of this journey towards freedom of our nations.
Because the idea of solidarity is also at the core of our Alliance.
Allied solidarity is the foundation of Article 5.
It embodies the spirit of consultation, cooperation and burden sharing that connects all members of the NATO Alliance. Our Alliance.
In words, but also in deeds.
During the protests, people around the world supported Solidarity and the brave Polish people.
As did the NATO Alliance.
Under the so-called ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’, the Soviet Union claimed the right to intervene in the affairs of other Communist countries.
A doctrine that was used to justify brutal interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
NATO was committed to doing everything it could to prevent Soviet intervention in Poland.
In declassified documents from that time, the then Secretary General, Joseph Luns, wrote that - and I quote:
“The basic policy of the Alliance is that Poland should be free to decide its own future.”
This basic right to freedom and sovereignty applies to all nations.
It applies everywhere people strive for freedom against oppressive regimes.
Where their voices are not heard.
And their votes are not counted.
It is sad to see, long after the Solidarity movement helped to bring freedom to Poland, that many people in Europe still do not have that right.
In Belarus, we see how the regime has used violence against peaceful demonstrators.
We call on the government to respect their fundamental rights.
The people of Belarus have the right of free speech.
The right to decide their own future, without interference from abroad.
They have the right to peaceful protest.
And the right to fair and free elections.
Perhaps the ultimate expression of Poland’s sovereignty came in 1999.
When the Polish nation exercised its right to choose, and became a member of NATO.
Since that historic moment, Poland has proven to be a strong and steadfast member of our Alliance.
Poland has taken part in NATO missions and operations all around the world.
From the Western Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq.
It hosts the US-led multinational battlegroup, part of our enhanced Forward Presence.
It takes part in air policing and maritime operations.
And contributes to humanitarian disaster relief.
Poland’s record as a member state;
Its active participation in NATO-led operations;
And its overall contribution to implementing our policies, show the true spirit of Allied solidarity.
The Poland of today is very different from the Poland of 40 years ago.
It is free.
It is prosperous.
It is a steadfast member of NATO.
And you can trace a direct line from today all the way back to the shipyards of Gdansk.
And the red symbol of ‘Solidarność’ just behind me.
On this auspicious moment, Ambassador and dear friends, please convey to the brave Polish people, our admiration, our support and our full loyalty.
Thank you, and enjoy this great moment together.