News / USA

    Remarks by President Obama at the 25th Anniversary of Freedom Day

    U.S. President Barack Obama addresses during a ceremony marking the "Freedom Day" anniversary in Warsaw's Castle Square June 4, 2014.
    U.S. President Barack Obama addresses during a ceremony marking the "Freedom Day" anniversary in Warsaw's Castle Square June 4, 2014.
    Castle Square

    Warsaw, Poland

     

    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.
     

    The images of that year are seared in our memory.  Citizens filling the streets of Budapest and Bucharest.  Hungarians and Austrians cutting the barbed wire border.  Protestors joining hands across the Baltics.  Czechs and Slovaks in their Velvet Revolution.  East Berliners climbing atop that wall.  And we have seen the extraordinary progress since that time.  A united Germany.  Nations in Central and Eastern Europe standing tall as proud democracies.  A Europe that is more integrated, more prosperous and more secure.  We must never forget that the spark for so much of this revolutionary change, this blossoming of hope, was lit by you, the people of Poland.  (Applause.) 
     

    History was made here.  The victory of 1989 was not inevitable.  It was the culmination of centuries of Polish struggle, at times in this very square.  The generations of Poles who rose up and finally won independence.  The soldiers who resisted invasion, from the east and the west.  The Righteous Among the Nations -- among them Jan Karski -- who risked all to save the innocent from the Holocaust.  The heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto who refused to go without a fight.  The Free Poles at Normandy and the Poles of the Home Army who -- even as this city was reduced to rubble -- waged a heroic uprising. 
     

    We remember how, when an Iron Curtain descended, you never accepted your fate.  When a son of Poland ascended to the Chair of Saint Peter, he returned home, and here, in Warsaw, he inspired a nation with his words -- “there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland.”  (Applause.)  And today we give thanks for the courage of the Catholic Church and the fearless spirit of Saint John Paul II.  (Applause.)   
     

    We also recall how you prevailed 25 years ago.  In the face of beatings and bullets, you never wavered from the moral force of nonviolence.  Through the darkness of martial law, Poles lit candles in their windows.  When the regime finally agreed to talk, you embraced dialogue.  When they held those elections -- even though not fully free -- you participated.  As one Solidarity leader said at the time, “We decided to accept what was possible.”  Poland reminds us that sometimes the smallest steps, however imperfect, can ultimately tear down walls, can ultimately transform the world.  (Applause.)  
     

    But of course, your victory that June day was only the beginning.  For democracy is more than just elections.  True democracy, real prosperity, lasting security -- these are neither simply given, nor imposed from the outside.  They must be earned and built from within.  And in that age-old contest of ideas -- between freedom and authoritarianism, between liberty and oppression, between solidarity and intolerance -- Poland’s progress shows the enduring strength of the ideals that we cherish as a free people.
     

    Here we see the strength of democracy:  Citizens raising their voices, free from fear.  Here we see political parties competing in open and honest elections.  Here we see an independent judiciary working to uphold the rule of law.  Here in Poland we see a vibrant press and a growing civil society that holds leaders accountable -- because governments exist to lift up their people, not to hold them down.  (Applause.)   

    Here we see the strength of free markets and the results of hard reforms -- gleaming skyscrapers soaring above the city, and superhighways across this country, high-tech hubs and living standards that previous generations of Poles could only imagine. This is the new Poland you have built -- an economic “Miracle on the Vistula” -- Cud nad Wisłą.  (Applause.)    
     

    Here we see the strength of free nations that stand united. Across those centuries of struggle, Poland’s fate too often was dictated by others.  This land was invaded and conquered, carved up and occupied.  But those days are over.  Poland understands as few other nations do that every nation must be free to chart its own course, to forge its own partnerships, to choose its own allies.  (Applause.)
     

    This year marks the 15th anniversary of Poland’s membership in NATO.  We honor Polish service in the Balkans, in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And as Americans, we are proud to call Poland one of our strongest and closest allies.  (Applause.)  

    This is the Poland we celebrate today.  The free and democratic Poland that your forebears and some who are here today dreamed of and fought for and, in some cases, died for.  The growing and secure Poland that you -- particularly the young people who are here today -- have enjoyed for your entire lives.
     

    It’s a wonderful story, but the story of this nation reminds us that freedom is not guaranteed.  And history cautions us to never take progress for granted.  On the same day 25 years ago that Poles were voting here, tanks were crushing peaceful democracy protests in Tiananmen Square on the other side of the world.  The blessings of liberty must be earned and renewed by every generation -- including our own.  This is the work to which we rededicate ourselves today.  (Applause.) 

    Our democracies must be defined not by what or who we’re against, but by a politics of inclusion and tolerance that welcomes all our citizens.  Our economies must deliver a broader prosperity that creates more opportunity -- across Europe and across the world -- especially for young people.  Leaders must uphold the public trust and stand against corruption, not steal from the pockets of their own people.  Our societies must embrace a greater justice that recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being.  And as we’ve been reminded by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, our free nations cannot be complacent in pursuit of the vision we share -- a Europe that is whole and free and at peace.  We have to work for that.  We have to stand with those who seek freedom.  (Applause.)  
         

    I know that throughout history, the Polish people were abandoned by friends when you needed them most.  So I’ve come to Warsaw today -- on behalf of the United States, on behalf of the NATO Alliance -- to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Poland’s security.  Article 5 is clear -- an attack on one is an attack on all.  And as allies, we have a solemn duty -- a binding treaty obligation -- to defend your territorial integrity.  And we will.  We stand together -- now and forever -- for your freedom is ours. (Applause.)  Poland will never stand alone.  (Applause.)  But not just Poland -- Estonia will never stand alone.  Latvia will never stand alone.  Lithuania will never stand alone.  Romania will never stand alone.  (Applause.)  
     

    These are not just words.  They’re unbreakable commitments backed by the strongest alliance in the world and the armed forces of the United States of America -- the most powerful military in history.  (Applause.)  You see our commitment today. In NATO aircraft in the skies of the Baltics.  In allied ships patrolling the Black Sea.  In the stepped-up exercises where our forces train together.  And in our increased and enduring American presence here on Polish soil.  We do these things not to threaten any nation, but to defend the security and territory of ourselves and our friends. 
     

    Yesterday, I announced a new initiative to bolster the security of our NATO allies and increase America’s military presence in Europe.  With the support of Congress, this will mean more pre-positioned equipment to respond quickly in a crisis, and exercises and training to keep our forces ready; additional U.S. forces -- in the air, and sea, and on land, including here in Poland.  And it will mean increased support to help friends like Ukraine, and Moldova and Georgia provide for their own defense.  (Applause.) 
     

    Just as the United States is increasing our commitment, so must others.  Every NATO member is protected by our alliance, and every NATO member must carry its share in our alliance.  This is the responsibility we have to each other.    

    Finally, as free peoples, we join together, not simply to safeguard our own security but to advance the freedom of others. Today we affirm the principles for which we stand. 
     

    We stand together because we believe that people and nations have the right to determine their own destiny.  And that includes the people of Ukraine.  Robbed by a corrupt regime, Ukrainians demanded a government that served them.  Beaten and bloodied, they refused to yield.  Threatened and harassed, they lined up to vote; they elected a new President in a free election -- because a leader’s legitimacy can only come from the consent of the people.
     

    Ukrainians have now embarked on the hard road of reform.  I met with President-elect Poroshenko this morning, and I told him that, just as free nations offered support and assistance to Poland in your transition to democracy, we stand with Ukrainians now.  (Applause.)  Ukraine must be free to choose its own future for itself and by itself.  (Applause.)  We reject the zero-sum thinking of the past -- a free and independent Ukraine needs strong ties and growing trade with Europe and Russia and the United States and the rest of the world.  Because the people of Ukraine are reaching out for the same freedom and opportunities and progress that we celebrate here today -- and they deserve them, too.
     

    We stand together because we believe that upholding peace and security is the responsibility of every nation.  The days of empire and spheres of influence are over.  Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings.  And the stroke of a pen can never legitimize the theft of a neighbor’s land.  So we will not accept Russia’s occupation of Crimea or its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  (Applause.)   Our free nations will stand united so that further Russian provocations will only mean more isolation and costs for Russia. (Applause.)  Because after investing so much blood and treasure to bring Europe together, how can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?
     

    We stand together because we know that the spirit of Warsaw and Budapest and Prague and Berlin stretches to wherever the longing for freedom stirs in human hearts, whether in Minsk or Caracas, or Damascus or Pyongyang.  Wherever people are willing to do the hard work of building democracy -- from Tbilisi to Tunis, from Rangoon to Freetown -- they will have a partner in our nations.  For in the struggles of these citizens we recall our own struggles.  In their faces we see our own.  And few see this more clearly than the people of Poland.
     

    The Ukrainians of today are the heirs of Solidarity -- men and women like you who dared to challenge a bankrupt regime.  When your peaceful protests were met with an iron fist, Poles placed flowers in the shipyard gate. 
     

    Today, Ukrainians honor their fallen with flowers in Independence Square.  We remember the Polish voter who rejoiced to “feel the taste of Poland again.”  Her voice echoes in the young protestor in the Maidan who savored what she called “a taste of real freedom.”  “I love my country,” she said, and we are standing up for “justice and freedom.”  And with gratitude for the strong support of the Polish people, she spoke for many Ukrainians when she said, “Thank you, Poland.  We hear you and we love you.”  (Applause.)   
     

    Today we can say the same.  Thank you, Poland -- thank you for your courage.  Thank you for reminding the world that no matter how brutal the crackdown, no matter how long the night, the yearning for liberty and dignity does not fade away.  It will never go away.  Thank you, Poland, for your iron will and for showing that, yes, ordinary citizens can grab the reins of history, and that freedom will prevail -- because, in the end, tanks and troops are no match for the force of our ideals. 

    Thank you, Poland -- for your triumph -- not of arms, but of the human spirit, the truth that carries us forward. There is no change without risk, and no progress without sacrifice, and no freedom without solidarity.  (Applause.) 
     

    Dziękuję, Polsko!  God bless Poland.  (Applause.)  God bless America.  God bless our unbreakable alliance.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)
     

                            END             12:28 P.M. CET

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora