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1 Introduction On November 15, 1989, Lech Wałęsa became the third foreign, private citizen to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, following in the footsteps of the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill. Wałęsa was not a head of state or even a government representative, but the chairman of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarność” (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy “Solidarność” or NSZZ Solidarność), formed in August 1980 by striking workers on the Baltic Coast. Initially, he had not been invited to the United States to address Congress. He was in Washington, D.C., to attend the National Convention of the AFL-CIO, but in the weeks between scheduling his visit and his arrival, political developments in Eastern Europe had taken a revolutionary turn. Just six days before his address, the Berlin Wall—the most potent symbol of the division of Europe and the Cold War in that sphere—had fallen. Events in Berlin had been preceded by massive weekly opposition rallies in Leipzig, precipitated by an emigration crisis sparked by young East Germans flocking to Hungary to get to the West. The reform-minded Communist leadership in Budapest had opened its border with Austria, providing an escape hatch from the repressive East German regime. The Hungarians were also planning for multiparty elections, an unthinkable development just a year earlier. This barrage of revolutionary events, which eventually caused the Communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and Romania to collapse as well, began in Poland. In February 1989, Poles held negotiations between the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza or PZPR) and opposition leaders, to forge a power-sharing agreement based around semifree elections completed in June. In those elections Solidarność-affiliated candidates won ninety-nine out of one hundred seats in a newly created upper house of parliament (Senat) and all the lower house (Sejm) seats open to them. In the wake of this victory, Wałęsa and his advisers staged a political coup d’état, negotiating a deal with disgruntled members of the rapidly dissolving Communist coalition, upending the PZPR’s parliamentary majority, and clearing the way for an opposition-led government. On August 24, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a longtime member of the opposition and an adviser to 2 introduction Wałęsa, was charged with creating a Solidarność-led government, the first non-Communist government in Poland since 1948. Thus, when speaking to the joint session of Congress, Wałęsa was more than just the head of NSZZ Solidarność; he was the recognized leader of the broader Solidarność movement and a spokesman for revolutionaries in Eastern Europe. In his speech, Wałęsa provided an insider’s view of the dynamic political shifts rapidly accelerating throughout the region. He requested increased American economic and structural support to help his country move from a “bankrupt” centralized economy to a market-based system open to the West. He also took the opportunity to express gratitude to the United States for its role in Poland’s democratic transformation. He spoke reverently about the American Declaration of Independence and the country’s Constitution, directly linking the ideals expressed in those documents to the rebirth of democracy in his homeland. He also thanked the United States specifically for its support of the Polish opposition, particularly after Solidarność had come under attack and was forced underground during a period of martial law. As he said, “I’m expressing words of gratitude to the American people. It is they who supported us in the difficult days of martial law and persecution. It is they who sent us aid, they protested against violence.” He continued, “Today, when I am able to freely address the whole world from this elevated spot, I would like to thank them with special warmth. It is thanks to them that the word ‘Solidarity’ soared across borders and reached every corner of the world. Thanks to them, the people of Solidarity were never alone.”1 This was a joyous occasion on Capitol Hill. As Barbara Mikulski, a Polish American Congresswoman explained, “I never thought this day would come. I just didn’t think it was Poland’s destiny to be free.”2 The Cold War was not yet over, but the political realities of the previous half century were dissolving rapidly. For his role, Wałęsa was feted as a hero, with dinner at the White House and banquets on Capitol Hill. While Wałęsa’s speech was dominated by pleas for increased American aid, his...


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MARC Record
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