As Poland prepares for next year’s 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising, I wanted to share Stefan Korboński‘s 1984 letter to The New York Times, in which the last chief of the Polish wartime underground State repeated President Ronald Reagan’s earlier statement that the United States rejects any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence.
This statement was a novel challenge to the Soviet Union. Even though Ronald Reagan and everybody else knew that the Yalta agreement helped Stalin to dominate Central and Eastern Europe, Reagan pointed out that in fact Stalin had agreed in Yalta to free and democratic elections in Poland, which the communists and their Soviet patrons never allowed.
In his remarks, President Reagan also mentioned that this was Ken Tomlinson‘s last day as Director of the Voice of America and thanked him for his service. VOA reported to Poland and other countries on the White House ceremony.
Stefan and Zofia Korboński were my friends for many years while I lived in Washington and worked at the Voice of America, where I eventually became the director of the Polish Service during the Solidarity and martial law period in Poland.
President Ronald Reagan’s Remarks at a White House Luncheon Marking the 40th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising
August 17, 1984
The President. Your Eminence and members of the Polish Home Army, and members of the Polish American Congress, distinguished guests, dzien dobry [good day].“First, let me state emphatically that we reject any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence. On the contrary, we see that agreement as a pledge by the three great powers to restore full independence and to allow free and democratic elections in all countries liberated from the Nazis after World War II, and there is no reason to absolve the Soviet Union or ourselves from this commitment. We shall continue to press for full compliance with it and with the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements guaranteeing fundamental human rights.” – President Ronald Reagan, 1984
I’ll say welcome to the White House, but before I go further with my remarks, there is something — a little news note here that I think you might be interested in. This happens to be Ken Tomlinson’s last day as Director of the Voice of America. He’s done a terrific job and is with us today. And, Ken, thank you very much for a job well done.
Well, now I’d like to offer our apologies for having to postpone our program last month. I know that many of you’d made travel arrangements and that the changes in my schedule caused you some difficulties. I am, however, delighted that we’re all here today and together for this important commemoration.
It’s always an honor for me to be with individuals like yourselves who understand the value of freedom. I’m reminded of a story about a conversation between one of our citizens and a Soviet citizen. The American described the freedom of speech that we have here in the United States, and the citizen of the Soviet Union said, “Well, we’re free to speak in the Soviet Union just like you are in the United States.” He said, “The only difference is you’re free after you speak.” [Laughter]
But today we pay tribute to a nation which for two centuries has struggled for freedom and independence. From the uprisings in 1794, the November uprising in 1830, and then again in 1863, the people of Poland demonstrated courage and a commitment to human liberty that inspired free men and women everywhere.
And this 200-year record of perseverance and bravery coincided with the development of our own precious liberty here in the United States, and that is no mere coincidence. Our two peoples drank from the same well of freedom, held dear the same Judeo-Christian values, respected the simple virtues of honesty and hard work. And even today, it’s often noted that unlike many others, our two peoples take their religious convictions seriously. These heartfelt convictions have kept the spirit of freedom burning in our hearts, especially during times of great adversity.
Pope John Paul II has said, “Freedom is given to man by God as a measure of his dignity. . . .” And “as children of God,” he said, “we cannot be slaves.” Well, I know that you feel as I do; we’re truly blessed in this time of great need, to have a spiritual leader like Pope John Paul II.
The continuing suppression of the Polish national identity brought wave after wave of Polish immigrants to the United States. And for that, we can be grateful. We all know the list of contributions and the names of those who rose to great prominence. But just as important are the millions who came here and, with their hard work and with their moral strength, helped shape the American character.
During this century, Americans and Poles have stood side by side in those two conflagrations that swept the world. The First World War, unfortunately, did not end all wars, but it did result in the reestablishment of the Polish state.
This month, we commemorate a desperate battle of the Second World War, an heroic attempt by free Poles to liberate their country from the heel of Nazi occupation, and to protect it from postwar, foreign domination. For years they covertly resisted the occupation forces. And then in 1944, for 63 brutal and agonizing days, ill-equipped and overwhelmingly outnumbered, they — and I could say, many of you — held off the Nazi war machine. And it’s fitting that we and all free people take special care to remember this occasion.
Of those who fought for freedom, and those who put their lives on the line for human liberty, I can think of none who should be prouder than those who can say, “I fought in the Polish Home Army.”
And today we honor three individuals, heroes of the Polish Home Army, never given their due after the allied victory. And it’s my great honor to now present the Legion of Merit to the families or representatives of these men.
So, let us salute Stefan Rowecki, who led the Resistance until he was captured and executed by the Gestapo.[At this point, the President presented the award to Jan Morelewski, president of the Polish Home Army Veterans Association.]
Next, his son will arise, the son of Bor-Komorowski, leader of the Warsaw uprising, who later died in near poverty in exile in London.[The President presented the award to Adam Komorowski.]
And finally, General Leopold Okulicki, who was lured into a trap and died under suspicious circumstances in Moscow.[The President presented the award to Zdzislaw Dziekonski, chairman of the Warsaw Uprising Commemorative Executive Committee and director of the Polish American Congress.]
These brave men and the courageous individuals who fought under their command represent the best of the human spirit. They risked all for their ideals, for their God and country, at a time when the odds were so much against them. They’re now part of the inspiring legacy of the Polish people.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from the history books, it is that Poland may be beaten down, but it is never defeated. It may be forced into submission, but it will never give up. It may be pressured to acquiesce, but it will never accept foreign domination and the suppression of God-given freedom. After two decades of brutal foreign domination, we witnessed, just a short time ago, a resurrection of the indomitable spirit of the Polish people. And I assure you we have not forgotten and will never forget Solidarity and the freedom of the Polish people.
There are some, of course, who seem all too willing to turn a blind eye to Soviet transgressions, ostensibly to improve the dialog between East and West. But those who condemn firm support for freedom and democracy — who, in order to prove their sincerity, would project weakness — are no friends of peace, human liberty, or meaningful dialog.
Our policies toward Poland and other captive nations are based upon a set of well-established principles.
First, let me state emphatically that we reject any interpretation of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence. On the contrary, we see that agreement as a pledge by the three great powers to restore full independence and to allow free and democratic elections in all countries liberated from the Nazis after World War II, and there is no reason to absolve the Soviet Union or ourselves from this commitment. We shall continue to press for full compliance with it and with the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act, and other international agreements guaranteeing fundamental human rights.
Passively accepting the permanent subjugation of the people of Eastern Europe is not an acceptable alternative. In 1981, when it appeared that Poland would suffer a similar fate to that of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, we raised our voices in support of the Polish people. And we did not remain passive when, under intense Soviet pressure, martial law was imposed on them.
Many credit, trade, and fishing privileges extended to Poland, due to its somewhat broader degree of freedom than other Eastern European countries, were suspended. At the same time, we have assisted voluntary organizations to provide humanitarian aid through the Polish church to avoid hurting the very people we want to help.
I would especially like to commend the work of Al Mazewski and the Polish American Congress. In cooperation with the church, they’ve provided over $40 million worth of food, clothing, and medical supplies to the people of Poland. And I know that I speak for Nancy — my wife is thrilled to have been selected honorary chairman for the Polish American Congress’ Infant Charity Drive. We both wish you the best on this worthwhile project.
I’ve pledged that our sanctions can be lifted, one by one, in response to meaningful improvement of the human rights situation in Poland. For example, a complete and reasonable implementation of the Polish Government’s amnesty decree would create a positive atmosphere that would allow reactivation of Poland’s application for membership in the International Monetary Fund.
In the meantime, we’ve agreed, along with our allies and private organizations, to help fund a Polish church program to assist individual farmers. I am pleased to announce today that I am seeking support for a $10 million American contribution to the pilot phase of the church’s program. And we will follow the progress of this program carefully to determine whether additional support should be forthcoming.
Perhaps the most significant thing that we can do is let the Polish people and all the people of Eastern Europe know that they’re not forgotten. And that’s why we’re modernizing Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the Voice of America. Our radio programming is becoming the mighty force for good that it was intended to be. As the Scriptures say, “Know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Well, our broadcast will carry the truth to captive people throughout the world.
The free peoples of the world are in ideological competition with the followers of a doctrine that rejects the basic tenets of freedom and declares the worship of God to be a social evil. As important as this competition is, until recently the democracies, including the United States, seemed paralyzed by uncertainty and lacking the will to compete.
In the last 3\1/2\ years, we’ve quit apologizing, and at long last we’re standing up and being counted. As our United Nations Ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, said, we’ve taken off our “Kick Me” sign. We’re proud of our way of life; we’re confident that freedom will prevail, because it works and because it is right. We believe the free peoples of the world should support all those who share our democratic values.
The National Endowment for Democracy, which I first proposed in a speech before the Parliament in London 2 years ago, has been established to encourage the democratic forces and the development of free institutions throughout the world. Its concerns include nonviolent, democratic movements like that of Solidarity in Poland.
And the rise of Solidarity is a matter of historic significance. It continues to be an inspiration of all free people that the Marxist-Leninist myth of inevitability is crumbling. Communism has brought with it only deprivation and tyranny. What happened in Poland is one sign that the tide is turning. The Polish people, with their courage and perseverance, will lead the way to freedom and independence, not only for themselves but for all those who yearn to breathe free.
The battle cry of the Polish Home Army still rings true: “Poland is fighting. Poland will live. Poland will overcome.”
Thank you all for being here today, and God bless you.
Mr. Korbonski. Mr. President, on behalf of former underground Home Army soldiers, who celebrate this month the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, in my native Poland and throughout the world, and who are presently here, I thank you very much for what you said about our history, about Warsaw uprising, about your understanding of the Yalta agreement, and about Solidarity, which, in my opinion, is also underground, but which fights for freedom and independence of Poland by other means than arms.
Your words broadcast to Poland by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe will bring a new inspiration, new hope, to our people in Poland. To what you said about the Warsaw uprising, I want only to add a few words.
First of all, that you, our American allies, contributed to this heroic struggle. On the 18th of September, American Air Force armada welcomed enthusiastically by the embattled population of Warsaw, parachuted very badly needed supplies.
Mr. President, 1984 is not a year for mourning. It is true that we have suffered tremendous human and material losses during the uprising. But they were well balanced by the immaterial, spiritual, moral gains. In these defeats, they were seeds of victory. Warsaw uprising demonstrated to the whole world the indomitable Polish spirit — our unshakable will to live free and independent.
From then, 36 years later, Solidarity was born. There would be no Solidarity in 1980 if there were no Warsaw uprising in 1944. Mr. President, such spirit, such will are not alien to you. You practice them daily in the pursuit of your foreign policy.
STEFAN KORBONSKI Mr. President, I, as the last chief of the Polish wartime underground State, thank you very much for bestowing these high American military decorations on our dead national heroes — General Rowecki, Komorowski, and Okulicki, who were my close friends. And in order to express our gratitude for your unshakable support for the Polish cause, I have the great honor to decorate you with the Home Army Cross.
The President. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 1:09 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.
In his opening remarks, the President referred to His Eminence John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia.
Stefan Korbonski is honorary chairman of the Warsaw Uprising Commemorative Executive Committee and president of the Polish Council of Unity in the United States.