“No freedom without Solidarity”—this was the cry known to everyone in Poland 25 years ago. As a result of negotiations between the democratic opposition—linked to the “Solidarity” Independent Self-governing Trade Union, led by Lech Wałęsa—and the communist authorities, which were held at the Round Table and concluded in April 1989, the two sides agreed to organise Poland’s first pluralistic parliamentary elections after the Second World War. The agreement stipulated free elections to the Senate (upper chamber of Parliament). However, in elections to the Sejm (lower chamber of parliament), the opposition could contest only 35% of the seats available, with the remaining 65% guaranteed for the communists and their allies. Despite the restrictions, the election of 4 June 1989 ended in a clear victory for the opposition movement represented by the Citizens’ Committee with Lech Wałęsa. It won 99% of the seats in the Senate and all of the available seats in the Sejm. On that day the Polish people choose freedom, and the communists lost their power.
12:10 P.M. CET
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, Warsaw! (Applause.) Witaj, Polsko! (Applause.)
Mr. President; Mr. Prime Minister; Madam Mayor; heads of state and government, past and present — including the man who jumped that shipyard wall to lead a strike that became a movement, the prisoner turned president who transformed this nation — thank you, Lech Walesa, for your outstanding leadership. (Applause.)
Distinguished guests, people of Poland, thank you for your extraordinary welcome and for the privilege of joining you here today. I bring with me the greetings and friendship of the American people — and of my hometown of Chicago, home to so many proud Polish Americans. (Applause.) In Chicago, we think of ourselves as a little piece of Poland. In some neighborhoods, you only hear Polish. The faithful come together at churches like Saint Stanislaus Kostka. We have a parade for Polish Constitution Day. And every summer, we celebrate the Taste of Polonia, with our kielbasa and pierogies, and we’re all a little bit Polish for that day. (Applause.) So being here with you, it feels like home. (Applause.)
Twenty-five years ago today, we witnessed a scene that had once seemed impossible — an election where, for the first time, the people of this nation had a choice. The Communist regime thought an election would validate their rule or weaken the opposition. Instead, Poles turned out in the millions. And when the votes were counted, it was a landslide victory for freedom. One woman who voted that day said, “There is a sense that something is beginning to happen in Poland. We feel the taste of Poland again.” She was right. It was the beginning of the end of Communism — not just in this country, but across Europe.