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Public Statements

Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement in Poland

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


RECOGNIZING THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT IN POLAND -- (House of Representatives - July 18, 2005)

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise to support H. Res. 328, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the workers' strikes in Poland that led to the founding of Solidarity.

Mr. Speaker, Stalin once said that trying to impose communism on Poland was like trying to put a saddle on a cow. As history showed, that was one time the Soviet Union's dictator was right. From the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union spread its suffocating net across a Central Europe devastated by war, Poles struggled to be free. Time and again, from the 1956 riots in Poznan, when workers took to the streets "For Bread and For Freedom," through the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, Poles struggled to stretch the boundaries of freedom. Each time, they came closer, but each time they were pulled back into the Soviet fold.

The year 1976 marked an historic turning point. In that year, Polish intellectuals stood outside the court room door while workers stood inside, waiting for verdicts to be meted out against them for their strikes at the Ursus tractor factory. At those trials, only family members were allowed to be present. And, as one onerous prison sentence after another was handed down, the intellectuals standing outside the courtroom would hear only the sobs of family members. The harshness of the regime only served to galvanize opposition to it.

By 1980, when the workers struck in Gdansk, they were no longer alone; they were joined by intellectuals who had been pursuing a parallel path. The newly elected, Polish-born Pope, John Paul II, had countenanced his countrymen and women to "be not afraid." And an extraordinary individual, Lech Walesa, scaled the walls at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk to lead his country to a place in history. The Gdansk shipyard workers had 31 demands, one of which was a call for the Polish Government to fulfill its obligations it had under the in the 1976 Helsinki Final Act.

By December 13, 1981, the Soviet Union had seen enough of this Polish experiment and martial law was imposed. But, it seems, the power of the people could not be truly repressed. The joining of workers and intellectuals in Poland produced the only mass dissident movement in all of Eastern Europe. In spite of mass arrests and other forms of repression during the 1980s, Solidarity remained a force with which to be reckoned and, by 1988, the tide was inexorably turning. In that year, Janusz Onyszkiewicz [YAN-oosh oh-nish-KAI-a-vich], a Solidarity activist who-in a few years time-would be Minister of Defense, came to Washington and testified before the Helsinki Commission about the human rights situation in his country. It was the first time a dissident from an East European Communist country had testified before Congress and then actually returned to his country. Although authorities briefly considered bringing criminal charges against him for his daring appearance before the Helsinki Commission, those plans were quickly abandoned.

By 1989, Solidarity's disciplined strikes had forced Communist officials to the negotiating table. These so-called "Round-Table Talks" produced an agreement to allow a fraction of the seats in parliament to be openly contested in June elections-the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. In July, when Tadeusz Mazowiecki [tah-DAY-oosh maz-oh-VIET-ski] was elected Poland's first non-Communist Prime Minister in the post-War era, a delegation from the Helsinki Commission, led by Senator DeConcini, sat in the gallery of the parliament and watched this extraordinary moment unfold.

Mr. Speaker, there are many factors that led to the collapse of communism, and many heroes-some tragically fallen-who deserve credit for restoring freedom to Eastern Europe. The Solidarity Trade Union played a singular role in achieving that great goal, and I give my wholehearted support to this resolution which honors the men and women of that movement.

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