Wroclaw, Poland
June 1, 2012

I am grateful to the Atlantic Council for honoring the National Endowment for Democracy with its Freedom Award, and to Jerzy Buzek for presenting this tribute to the NED. We are humbled by all that he has done for democracy over more than three decades, starting in 1980 when he was a Solidarity organizer here in Silesia.

Next Friday, June 8, will mark the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s Westminster Address that launched the NED and the growing global effort to aid democracy. As important as this speech was – and NED will be commemorating its anniversary next week at the Reagan Library in California – the real beginning of this work was the birth and, eventually, the momentous success of Solidarity.

NED was privileged to aid the Solidarity struggle, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Bronislaw Geremek, Jacek Kuron, and Leszek Kolakowski — three Polish heroes, all of them dear friends, who now rest side by side in the Powazki Cemetery in Warsaw. They brought so much to the struggle for democracy: courage and determination, knowledge of history, understanding of ideas and ideology, strategic vision, humor, comradeship, solidarity. NED is stronger today – and its support for democrats the world over is more effective — because its roots are connected to these great democrats.

NED has had a special relationship not just with Poland and Solidarity but also with Wroclaw. I came to Wroclaw for the first time in 1989 to attend the conference on “Central Europe at the Crossroads” organized by the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity Foundation. Speaking to the Polish parliament in 1990, Vaclav Havel called this meeting “one of the prologues to our Czechoslovak revolution,” and I’ve always felt that the very modest support we provided for it was, dollar for dollar, the best grant NED has ever made.

The grant was especially important because it was part of something larger: the Multinational Fund for Friendship and Collaboration that was the region’s first initiative committed exclusively to transnational cooperation and “cross-border” democracy assistance. Such aid is now provided by most of the new democracies in the region. Poland’s recent establishment of the Foundation for International Solidarity, and its leadership in the effort to create a European Endowment for Democracy, are a continuation of this commitment to international democratic solidarity.

The principles upon which the fund was based – open frontiers, the renunciation of territorial claims, and respect for minority rights – were the foundation of the “eastern policy” developed in exile by Jerzy Giedroyc in the pages of the journal Kultura. This eventually became the basis of the foreign policy of democratic Poland. Its essence, as explained by Geremek, was the belief that “the Polish national idea could only be the idea of liberty for all the other nations in the region.” It was a way of overcoming the conflicts of the past through transnational democratic solidarity.

Wroclaw, a multi-cultural city in Silesia, which historian Norman Davies has called “a region of passage between East and West,” is the natural home of the idea of cross-border democratic solidarity. This idea has long been embraced by Wroclaw’s distinguished mayor, Rafal Dutkiewicz, and it is also what brought Jan Nowak-Jezioranski to Wroclaw at the end his life to found the Collegium of Eastern Europe. Jan, my mentor on all things Polish, very characteristically called Wroclaw “a strategic outpost in the struggle for a better and safer future for Poland.”

Poland has learned from the harsh lessons of its history how important it is to build institutions of democratic peace and stability. “Freedom is always vulnerable and its cause is never safe” is the message that Leszek Kolakowski brought to a NED gathering in Washington at an unusually hopeful moment in 1989. With those sobering words in mind at this less certain time, let us remain vigilant in the defense of freedom and press forward together.