Speeches from the 2012 Presidential Campaign
"Freedom and Friendship," Campaign Remarks in Poland
July 31, 2012
Thank you all very much for the warm welcome to this great city.
It has been a privilege to meet with President Komorowski, Prime Minister Tusk, Foreign Minister Sikorski, and Former President Walesa.
This is a nation with an extraordinary heritage that is crafting a remarkable future. At a time of widespread economic slowdown and stagnation, your economy last year outperformed all other nations in Europe.
I began this trip in Britain and end it here in Poland: the two bookends of NATO, history's greatest military alliance that has kept the peace for over half a century. While at 10 Downing Street I thought back to the days of Winston Churchill, the man who first spoke of the Iron Curtain that had descended across Europe. What an honor to stand in Poland, among the men and women who helped lift that curtain.
After that stay in England, I visited the State of Israel - a friend of your country and mine. It's been a trip to three places far apart on the map. But for an American, you can't get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country. Our nations belong to the great fellowship of democracies. We speak the same language of freedom and justice. We uphold the right of every person to live in peace.
I believe it is critical to stand by those who have stood by America. Solidarity was a great movement that freed a nation. And it is with solidarity that America and Poland face the future.
Yesterday, I saw the memorial at Westerplatte and the gate at the Gdansk Shipyard, where Polish citizens stood with courage and determination against daunting odds. And today, on the eve of the 68th anniversary of this city's uprising against the Nazis, I will pay tribute at the monument to that historic struggle. Over 200,000 Poles were killed in those weeks, and this city was nearly destroyed. But your enduring spirit survived.
Free men and women everywhere, whether they have been here or not, already know this about Poland: In some desperate hours of the last century, your people were the witnesses to hope, led onward by strength of heart and faith in God. Not only by force of arms, but by the power of truth, in villages and parishes across this land, you shamed the oppressor and gave light to the darkness.
Time and again, history has recorded the ascent of liberty, propelled by souls that yearn for freedom and justice. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has noted that it is often one brave man or woman who says "no" to oppression, and in doing so, sparks a revolution of courage in hundreds, thousands or millions of others.
In 1955, in my country, Rosa Parks said "no" to a bus driver who told her to give up her seat to a white person, and in doing so, started a revolution of dignity and equality that continues to this day. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, was denied his business wares by a government functionary, and in protest committed suicide by self-immolation. With that act of defiance, the Arab Spring was born.
Nicolai Ceausescu stood before an audience of 200,000, recounting for them his supposed works on their behalf. One elderly woman shouted out what others only thought. "Liar," she said. Others echoed her, first hundreds, then thousands. And with the fall of Ceausescu days later, the entire nation had awoken and a people were freed.
And here, in 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul the Second, spoke words that would bring down an empire and bring freedom to millions who lived in bondage. "Be not afraid" - those words changed the world.
I, and my fellow Americans, are inspired by the path of freedom tread by the people of Poland.
Long before modern times, of course, the Polish and American people were hardly strangers. The name "Pulaski" is honored to this day in America, and so is the memory of other Poles who joined in our fight for independence. Two years after our young republic gave the New World its first freely adopted written constitution. Poland did the same for the Old World, with a preamble that called liberty "dearer than life."
At every turn in our history, through wars and crises, through every change in the geopolitical map, we have met as friends and allies. That was true in America's Revolutionary War. It was true in the dark days of World War II. And it has been true in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has never been a moment when our peoples felt anything but mutual respect and good will - and that is not common in history.
Americans watched with astonishment and admiration, as an electrician led a peaceful protest against a brutal and oppressive regime.
"It has to be understood," as President Walesa has recently said, "that the solidarity movement philosophy was very simple. When you can't lift a weight, you ask someone else for help and to lift it with you."
Of course, among the millions of Poles who said "yes", there was one who has a unique and special place in our hearts: Pope John Paul the Second. When he first appeared on the balcony above Saint Peter's Square, a correspondent on the scene wrote to his editor with a first impression. This is not just a pope from Poland, he said, "This is a pope from Galilee."
In 1979, Pope John Paul the Second celebrated Mass with you in a square not too far from here. He reminded the world there would be no justice in Europe without an independent Poland, and he reminded the Polish people, long deprived of their independence, from where they drew their strength.
While greeting a crowd huddled along a fence, he met a little girl. He paused and asked her, "Where is Poland?" But the girl - caught off guard - couldn't answer. She laughed nervously until the great pope put his hand over her heart and said: "Poland is here."
John Paul the Second understood that a nation is not a flag or a plot of land. It is a people - a community of values. And the highest value Poland honors - to the world's great fortune - is man's innate desire to be free.
Unfortunately, there are parts of the world today where the desire to be free is met with brutal oppression: Just to the east of here, the people of Belarus suffer under the oppressive weight of dictatorship. The Arab world is undergoing a historic upheaval, one that holds promise, but also risk and uncertainty. A ruthless dictator in Syria has killed thousands of his own people. In Latin America, Hugo Chavez leads a movement characterized by authoritarianism and repression. Nations in Africa are fighting to resist the threat of violent radical jihadism. And in Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered.
In a turbulent world, Poland stands as an example and defender of freedom.
Only last month, in Gdansk, a sculpture was unveiled of President Reagan and John Paul the Second. As President Walesa told a reporter, "Reagan should have a monument in every city."
Czeslaw Nowak, recalled the days in 1981 when he, Walesa, and others were imprisoned by the communist regime. Just when it felt like they might be forgotten by the world, the captives learned that in the White House, the President of the United States was lighting candles. It was a demonstration of unity with them - a sign of solidarity. "When Reagan lit the candles," Mr. Nowak recalled, "we knew we had a friend in the United States."
This is a country that made a prisoner a president … that went from foreign domination to the proud and independent nation you are today. And now, for both our nations, the challenge is to be worthy of this legacy as we find a way forward. The false gods of the all-powerful state claim the allegiance of a lonely few. It is for us, in this generation and beyond, to show all the world what free people and free economies can achieve for the good of all.
Perhaps because here in Poland centralized control is no distant memory, you have brought a special determination to securing a free and prosperous economy. When the Soviet Empire breathed its last, Poland's economy was in a state of perpetual crisis. When economists analyzed it from abroad, one heard talk of the prospect of starvation in major cities.
But from the depths of those dark times, this nation's steady rise is a shining example of the prosperity that economic opportunity can bring. Your nation has moved from a state monopoly over the economy, price controls, and severe trade restrictions to a culture of entrepreneurship, greater fiscal responsibility, and international trade. As a result, your economy has experienced positive growth in each of the last twenty years. In that time, you have doubled the size of your economy. The private sector has gone from a mere 15 percent of the economy to 65 percent. And while other nations fell into recession in recent years, you weathered the storm and continued to flourish.
When economists speak of Poland today, it is not to lament chronic problems, but to describe how this nation empowered the individual, lifted the heavy hand of government, and became the fastest-growing economy in all of Europe.
Yesterday, one of your leaders shared with me an economic truth that has been lost in much of the world: "It is simple. You don't borrow what you cannot pay back."
The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland's economy. A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage.
Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means. Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society.
At a time of such difficulty and doubt throughout Europe, Poland's economic transformation over these past 20 years is a fitting turn in the story of your country. In the 1980s, when other nations doubted that political tyranny could ever be faced down or overcome, the answer was, "Look to Poland." And today, as some wonder about the way forward out of economic recession and fiscal crisis, the answer once again is "Look to Poland".
It is not surprising that a people who waited so long, and endured so much, for the sake of liberty, are today enjoying liberty to the fullest.
Poland has no greater friend and ally than the people of the United States.
You helped us win our independence… your bravery inspired the allies in the Second World War… you helped bring down the Iron Curtain… and your soldiers fought side-by-side with ours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have fought and died together.
We share a common cause, tested by time, inseparable by foe.
In times of trouble and in times of peace, we march together.
God bless you, God bless America, and God bless the great nation of Poland.
Back to Speeches from the 2012 Presidential Campaign