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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs