Democracy in Central Europe after Thirty Years

November 14, 2019
09:00 am - 12:15 pm

About the Event

The triumph of Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement in 1989 stands out as one of the most consequential victories for human freedom of this or any other century. Not only did it liberate the Polish people from the yoke of communism, but it also set in motion the events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism in Central Europe and the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War.

Thirty years later, NED was delighted to have the opportunity to reflect on this historic transition with the iconic leader of Solidarity, former president of Poland, Lech Walesa as well as former deputy prime minister of Poland Leszek Balcerowicz.

Following our keynote speakers, a distinguished panel of regional experts discussed what threatens these hard-won democratic gains and what must be done to defend and strengthen democracy throughout Central and Eastern Europe.


Welcome and Opening Remarks

Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy

Robert Destro, Asst. Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Keynote Addresses:
The Triumph and Legacy of Solidarity
Lech Walesa, Founder of Solidarity and the Former President of Poland
Introduced by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Poland’s Political and Economic Transition
Leszek Balcerowicz, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland.
Introduced by CIPE Board Chairman Greg Lebedev

Panel Discussion: Defending Democracy in Poland and Central Europe
Anne Applebaum, Author and Historian
Victoria Nuland, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Europe
Simon Panek, Executive Director, People in Need, Czech Republic
George Weigel, Author and Biographer of Pope John Paul II
Moderator: Daniel Fried, Former US Ambassador to Poland

About the Speakers

Robert Destro serves as Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC. He has a long history as a human rights advocate and civil rights attorney with expertise in elections, employment, and constitutional law. Assistant Secretary Destro has been on the faculty at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law since 1982 and served as its Interim Dean from 1999 to 2001, as well as founding director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.

Lech Walesa is a Polish elder statesman, pro-democracy activist and union organizer who served as the first democratically elected President of Poland from 1990 to 1995. He was the leader of Solidarity (NSZZ “Solidarność”), one of the first oppositional and freedom-oriented social movements in the communist bloc, for which he was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize. His nonviolent struggle as the leader of the democratic opposition resulted in Poland’s successful transition to democracy in 1989, and was a catalyst to the collapse of communist rule in the whole of Eastern Europe.

Richard Trumka is president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO. An outspoken advocate for social and economic justice, Trumka is the nation’s clearest voice on the critical need to ensure that all workers have a good job and the power to determine their wages and working conditions. He heads the labor movement’s efforts to create an economy based on broadly shared prosperity and to hold elected officials and employers accountable to working families.

Leszek Balcerowicz is an economist and professor at the Warsaw School of Economics. He is the author of the economic reforms in post-communist Poland after 1989, and served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the first non-communist government of Poland after World War II. He also served as President of the National Bank of Poland from 2001-2007. He is a laureate of over 20 honorary doctorates from universities all around the world. Balcerowicz is the author of more than 100 publications on economic topics issued in Poland and abroad, and laureate of many prestigious Polish and international prizes and distinctions. In 2005, Leszek Balcerowicz was awarded the Order of the White Eagle – Poland’s highest distinction for his contribution in the economic and political transformation in Poland. In 2007, Leszek Balcerowicz is the founder and chairman of The Civil Development Forum Foundation – FOR, a think tank based in Warsaw.

Greg Lebedev serves as Chairman of the publicly funded Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy. CIPE’s mission is to promote free-market institutions and economic reform throughout the world. Lebedev is a Senior Advisor to the CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the largest business federation in the world, and is a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee.

Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize winning historian. She is also a Senior Fellow of International Affairs and Agora Fellow in Residence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, as well as a Professor of Practice at the London School of Economics. She co-directs LSE Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda.

Victoria Nuland is a Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group. Previously, Ambassador Nuland was CEO of The Center for a New American Security. From 2013-2017, she served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. As Assistant Secretary, she managed diplomatic relations with 50 countries in Europe and Eurasia, as well as with NATO, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Simon Panek is the co-founder and executive director of People in Need, a humanitarian organization based in Czech Republic. People in Need provides humanitarian aid and solidarity for human rights and civil society, principally in authoritarian or conflict-ridden states and zones, including Chechnya, the Balkans, Belarus, Ukraine, and Cuba. Pánek’s activism goes back to 1989, when as a student activist in the Velvet Revolution he was a leader of several anti-regime occupation strikes. Pánek served as a foreign policy specialist on the Balkans and Human Rights issues in the presidential administration of Vaclav Havel. Pánek is a recipient of the 2002 Czech State Medal of Merit and the 2003 European of the Year Award.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. From 1989 through June 1996, Mr. Weigel was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he led a wide-ranging, ecumenical and inter-religious program of research and publication on foreign and domestic policy issues. Mr. Weigel is perhaps best known for his widely translated and internationally acclaimed two-volume biography of Pope St. John Paul II: the New York Times bestseller, Witness to Hope (1999), and its sequel, The End and the Beginning (2010). In 2017, Weigel published a memoir of the experiences that led to his papal biography: Lessons in Hope — My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II.

Daniel Fried is the Atlantic Council’s Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow. In the course of his forty-year Foreign Service career, Ambassador Fried played a key role in designing and implementing American policy in Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. As special assistant and NSC senior director for Presidents Clinton and Bush, ambassador to Poland, and assistant secretary of state for Europe (2005-09), Ambassador Fried crafted the policy of NATO enlargement to Central European nations and, in parallel, NATO-Russia relations, thus advancing the goal of Europe whole, free, and at peace.