Full transcript of the Second Annual Bronislaw Geremek Lecture which featured a conversation with United States Senator John McCain and Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski.
SECOND ANNUAL BRONISLAW GEREMEK LECTURE:
JOHN MCCAIN AND RADOSLAW SIKORSKI
WELCOME AND MODERATOR:
PRESIDENT AND CEO,
THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES,
THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS,
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ)
TUESDAY, MARCH 1, 2011
Federal News Service
FREDERICK KEMPE: Welcome, Minister Sikorski, Senator McCain, Ambassador Kupiecki, Senator Hagel, members of the board of the Atlantic Council, ladies and gentlemen. And Senator McCain, welcome back from 12 days in the Middle East. I know you arrived back last evening and it’s great to have you with us here with Minister Sikorski.
I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Before I pass the podium to Ambassador Kupiecki, our partner in this important initiative, and then to Senator Hagel, our chairman, who will introduce the two speakers and provide some initial reflections, let me just a few words about this second Bronislaw Geremek Lecture.
Minister Sikorski and Ambassador Kupiecki, please allow me to depart from protocol some 30 years after the birth of the Solidarity movement to thank Poland. The courage, vision and resilience of the Polish people served to change the history of Europe and the world. We all owe you a great deal and we have learned from your experience, sometimes not enough. It was in that context that we launched this lecture series.
As you know, Professor Bronislaw Geremek was a legendary leader of the Solidarity movement, a former Polish minister of foreign affairs who was an architect and founding father of a modern and democratic Poland and Europe.
But for me, he was also a personal inspiration, a mentor and over time, a friend. Much of what I learned about freedom and the sacrifices it requires, I learned from him during long conversations in Gdansk, in his attic apartment in Old Town, Warsaw and later, in Vilnius, Brussels and elsewhere.
What he said of democratic change applies as much today in Egypt’s Tahrir Square as it did in the Gdansk Shipyards of his time. He said, quote, “The core of the great Solidarity movement was the dream of freedom, of democracy, understood as the innate rate of every human being to decide his or her own fate and to share responsibility for the fate of the nation.”
His view, as he expressed it to me, was that Solidarity gained its power because it was much more than a rebellion against a constraining system. It was also a positive force shaping a new reality. Poles, he told me, not only knew what they were rejecting; they also knew what they wanted.
So the Bronislaw Geremek Lecture, launched in 2009 in partnership with the government of Poland, honors an extraordinary man and life. With it, we hope to carry on the heritage of this outstanding statesman and diplomat.
The inaugural lecture was delivered by former secretary of state and a friend of Professor Geremek, Dr. Madeleine K. Albright. She said then of Professor Geremek, quote, “Whenever we are lulled by complacency, we can hear his quiet voice urging us in a cultured Polish accent to wake up and start moving because the job of defending freedom is never done.”
He would be enormously pleased that two such great democracy heroes – and I am economical with the use of that term – would be honoring him tonight with their lectures. I’m only sorry we can’t hear his own views on what connects and separates the events of the Middle East now and Central Europe then. Different places, different contexts, certainly, but the same universal yearning for human dignity.
At the Atlantic Council, our stated mission is to renew the Atlantic community for global challenges and I can imagine no greater challenge than those facing us across the Mideast at a time when setbacks in Belarus remind us that we have also fallen short in our dreams for a Europe whole and free.
With that, let me express my gratitude to Minister Sikorski and to Ambassador Kupiecki and the Polish government for supporting this lecture series. We also look forward to working with you and your ministry to ensure the success of our new initiative in partnership with the city of Wroclaw, the Wroclaw Global Forum. Let me also tip the hat the Ambassador Lee Feinstein, who has been a very active and terrific partner in this initiative. This will happen in June.
We’ll also hold our annual and third annual Freedom Awards in Wroclaw, where we will recognize champions of freedom, past and present, from the Vistula to the Nile. I think it’s fitting that the Atlantic Council has decided to move its Freedom Awards to Wroclaw to be in conjunction with that annual conference.
So with that, it is my honor to pass to Ambassador Robert Kupiecki, an ambassador who serves a great country with great distinction in Washington.
AMBASSADOR ROBERT KUPIECKI: Senator McCain, Senator Hagel, Minister Sikorski, distinguished guests and friends, Fred, thank you very much for your kind words of introduction. Through your leadership, the Atlantic Council has achieved great success and recognition. It has been a pleasure – a great pleasure to work with you and with the Atlantic Council on a number of important initiatives.
One of these initiatives is the Bronislaw Geremek Lecture Series. The patron of tonight’s event was an outstanding European, a brilliant thinker and a legend of the Polish Solidarity movement. His legacy is well-upheld by the Atlantic Council in giving an opportunity to discuss matters that are crucial to the world we live in.
Tonight, we are honored to be in the presence of a host of distinguished figures. We are lucky to have Senators Chuck Hagel and John McCain and my minister, foreign minister of Poland, Mr. Radoslaw Sikorski. We are very much looking, gentlemen, forward to your remarks, to your observations, to sharing with us your ideas.
Before I pass on the microphone, I would like to make a brief announcement. After the question and answers period, a brief and a special ceremony will take place. Senator McCain and Fred Kempe will receive their awards for their outstanding achievements in building friendship and cooperation between Poland and the United States.
I would also like to express my special words of appreciation to Senator Chuck Hagel for his support and leadership in promoting the Geremek series and for hosting this event. The senator needs no introduction in this room, but I hope he won’t mind a brief one.
Let me only mention that Senator Hagel is a distinguished professor at Georgetown University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as well as a permanent Polish-American. He served his country with distinction as a two-term senator from the state of Nebraska between 1997 and January 2009.
He’s a decorated Vietnam veteran. In 2007, the president of Poland awarded Senator Hagel the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. So I believe it is fitting that he is present this evening as Senator McCain joins his ranks in receiving the same decoration.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, let me now give the floor to Senator Chuck Hagel.
CHARLES HAGEL: Ambassadors, thank you. I am honored and grateful for your generous comments and introduction. Let me once again on behalf of the Atlantic Council add my appreciation to each of you for your – not only being here tonight, but your continued support of this institution that this year, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Many distinguished public servants are with us here tonight, many former ambassadors as well as others who have served selflessly their countries and their interest as they have been shaped by freedom and by greater purpose. So to each of you, thank you.
In particular, we have two former United States ambassadors to Poland who are with us tonight and I would to recognize each of them: Dan Fried, who I believe is here, and Victor Ashe. So to each of you, thank you and we appreciate what – not only you’ve done for this particular relationship, but what you continue to do. And of course, our current ambassador, Lee Feinstein, has been acknowledged. And Lee, good to see you and thank you, again, for what you are doing.
I want to acknowledge one additional individual here tonight who most of you know. I know Senator McCain has worked with him over the years. The former foreign minister of Sweden, the former Swedish ambassador to the United States, former United Nations General Assembly president, Jan Eliasson. Jan, nice to have you with us. (Applause.)
Let me now introduce our two distinguished speakers tonight. As you have heard from Fred Kempe as well as Ambassador Kupiecki, brief remarks on not only the importance of these two gentlemen to a lifetime of commitment of making a better world, but in particular, what they have done for this relationship and why it is so appropriate to have Minister Sikorski and Senator McCain as our two guest speakers tonight.
I will address my dear friend, John McCain, in a moment. We did give him an option of having me not introduce him. (Laughter.) But he did opt for the elevator operator, but nonetheless, I – I persuaded him that this would be professional and I would do a good job with this.
Let me take a moment to read two you from a New York Times piece that appeared a couple of years ago about the minister of foreign affairs for Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski. And I quote, “A student activist for the Solidarity trade union, he sought refuge in Britain at age 18, when he was stranded there as Solidarity was banned and martial law imposed in Poland in December 1981. The tug of Poland, however, remained very powerful.”
Quote, “‘I did not even think about not going back,’ said Sikorski, recalling how a resurgent Solidarity wrested power from the communists, first in talks, and then at the ballot box. ‘In August 1989, I returned the first day I could with the guarantee that I would not go to jail.’ Why he chose to return after studying at Oxford and pursuing a very successful career in journalism” –
For example, “he won a World Press Award in 1988 for a photograph he took in Afghanistan – is a question he simply finds” – his words – “odd.” He continued, “There are two kinds of patriotism. As you know, I’m fond of America, very fond of America, where the interweaving of personal and national achievements is very positive, which is the first kind of patriotism.
Here in Poland, where we suffered so much over the past centuries, there is another kind of patriotism that we are just overcoming. It is about valuing not that which you get the most of, but that for which you have made the most sacrifices.” I think that says an awful lot about Minister Sikorski, his beliefs, the kind of life that he has led, the kind of contributions he continues to make, not just for his country, but for mankind.
You all know that he has had a very distinguished government career. He served as minister of national defense, deputy minister of national defense, among other distinguished and responsible positions. And I might add, John, that he was a senator, which puts him right at the top, of course, of all these important offices.
But this is a man who has devoted his life and who he is to his country and to a world order that gives mankind hope. And for those reasons and many more, Minister Sikorski, we are very proud of you, your continued accomplishments and particularly very proud that you would honor us tonight with this lecture. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
As to my friend, John McCain, I prepared no notes. (Laughter.) I didn’t think I needed to and I would begin this way. In the Washington tradition of full disclosure, I have known John McCain many years. I have worked with John McCain for many years. Our offices were next to each other for eight years in the United States Senate. Our offices – desks on the floor of the Senate were next to each other for eight years.
I don’t know if there was one individual who I’ve learned more from about national defense, about foreign policy, about commitments and responsibilities that elected officials have to their country in a higher purpose. You know about John McCain and all the accomplishments that he has had over a very, very interesting life.
I have had the opportunity to know him. I suspect, like not many people, because of that service that we had together in the Senate, I traveled all over the world with him. I was acquainted first with the Munich conferences or kunde because of John McCain.
I had the rare privilege of even serving as a co-chairman of his presidential committee in the year 2000 and probably one of the highlights of my career in politics was when I had the privilege of introducing him at the 2000 national convention. I will never forget those personal opportunities and what I learned personally from John McCain.
But John McCain is in a class by himself. I don’t know of an individual who has, in our country today, who has contributed more personally to this country in so many ways than John McCain. When you team McCain and Sikorski up, it’s a pretty powerful team for freedom, obviously a commitment to others, a courage that it has taken for both of these men to do what they have done in somewhat different ways, but converging at the end in exactly the same spot.
This is a better world because of these two men and we are very honored to have each with us tonight sharing their thoughts, not just about where we’ve been and how this happened, but more importantly, where do we go and the responsibilities we all now have, not just to make a better world, but to make a better world for all of mankind.
So it gives me great personal pleasure and indeed, an honor, to present these two gentlemen to you. I understand that the minister will speak first and then Senator McCain will be asked to present his remarks. Thank you very much.
RADOSLAW SIKORSKI: Thank you very much for the introduction. I appreciate anybody who is willing to perjure himself on my behalf. (Laughter.) Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk about a long, hard journey – the journey to democracy. Bronislaw Geremek, after whom this lecture is named, made that journey. He helped Poland make it and he helped me make it. Many of you helped us.
Here in Washington, D.C., we come together to honor Bronislaw Geremek in these distinguished surroundings. I’d like to say thank you – thank you to all of you from the Polish people.
I want to express our national gratitude today to one special American, a man whose body was imprisoned, but whose spirit stayed free, a man who came through that pain and became a national and international symbol of integrity and principle, a symbol of generosity and reconciliation, a man with a lifelong commitment to democracy and unwavering in his support for Poland’s freedom. Of course I mean Senator John McCain. (Applause.)
Time passes; years go by. One day, you realize that for your children, the life you’ve had is part of history. It’s old. Solidarity, the Gdansk Shipyards, martial law, the grace and leadership of Pope John Paul II, the Round Table, the first free elections, President Lech Walesa – a Polish
A Polish student born in a free society in December 1991 today finds it hard to grasp what it was all about, especially General Jaruzelski’s scary spectacles. The Polish example recedes into history.
But new examples are here before our own eyes. Belarus, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya –countries where people at last have hope and demand immediate change. When you set out on a journey, you need to know where you’ve started from, and you also want to know where you want to go. You also need to know yourself, who you are, and what you stand for.
Bronislaw Geremek looked deep into his own heart to answer those questions. He was still a boy when his father was murdered at Auschwitz and Stalinists took over Poland. He joined the Communist Party in 1950, an idealist 18-year-old. I quote, “the world had burned before my very eyes… the existence and power of the Communist Party were inevitable… I believed I could play a positive role.”
In 1968, when the Soviet Union attacked Czechoslovakia, Bronislaw Geremek changed course. He abandoned communist illusion forever and he worked to build freedom. He was interned after martial law was declared in 1981. Like John McCain, he kept going. He helped bring about Poland’s free democratic elections in 1991 and he became Poland’s Foreign Minister.
It is humbling to follow in his footsteps. Fighting a vicious regime is painful. It may lash out, killing hundreds of people, as Gadhafi has been doing in these last few days. And people must look at themselves and answer questions: Do I keep my head down, engage in petty sabotage perhaps, here and there, and hope for better times? Or do I raise my head? Do I risk all to be free?
People facing this fateful choice need to know that they’re not alone, that they have friends. The United States government and people gave Poland strong political words. They backed those words with strong action – Radio Free Europe, help to NGOs, help to trade unionists and journalists, scholarships, training, help for families of activists in prison, help to the Catholic Church.
We democrats knew whose side you were on – our side. Bronislaw Geremek hugely appreciated American generosity. It was fitting that he spoke for Poland on the 12th of March, 1999, in the Harry Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, and there are some here who heard him do that.
The day Poland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he said, “The nations who join this community today were denied those values until 1989. On the streets of Budapest in 1956, Prague in 1968 and Gdansk in 1970 and 1981, they paid a heavy price. They have proved their democratic credentials, which give them the right to be here today.”
He donated to the library one of the famous Polish 1989 election posters featuring Gary Cooper from the film “High Noon.” He said that that poster had helped Poland join the community of free nations. He said, “For the people of Poland, high noon comes today.” (Laughter.)
Back in 1991, when communism ended, the world seemed a bright, optimistic place – high noon indeed. A new era of global cooperation had started. The days of crass collectivist ideology had passed. History had ended.
But as we know, a new uncertainty emerged. Global opinion polls pointed to declining faith in democracy. Bronislaw Geremek wrote an article wondering where democracy was heading. Quote, “Democratic values do not function without citizens; there can be no democracy without democrats.” And I think he was on to something important.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Western democracies had two winning arguments: Number one, that democracy is morally superior to one-party dictatorship, but also, two, that democracy delivers far better practical outcomes. Democracy meant prosperity; dictatorship meant stagnation.
But since then, dictatorships and autocracies around the world have learnt the lesson of the collapse of the Soviet Union. They offer a new option: rising prosperity without democracy. They liberalize the economy while keeping tight control on political outcomes – the so-called “managed democracy.”
Meanwhile, the democratic world itself has new problems. On both sides of the Atlantic, there is an uneasy feeling that government is too big, too inflexible. Instead of Paul Kennedy’s “imperial overstretch” – although we have a bit of that – we have socioeconomic overstretch at home. And hence our dilemma: How to market modern pluralism in the Middle East or the developing world when Russia and China are offering a dynamic but undemocratic alternative?
But that’s not the real issue. Democracies and dictatorships alike have a problem which did not exist in 1991. Mobile phones and cheap computers give people everywhere a new networking power. That is why the events in the Middle East are so important. Elected governments and wicked regimes alike come and go. Real transformation comes when an old idea crashes against new reality.
Bronislaw Geremek changed course when he saw Soviet tanks crushing Czechoslovakia. He said, “I joined the Party from an illusion, and I left in 1968 when I lost that illusion.” That’s what’s happening in across the Middle East – loss of illusion.
We too have lost illusions about the Middle East – illusions of stability. Many of these regimes have deep roots in Cold War National Socialism, which emerged as European colonial rule receded. And all of us, left, right, center, have ingloriously accepted these decaying, miserable autocracies. Like Bronislaw Geremek’s Communist Party, they looked inevitable. Better the devil you know – especially if the devil is rich. (Laughter.)
As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you topple a devil here or there, you can get into some serious difficulties. And now, in a matter of days, tens of millions of people have decided to leave their world of illusion, to stop being cheated.
These protesters don’t look to Gary Cooper for inspiration. They know what they don’t want; they have yet to discover what they do want. And we can’t be sure that they will want what we want.
These amazing changes in the Middle East have implications for Poland’s security. It’s the same distance from Krakow to Cairo as it is from Minneapolis to Miami. I’m urgently working with my EU colleagues to work out how best to help. We are looking, for example, at the idea of establishing a “European endowment for democracy” to help democratic forces in countries and regions neighboring to the European Union, both south and east, such as in Belarus.
I support my German colleague Guido Westerwelle’s idea that we should have a “transformation partnership” and a partnership for transformation, that we should continue to have an activist neighborhood policy in both directions.
Let’s also be smart. Let’s tie EU support to democratic performance in partner countries. From July to December this year, Poland will hold European Union’s presidency for the first time. These dramatic events that are unfolding on our television screens will be a huge theme and challenge for our presidency.
But we also have unfinished democracy business in Europe itself. On Poland’s own border, Europe has its very own Colonel Gadhafi. He’s called President Lukashenko of Belarus. Last year, I joined Secretary of State Clinton at the assembly of the Community of Democracies. We gave a warm welcome to the delegation from Belarus. Since then, Belarus has had another phony election. Guess who won. President Lukashenko gave himself another term in office, and I have not yet met a person who believes the announced result of 80 percent.
Warsaw recently hosted a conference to mobilize support for the pro-democracy cause in Belarus. Strangely enough, President Lukashenko was not grateful, and he called me on Belarus TV – of swine flu having affected my head. (Laughter.) Well, that was a compliment. Mr. Lukashenko, turn on your TV now and watch what happens in Libya, and I hope that you come to the conclusion that the dialogue with the opposition is good for everyone, including you, in the long run.
Events in the Middle East show that we are fast entering a new phase in the spread of democracy, or at least a new pluralism. People living under dictatorships are finding out who they are. They are realizing that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself, as FDR famously said. Helping to build pluralist societies is back on the agenda. Democratization is not shorthand for bombing Iraq.
We need to help countries where political parties, rule of law, ideas of separation of powers scarcely exist today. But I believe that Poland has learned the hard way how to move from oppression to freedom. Free elections are the easy bit, as we know. Then comes the long slog, building democratic institutions and democratic practices – above all, self-discipline – to make democracy work.
And there are no shortcuts. Poland and its people are now six times richer than we were in 1989. That’s a major improvement, but a long way to go before we catch up with countries not held back by communism.
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya are all starting out on that long journey. One day Belarus, Cuba and North Korea will start too. We can’t tell them what they want or try to impose an outcome. These days, that just wouldn’t work. What we can and must do is offer a principled, generous helping hand.
Poland is ready to lead Europe as an active partner for the United States in exporting the technology of democracy wherever it is needed and welcomed. Poland today is a country of success, embracing freedom and ready to share it. Poland knows about sequencing key reforms. We know about dismantling oppressive army-intelligence structures. We understand the moral dilemmas in opening up secret police archives. We also now know about honest money. For example, our national position on government debt is one of the strongest in the Western world.
Above all, like Senator McCain, we understand the pain of reconciliation between people who were oppressed and those who did the oppressing, because reconciliation brings confidence. Reconciliation allows a society to stop looking back at hatred and mistrust and look to the future instead.
Bronislaw Geremek made his own journey. He knew all about reconciliation. He would be thrilled at what is happening in the Middle East today and that Poland is leading the European Union in supporting the people of Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia.
He would not be naïve. He knew that not every popular upheaval has a happy outcome. But Bronislaw Geremek knew that it is worth taking risks to support freedom and democracy, and that when the United States works with Poland and its other friends in Europe to do just that, great things are achieved. This is his legacy to us all and the spirit of solidarity. Thank you. (Applause.)
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Radek, for your gracious and kind words and excellent presentation. And following you reminds me of an old joke I’ve used quite often, and that is, I feel a lot like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s fifth husband, who on her wedding night said, I know what I’m supposed to do, I just don’t know how to make it interesting. (Laughter.)
I believe I first met Radek when he was a young journalist. I certainly knew him when he worked here, in town, and now he is foreign minister. One of these days, we’re going to find an honorable profession for you, Radek. (Laughter.)
Let me also thank Ambassador Kupiecki and the Polish government for the immense honor they are bestowing on me this evening, the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. I have rarely felt at once so honored and yet so unworthy of that honor as I do now.
To my old friend Chuck Hagel, as I grow older, I find it more and more interesting the unique bond of friendship that exists between us who serve – those of us who served in a war that characterized one of the most divisive periods in American history. It’s a unique and unusual bond and one that I will always treasure, and I do more every single day. So thank you, Chuck, for your kind words and your continued service.
One of the deepest pleasures of my professional life has been watching the progress of the Polish people from noble resistance to national liberation to democratic triumph. In just one generation, Poland has transformed itself from a vassal state of an evil empire to a democratic driver of continental unity and from an object of the struggle for a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” to an author of that dream’s expansion on the behalf of others.
For a people and a government that have achieved such things to pay tribute to me for supporting their success is a humbling experience indeed. I am moved and grateful beyond words.
I am deeply honored tonight to take part in the Bronislaw Geremek Lecture on the occasion of the Atlantic Council’s 50th Anniversary. What I have always valued about the Atlantic Council is that at its heart is the same core idea that animates our broader trans-Atlantic community – the idea that Euro-Atlantic democracies, the stewards of Enlightenment principles, need not and should not tackle our challenges in isolation, be it Soviet aggression and the spread of communism in 1961 or violent extremism and energy security in 2011. It is the idea that our individual struggles are really a shared endeavor with greater meaning.
There is a word for this: solidarity. It is a word that will forever echo across history, thanks to Polish people of courage and conviction like Bronislaw Geremek, a survivor of the War and the Holocaust who endured communist Poland and its totalitarian prisons, who ultimately led his country to democracy with his fellow Solidarity activists and who then guided Poland as its foreign minister toward a Euro-Atlantic future within NATO and the European Union.
If there is anything that I or many others could be honored for in tribute to a man like Geremek, it is merely seeing in his struggle and in that of other freedom-loving Poles something inherent and individual in the human spirit and supporting that courage without apology or compromise.
Three decades ago, far more sophisticated analysts of international politics than I looked at Poland – or the Baltic States, or East Germany, or Russia itself, for that matter – as they concentrated on all of the many particular reasons why their struggle was different than ours and why a solidarity of words and spirit was the most we could muster. So too today, there is a temptation – we all feel it from time to time – to look at the desire for democracy in places like Moldova or Ukraine or Belarus and further afield in places like Tunisia or Egypt or Libya – and to see only what sets us apart from these peoples, what divides us from their aspirations.
But if I leave you with only one thought tonight, my friends, let it be this: It is our obligation as trans-Atlantic democracies to look beyond these divisions; to look beyond differences of history, culture, class, and creed; to disregard all of the arguments that council passivity in the service of human dignity; and to reaffirm instead that core idea which still unites us and summons all of us to nobler endeavors: solidarity – solidarity with the universal longings of the human soul for basic rights and equality, for liberty under the law, for tolerance and opportunity.
So when we see Belarusian democrats crushed by the Lukashenko regime, the last dictatorship in Europe, we should recognize that these are the same forces of evil unleashed against the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Uprising. And we should join hands, Europe and America together, to impose crippling pressure on the regime officials, family members, fellow travelers and state-owned enterprises that are complicit in Lukashenko’s tyranny until the people of Belarus are free.
When we see democratic Georgia dismembered by the aggression of a larger power, we must recognize that this injustice can never be tolerated or forgotten, for it represents everything sinister in Europe’s past, everything that we have all worked so tirelessly to advance beyond, but everything that we will never escape until Georgia is made whole again.
And when we see little Moldova, governed at last by democratic reformers but still struggling against internal and external forces that want to drag the country back into darkness, we must recognize that their struggle is no different than that of Western Europe after the war, when the success of democracy hung in the balance. And we must now do everything in our power to tip that balance toward liberty, beginning with Congress repealing Jackson-Vanik for Moldova.
In short, our calling today is to complete Europe, to once and for all realize the dream of a Europe that is truly whole, fully free, and everywhere at peace. But we must do more than that. Our solidarity cannot stop at the boundaries of Europe, for our values know no boundaries. They live in people today who are expanding the frontiers of freedom, and our solidarity must extend to them too.
So when we see the workers of the Tunisian General Labor Union lead their fellow citizens in driving a dictator from their country, we must recognize in this struggle for democracy the workers at Gdansk and Lech Walesa climbing that fence, and we must stand in solidarity with the people of Tunisia.
When we see the sons and daughters of Iran refusing to relinquish their dream of a Green Revolution in the face of unspeakable oppression, it instinctually calls to mind memories of the Iron Curtain and the Gulag Archipelago, and our response must be the same: to make Iran’s struggle for democracy our struggle.
When we see the youth of Egypt pour their aspirations for peaceful change into Tahrir Square, we must recognize that their cries for freedom and justice are like the exuberant blows of those hammers that broke down the Berlin Wall, and we must again marshal the generosity and open the markets of the trans-Atlantic community to support Egyptians in consolidating their democratic revolution.
And when we see brave Libyans, armed at times only with the desire for freedom and the courage to fight for it, confronting the ruthless mercenaries and aerial attacks of the Gadhafi regime, we must recognize in their national resistance the same yearnings that freed Bosnia and Kosovo from the iron fist of Milosevic. And we must provide whatever assistance necessary, as soon as possible, to prevent another Srebrenica and ensure the liberation of Libya after decades of madness.
Whether in Europe or beyond, the purpose of this new solidarity, our solidarity, must be more than just bearing witness. It must be more than just a solidarity of speech. It must be a solidarity of deeds, a solidarity that acts.
I have spent the past 12 days, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, traveling across the Middle East and North Africa, to Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt. It was like visiting Eastern Europe amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The old bargains that have defined regional order in the broader Middle East for more than half a century are now collapsing before our eyes. These old bargains largely rested on autocratic governments with which the United States and others maintained partnerships of necessity. But the new bargains of the new regional order that is now emerging will instead be rooted in the democratic dreams of men and women across the region, and it should be.
Such uncertainty and change is, of course, deeply unsettling. As one man told us in Jordan, and I quote, “for decades, the United States has paid wholesale for its policy in the Middle East; now you will have to pay retail.” And yet, these events are also a historic opportunity to support peoples across the Middle East in shaping a new regional order that is all at once reflective of their aspirations, consistent with our universal values, and more conductive to the long-term interests of the free world.
This possibility of a Middle East where power and freedom align would be the most profound blow imaginable to the last awful remnants of totalitarianism in our world, the violent ideology of al-Qaida and its terrorist allies.
Young people across the Middle East are now engaging in the first meaningful acts of citizenship in their lives. Like the workers of Gdansk or the youth of East Berlin, they are changing the character of their countries, and the revolutions they are making are defined not by violent extremism, but by peaceful protests; not by a totalitarian ideology, but by the individual longing for human dignity. In all of the revolutions we have witnessed, no American flags or Israeli flags have been burned. Not one.
This is the same spirit that captivated Bronislaw Geremek. It is the same spirit that launched Solidarity. It is the same spirit that liberated Poland and deepened the unity of Europe and expanded the Atlantic alliance. And it is this peace-loving, justice-seeking, life-affirming spirit that will one day overcome all challenges to it. As Lech Walesa once said, “We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless.”
I am honored to have played a small part in this earlier chapter in the history of justice in our world. May there be many more to come. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. KEMPE: Senator McCain, Minister Sikorski, those were brilliant and courageous statements and speeches, very much in the spirit of this lecture, and I would say Bronek would be so pleased, but as well as I got to know him, I never dared call him anything but Professor Geremek. (Laughter.) And so Professor Geremek would be so pleased.
Let me open. We’ve got roughly 20 minutes to a half an hour for questions. Let me open with one that drills down a little bit deeper on the Middle East and then after that with one that drills down on Belarus, and then we’ll open to the audience.
On the Middle East, Senator McCain, ensure that there’s not another Srebrenica – that’s pretty strong language. On the other hand, Minister Sikorski says they’re not “looking to Gary Cooper for inspiration.” “We can’t be sure they will want what we want.” What do you do if you want to turn solidarity to action? Is it a no-fly zone in Libya? Is it even more than that? What, specifically, would you prescribe that we do right now in terms of Libya to avoid another Srebrenica? But more broadly across the Middle East, you don’t see to have the unifying factor of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact that there was in the Cold War days.
SEN. MCCAIN: Let me try to be as brief as possible. First of all, I think there are two phases that the United States and our European allies who will play a key role in what happens in the next few months and years. One is to help them with the transition to the democratic process – the way you organize parties, the way you do voter identification, all of the things that are kind of the mechanics of organizing parliamentary-slash-presidential elections.
And by the way, we have to be very careful, because they want our assistance; they don’t want our interference. And that is one of the messages that I brought back from Egypt and a couple of the other countries – Tunisia and others.
But the second thing, and probably more important in the long run, was what Radek referred to. There has got to be economic development in these countries and it’s got to be done by assistance, as Radek talked about, but it’s also got to be done by investment. We need job creation.
Remember how this thing started – a young man who was a college graduate who was trying to sell vegetables and was denied a license even from doing so and burned himself to death. And that, of course, is because there’s a whole generation across these countries, but particularly countries like Egypt and Tunisia and Morocco and Jordan, that are educated but have no future, no economic future. And so I think our job, our mission, once we get through the period towards democracy, is to provide investment and economic commitments.
On Libya itself, of course we have to have a no-fly zone. Of course we want to prevent the kind of aerial bombing and attacks that are being orchestrated and might be ratcheted up.
MR. KEMPE: So you, too, think one should move forward with the no-fly zone.
SEN. MCCAIN: Absolutely, and any – one thing, my friends, I do know a little bit about, and that is what motivates people in warfare. Once we announced a no-fly zone, most of those Libya pilots wouldn’t fly. And they don’t know where – what kind of assets we have in the region or whether we can do it for 24 hours a day or not or all that.
If we are spending over a half – we are spending $500 billion, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan, on our nation’s defense. Don’t tell me we can’t do a no-fly zone over Tripoli. I mean, I love the military. I love it from my life. But they always seem to find reasons why you can’t do something rather than you can. So a no-fly zone is very important. I think we ought to look at the humanitarian assistance.
We ought to look, frankly, at supporting a provisional government in Libya. Benghazi – I think one could be easily set up. And this guy’s days are numbered. The question is, can we shorten those number of days to save lives, to save people’s lives? Because it’s clear he’s going to kill whoever he thinks he can in order to stay in power. I’m sorry for the long answer, but this is really an important thing that we join together. By the way, I note that the prime minister of England and the president of France have been pretty strong in their comments about what we ought to do, as well.
MR. KEMPE: Minister Sikorski, I wonder if you can pick up on those comments, agree, disagree, and perhaps deepen a little bit your comments about, they’re not looking for “Gary Cooper for inspiration,” but they’re also not burning flags. So where are they looking for inspiration?
MR. SIKORSKI: I think we have developed, in the last couple of decades, the principle of responsibility to protect. So it’s not just we that can protect. When the leaders don’t protect their own people, they are not at liberty to oppress them anymore. And so I think it’s – it was correct of the Security Council to have taken a unanimous decision to refer the case of Libya to the International Criminal Court.
Effectively, we have not only called for Colonel Gadhafi to resign, we have announced him to be an outlaw. And that, of course, may have practical consequences, and I don’t want to specify those.
As regards what we can do for the Middle East, I think this is just the beginning. I mentioned the idea of the “European endowment for democracy.” And I consciously borrowed the name from here, from Washington, because we don’t want to be in the same position next time – and there will be many next times – that we have to choose between a dictator and the radicals, because dictators are very good at eliminating plausible alternatives to themselves. So we have to step in to sustain them.
And then I believe that the European Union has a unique civilizational attractiveness. We are not very good at marshaling military resources, but we are very good at giving a good example of how you organize your economy and how you live well. The European Union is an $18 trillion economy, the largest economy on earth. And people want to trade with us, people want to be able to travel to Europe, people want to have closer association with Europe. And Europe is most influential on its own periphery, in its neighborhood.
Our problem is that we’ve developed as a series of treaties and agreements, and that’s the way we deal with our neighborhood. I’ve been arguing with my colleagues in the EU that we should go further, because before they want investment, they want to trade. They want access to our markets.
But the way we operate these days is that would require years of negotiations. We should be unashamedly political and grant privileges. If you follow the road of democratization, here is access in several sectors. We should also do this on scholarships, on visas, on the things that people find attractive in Europe. And that way, we can give them a good example.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you for that answer.
SEN. MCCAIN: By the way, the United States should also do trade-preference agreements rather than go through the long process of more formalized – we should immediately give trade preference to these countries as well, as they move forward.
MR. KEMPE: These are good, practical suggestions that can be done quickly. On the question of outlaw, my assumption, between the lines of what you’re saying, is, an outlaw is someone that you capture and try. Is that what you’re talking about?
MR. SIKORSKI: I couldn’t put it better myself. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: You made the comparison with Gadhafi and Lukashenko. Is Lukashenko also an outlaw? We were talking about practical steps in the Middle East. What is the most important practical step one can take toward Lukashenko, and what role, if any, does our reset policy toward Russia, and your also much-improved relations with Russia, play within all of this?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, I traveled with my German colleague, Guido Westerwelle, to Minsk in November, and we urged President Lukashenko to have a free – to allow a free election. He promised it. The election campaign was actually freer than before, it’s just that the counting of the votes was – (laughter) – dishonest.
So we gave him a chance to be, for wont of a better comparison, a General Jaruzelski – in other words, someone who is a dictator, someone who has blood on his hands but who, when he recognizes that things are inevitable, transitions his country towards democracy. Instead, he stole the election, announced 80 percent, and started doing unbelievable things to the opposition.
Just in the last few days, Mr. Ales Mikhalevich was – gave a press conference at which he said, yes, I was released from jail a few days ago because they tortured me so much, I couldn’t stand it, I signed an undertaking to spy for them, to inform on you, my friends, to the secret police. Well, I am not going to do that, and here I am honestly declaring what happened.
Well, a dictatorship that does that in Europe is putting itself beyond the pale. So I am proud that as Europe and America, together, in synch, we announce the toughest sanctions on Belarus yet. And if he continues with what is alleged – namely, arms supplies to Ivory Coast and to Libya – we should increase the pressure.
MR. KEMPE: And the Russia element of this, and in general, how does Russia fit into this picture of Belarus? Lukashenko was no great friend of Putin, yet on the other hand, he also doesn’t seem to be lining up with the rest of Europe in the direction that your point –
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, last year it looked like Russia was moving towards accepting a democratic outcome in Belarus – President Medvedev criticized Lukashenko on this personal blog. I had conversations with Sergey Lavrov in which he assured me that Russia would accept a democratic outcome of the election, and then something happened in the last two weeks that they changed their mind.
SEN. MCCAIN: By the way, I noticed that Minister Lavrov announced today that the Russians would no longer – would not support any further action against Libya besides sanctions.
MR. KEMPE: So what’s your own view? Has the Obama administration been strong enough toward Belarus? What is your view of the approach toward Russia and how well reset is going, and does it have any connection at all?
SEN. MCCAIN: First of all, I think the administration’s approach to Mr. Lukashenko has been appropriate and I think has worked closely with the Polish government and the Lithuanian government.
On the issue of how they have approached the Middle East, I think they’ve been behind. I think to say that Mubarak was not a dictator and there was a stable government in Egypt and some of the things that they have been behind – and frankly, that has been reflected a bit in the attitudes of the young people that I met with in Egypt and Tunisia and other countries, that they want to sort of keep us at arms’ length, so –
MR. KEMPE: They’re disappointed in our response thus far.
SEN. MCCAIN: I think so. But at the same time, I want to emphasize, their number-one hero in Tunisia is a guy named Mark Zuckerberg. (Laughter.) He is – one of the young activists said, if he would come to Tunisia, he would be a national hero. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: He’s Gary Cooper.
SEN. MCCAIN: Yes, he’s Gary Cooper at this time. A young activist in Cairo told me that they could immediately, through Facebook, mobilize 700,000 people. I mean, this is really a remarkable transformation.
But they do want our investment. They understand that the long-term ills of Egypt and Tunisia and other countries in the region will not be solved unless there’s job creation. There’s help and assistance, but job creation they understand is the key. And so although they want us to not interfere with the process they’re going through, they also are deeply interested in seeing job creation, of which they know can – the United States investment and European investment can only be the source of.
MR. KEMPE: I could go on, but I won’t. So I’ll turn to the audience. Let me – if you could, identify yourself and to whom you’d like to ask your question, please.
Q: Gentlemen, we thank you for your service to humanity. I’m Mike Costi (ph). I have a question on a country bordering Poland which is critical to Poland, and Poland has done tremendous things in the course of the passing years to help Ukraine move forward, become what it was and what it still is, but to some extent, moving in a backsliding direction in the course of the last couple of years under the new administration.
I would like to understand the Polish position and how the Senator feels about where Ukraine is going at this juncture. And Senator, did you have an opportunity to stop in Ukraine on this last trip, or was there no opening to do that? Thank you all very much.
MR. KEMPE: Radek?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, President Yanukovych was democratically elected. I went to his inauguration a year ago. And he is carrying out some useful reforms. He is also – he has de-escalated his relations with Russia, with the deal on Crimea. And he is negotiating an association agreement with the EU.
At the same time, there are officials from the previous administrations of Ukraine that are not just claiming, but receiving political asylum in EU member states, which doesn’t look too good. Our policy is that we will help Ukraine every time she asks for it and every time she does something for herself.
And we hope that they will stay on course for greater and greater association with the EU. And of course, we will judge the standards that are fulfilled, or otherwise, on press freedom, on independence of judiciary, on independence of the media. As you say, Ukraine is very important for Poland, so we will give them friendly advice.
MR. KEMPE: And on the Ukraine, obviously, Ukraine wasn’t necessarily on your flight-path. And so rather than dealing with that, you may want to give your assessment of the situation in Ukraine. But also, you called for the lifting of Jackson-Vanik for Moldova. How about Russia?
SEN. MCCAIN: I believe that Jackson-Vanik obviously doesn’t apply in the 21st century in many respects, but I also believe that there are certain standards that the Russians have not adhered to that would make them eligible, in my view, to the WTO.
I believe that there is very little doubt that there has been a centralization of power, repression of the media, and that the reset has not succeeded. And this myth that we clung to for too long that Medvedev had any real power in Russia has finally been largely dispelled, at least in the minds of most of us.
I think the Khodorkovsky issue highlighted the, really, breakdown of the rule of law in Russia. And Vladimir Putin said, I believe he should sit in jail. And we now hear from the assistant prosecutor that all of his trial was orchestrated from Moscow – indicates that there is certainly a severe lack of the protections of rule of law for Russian citizens.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. I see one question here, please, and then the row behind.
Q: (Inaudible) – from the German daily, Der Tagesspiegel. Nice to see you, Radek, here again, and Senator McCain. I want to ask a question. Of course, it’s different context what we see at the moment in North Africa, what we saw end of the ’80s in Central/Eastern Europe and what we see today in this country, but nevertheless, I can’t help to think a little about it.
We are celebrating, here, the big success of Solidarity, a trade union. In this country, we have a discussion, how to limit bargaining rights of a trade union. We are talking about – that these countries need the help, foreign aid, that they need broadcasting. In this country, you have a discussion how to limit the expenses for public broadcasting, for foreign aid. And we have talked about that in Halifax, so I know more or less where you stand.
It’s not an aggressive or unfriendly question to you, Senator McCain, but I would be interested in your comments and Radek, I know you’re in a difficult position, you shouldn’t comment as a foreign minister, but maybe you have also your thoughts, how it all fits together that we can be examples in Europe and the United States, how to deal with this difficult question. And I know it’s a different context, but nevertheless, it’s symbolic.
MR. KEMPE: Consider that one, I think, for you, Senator McCain.
SEN. MCCAIN: I don’t think there’s any doubt that the message from the November 2nd election was that the American people want us to cut excessive spending and even reduce the size of government, which by the way, has doubled – the size of government has doubled since 1999. And we have to absolutely respond to the message of the voters because most Americans realize that we cannot continue on the path that we’re on.
And by the way, entitlement – addressing entitlements is going to have to be done sooner or later and some of us are going to have to step forward and propose specific reforms to entitlements because as you know, we’re only looking at 12 percent of the spending now and trying to make those cuts.
We have to make a case to the American people, who largely voted in the November 2nd election on one issue and that was the economy. We have to convince the American people and I believe we can – that it is in America’s national security interest, not Tunisia’s, not Libya, not Egypt’s, but in America’s national security interest to help these countries through this very tenuous time.
And I believe – I have no embarrassment of going back to Arizona this weekend and saying, we’re going to have to find ways to help them. Otherwise, you will see a violent form of extremism take over in some of these countries, which would be a direct threat to America’s national security.
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, actually, there is a tradition that if you remember – Lady Thatcher in Britain – she supported Solidarity but at the same time, resisted trade unions at home that were too – that were you know, resisting change in the coal industry, for example. There’s – there is nothing sacred and you know, all institutions can become – can become obstacles to modernity. Trade unions are not exempt.
I think Tunisia, for example, they had – they can play a very positive role. They’re an element of civil society. But in our transformations, we had examples of trade unions working to save their businesses and also trade unions making decisions which led to the collapse of some businesses. You have trade unions – I wouldn’t dare comment on the situation here, but trade unions can be reasonable or unreasonable just like anybody else.
SEN. MCCAIN: Let me – and let me just remind you – trade unions didn’t do this all by themselves. It was negotiations with elected officials. Maybe – and this may sound strange – but maybe we ought to put some of the responsibility on the elected officials that negotiated these contracts which obviously are breaking the economies of states, towns, cities and to some degree, the federal government.
MR. KEMPE: We’re running out of time. I see lots of questions, but just let me take the one right here with her hand –
SEN. MCCAIN: Can we take two?
MR. KEMPE: Please. Should we take two? Yeah, okay. Good.
Q: Hi. Kinar Esser (ph) from Turkish daily, Milliyet. Senator McCain, you’ve encouraged the trans-Atlantic community to take specific steps in regards to Middle East. What would Turkey’s specific role be in this process?
MR. KEMPE: Okay, let’s take –
SEN. MCCAIN: I think Turkey, obviously, can play a key and vital role. They are playing a role in the region and emerging as a great power in the region. But I have to add – I am very – a little concerned about some of the recent actions of the Turkish government, particularly where freedom of press is concerned.
MR. KEMPE: Okay. At the behest of Senator McCain, we’re going to have one more question here please. Thank you.
Q: My name is –
MR. KEMPE: In fact, why don’t we take you two right there and we’ll have very quick answers to both.
Q: My name is Walter Jirosic (ph). My question to you is United Nations report recently say that human rights by Libya was quite good and now, it’s changing rapidly. It says it’s not good. So let me ask you: What United Nations – is pro-democracy or they just play the games with whatever is – the wind is flow?
MR. KEMPE: It was a good question. One last question. Right here, yes, thank you.
SEN. MCCAIN: I was never impressed with a Human Rights Commission composed of Cuba, Libya and Iran to start with, but the United Nations reminds me of the old joke about the two guys in a small town that on Saturday night and the guy says, what are you doing tonight? He says, I’m going to the poker game. And the guy said, why do you want to do that? You know that game is crooked. And he said, it’s the only game in town. (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: And Minister Sikorski?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, Libya sitting on the Human Rights Commission – you know, how can you improve on that? (Laughter.) You know, Saudi Arabia on religious freedom, North Korea on nuclear disarmament, you know? (Laughter.)
MR. KEMPE: Please?
Q: With the recent developments in the Middle East, eventually, the more successful they are, the more it’s going to spread. So what stance would the U.S. take when it goes into more strategic territories as far as like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?
MR. KEMPE: Very good question. Let’s have that as the final question for the two of you.
SEN. MCCAIN: I think – I think something I’d been trying to say through this – I think we also have to really understand that these countries are vastly different. I mean to lump the Middle East into one category. I mean Tunisia is as different from Yemen as the United States is from another very underdeveloped country.
So we have to address them, in a way, country by country. But remember that Egypt is the heart and soul of the Arab nations. It is the cultural, historical – every other – we succeed or fail in Egypt, it will have great impact on whatever happens in the rest.
I think there’s new realities and the new realities, for example, are that we will never have a closer ally than Mubarak as far as the Israeli-Palestinian issue is concerned. We have to accept that as reality. But I think we also ought to have – be encouraged by the fact that Mubarak did all these things in coordination with us, but at the same time, encouraged anti-Israeli sentiment amongst his people.
Isn’t it easier, in the long run, for Israel to deal with a democracy than a dictatorship? I think so. But the – the whole question, I think, lies on whether or not we’re able to keep extremists on both right and left out of the new government. Right now, the Muslim Brotherhood would probably get 30 percent of the vote if there was a free and open election in Egypt.
If there’s only two or three parties, that’s not so bad. If there’s 20 parties, then the Muslim Brotherhood plays a very key and important role. And the Muslim Brotherhood, very frankly, has many faces and a very interesting history. So I’m not exactly totally confident that they’re everything they advertise themselves to be right now.
But the best thing we can do, in my view, is help these people on the path to democracy, but don’t interfere – there’s not a lot of good will amongst some of these young people because of our support for Mubarak and for their perceptions of the fact that we didn’t stand up for them for a long period of time. So we’ve got to handle this with great care and let them lead, but at the same time, do everything that we can to assist.
I think it’s unclear, but I – you know, we can cover a lot of territory, but one area I’m very worried about is Bahrain right now. This could easily turn into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and there’s no doubt the Iranians want to make trouble wherever they possibly can. So I just am inspired by these young people.
I’ve never been more inspired since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the freedom of the Eastern European countries. These young people – they are committed. They will do what’s necessary. They know how to communicate. They really are going to change the world and frankly – and I’m sorry for the long answer – but I don’t think that this revolution is confined to just the Middle East.
I think in China, they’re cracking down. I think Radek’s close friend, Prime Minister Putin, is a little less comfortable in his position today. And I think dictators all over the world can easily be affected by what’s happening in the Middle East because I don’t think it’s confined to the Middle East.
MR. KEMPE: Minister Sikorski, you have the final word before the presentation of the award. You can either comment on this or – we are the Atlantic Council – is there a common U.S. – excuse me – North American-European approach to this?
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, I completely agree that we shouldn’t overestimate our influence. I think we are seeing, in Afghanistan, how difficult it is to remake a country. We’ve been at it for a decade and we still haven’t succeeded and we are overstretched. We are still – our economies are still in – and not only are we in economic crisis, but our relative power to the rest of the world is declining and it will continue to decline because of demography and other factors.
So it cannot be that while we decline, yet we are expected to take care of all the ills of the world. It just cannot be done. So we have to match our intentions and our actions to our resources and also to keep these movements to where they are, which is about themselves and not about us. It’s a good thing that they – that they are attempting to put their own house in order. The best thing we can do is give good example. Secondly, to give trade.
And then hopefully – I think there will be some backsliding, some successes and some failures. It would be good to have – if you like – a kind of Poland of the 1990s. In other words, one country that really succeeds in its transformation and that can be an example for others to follow. And I suspect at the moment, Tunisia looks most hopeful. But Egypt would be crucial, I agree.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you very much for that. Before we move on to the next part of the – very short part of the program – I just want you all to join me in giving a round of applause to courageous, brilliant, nuanced, intelligent presentations. (Applause.)
Let me just say one other thing before Minister Sikorski goes to the podium to present the award to Senator McCain. I do want to thank the steward of this relationship on our staff, Ania Voloshin, who is Polish, of course. That’s what really runs the Atlantic Council, as you know by now. (Laughter.) And Michal Safianik, her predecessor Pole at the Atlantic Council, who’s now at the Community of Democracy – it’s in Warsaw – who worked with me to establish this lecture series in the first place.
But most of all, I really want to thank Ambassador Kupiecki and his staff and the Polish Embassy. This has just been one of many wonderful acts of cooperation that we’re engaged in. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
MR. SIKORSKI: Well, I think enough has been said and I think everybody in this room knows why Senator McCain deserves the Order of Merit from the Republic of Poland. I wanted to thank you for having been a champion of freedom in our darkest hours, for having been a champion of the enlargement of NATO, of having been a champion of places like Belarus, even when there were no cameras in the room. And so I just wanted you to know that I’m – the one thing I regret is that I was not constitutionally eligible to vote for you in the year 2000.
The decision of the president of the Republic of Poland of January 21st, 2011 on the awarding of national decorations, pursuant to Article 138 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and the Act on National Orders and Decorations, in recognition of outstanding contributions to the development of Poland-United States cooperation, the president of the Republic of Poland, Mr. Bronislaw Komorowski, has conferred the Commander Cross with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland upon Senator John McCain. (Applause.)
Senator McCain, would you like to say a few words? (Laughter.)
SEN. MCCAIN: I’m deeply honored and very humbled and I will always be inspired by the example that the Polish people have displayed for courage and their dedication to freedom, which is still an example to the entire world. Thank you.
MR. : Ladies and gentlemen – ladies and gentlemen, now the second award.
MR. SIKORSKI: The Cabinet of the Republic of Poland established the Bene Merito Award to mark the day we regard as the birth of modern Polish diplomacy, namely the 16th of November. On that day, in 1918, Brigadier Jozef Pilsudski sent the first telegram announcing to the Allied Powers, the rebirth of independent Poland. And we now grant the Bene Merito Award to people whose activities enhance Poland’s position in the international arena.
Fred, your contributions over many years, particularly when you covered the rise of Solidarity in Poland, when you painted a picture for the rest of the world of those remarkable days in Gdansk, which transformed Poland and eventually all of Europe. Now that you’re president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, your leadership promotes constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs.
Others who have received this award include Dan Fried, who’s with us, and many other distinguished people. We are grateful to you for having established the Bronislaw Geremek Lecture and for having moved an important conference to Wroclaw, in Poland. We hope you continue in your endeavor and I’m delighted to bestow on you the Bene Merito Award.
MR. KEMPE: Let me just say a couple of words. I took something out of my opening comments because it seemed so over the top when it was in my opening comments. It also seemed a little self-promotional because I was going to refer to my book that comes out in May – (laughter) – “Berlin 1961.” You can already buy it online ahead if you’d like to. (Laughter.)
But in those days, John F. Kennedy, in speaking about freedom, said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Why not, today, people saying, “Dzisiaj jestem Polakiem”? (Applause.)
At the age of 25, 26, I was sent as a young correspondent to cover some labor unrest in Poland. It changed the world, but it also changed my life. Objectivity flies out the window as a journalist, as you know, Radek, when you’re in a situation that fraught and that littered with heroes and where the issues are relatively clear.
Americans take their freedom for granted and I think I really only learned what freedom and democracy was about in Poland in 1980 and 1981, when I saw friends go to jail. I saw friends’ families being persecuted and I saw the safety of people endangered and the death of a Catholic father who I had grown close to.
But the other thing that was there and present at that time and this is why this award means so much to me, why Bronislaw Geremek means so much to me, is that the real enemy – I’m not sure that it was Soviet communism and I’m not sure now, what it is. But I know one of the enemies at that time that was present a lot was complacency and cynicism.
And whatever we do today, I think I’d take this medal – this recognition – as a reinforcement, a reminder to me not to get complacent, not to be cynical as we go through these historic days because the cynical and complacent do not change the world in any positive measure and the Poles of those days were not cynical. They were not complacent.
So I really, really thank you. I’m very humbled by this honor and today, at least, “dzisiaj jestem Polakiem.” (Applause.)