Ronald Reagan and the Solidarność

Speach at the International Conference

„Country Boy against Evil Empire”

Budapest 28-30 April 2011

organized by House of Terror and Adenauer Foundation


Why America was in Poland so popular in the epoch of Solidarność movement? The explanation is obvious. America was the main supporter of these movement in the West. And more – the main supporter not only of  Solidarność   – the supporter of independence of all countries imprisoned in East Block.

         It couldn’t be at the same time forgotten that the popularity of America was connected for long time with a kind of  disillusionment. For Poland America was an ally during II WW and in spite of that Poland felt under soviet dominance. It was the discouraging for many Poles and treated as deeply unjust.

         I suppose it was a disillusionment in Hungary after the tragedy of 56. Possibly it was a disillusionment in Czechoslovakia after the broken hopes of 68.  These disillusionments were often used and manipulated. The communist apparatchiks were saying their subjects: you are alone, you are claiming to be the part of the West, but the West don’t bother about you, these in the West they are the traitors. And many deprived of hope could believe it.

         During 70’ and 80’ the situation became to change. Helsinki put a strong point on human rights. Among the dissidents and growing opposition movements in the East Block it provoked hopes simultaneously with a question whether the West would stay enough consequent with these.

         Thanks Reagan it was. His presidency 1981-1989 came for a time of communism in decline. And Reagen used this historical momentum. On March 3, 1983, he predicted that communism would collapse, stating, „Communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.”  And other Reagans words, “Mr Gorbachov Tear down this wall”,  which could  be never forgotten.  It is to stress it wasn’t the attitude of all. Many western leader had  the approach to the communist, which they held pragmatic but in fact it was cynical.

With the collapse of the communism the popularity of America was at its apogee.

        The  geopolitics of EU-Europe has changed deeply. Europe has started its new path of integration and should be enlarged. History knows no thankfulness and sentiments. The Cold War ended and Europe had no need – at least it was important presumption for many –   of American support. It was a time of great hope in Europe future. It is enough to mention some books of that time and their titles : The European Superpower, Euroquake. Europe’s Explosive Economic Challenge will Change the World, why Europe will run the 21st century, [1]

But this view on world geopolitics was one sided and too optimistic. Europe could be enlarged, could be not threatened from the communist empire, but the emerging new powers become the greatest challenge for Europe of a great historical meaning. Our continent hadn’t at least since three centuries such powerful competitors.

These shift of power put us all a question whether Europe could be a global player and under what conditions. It is as well the fundamental question for us here, for our part of the EU-continent –  for  Central Europe. I am saying here  Central Europe (or if somebody will CEE) although  I prefer the notion Central Europe from Estonia to Kosovo.

We were liberated, we liberated ourself with a help of such politicians like Ronald Reagen. But how we can preserve our freedom if Europe became a continent of minor importance? What a role should play freedom in our politics?

For  Central Europe freedom is the main purpose of politics. It is from time to time said that after  1989 the European and American interest are in contradiction, that between European and American and values is growing discrepancy. Nothing could be less true as that.

In the changing world Europe need the American partnership even more than before. To remain a global player, Europe needs cooperation with America. Shoulder to shoulder  Europe and America

The geopolitics is one aspect to recognize Reagan’s heritage. The second aspect is understanding of democracy.

Let me allow to quote ones more Ronald Reagan „the forward march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-leninism on the ash-heap of history.” The words on Marxism are not so important, because in the 80’ Marxism was already a dead ideology.  What is more import today are the words about democracy.

We should read closer these words. The communist system was for Reagen the main  enemy of America as not democratic. It wasn’t mainly the antagonism of America and Russia, the West and the East Block. It was the antagonism of democracy and totalitarian system, very similar to these during the II WW – the antagonism of Free World and the III Reich.  It sounds so obvious but it wasn’t the position of the leaders of many others western countries. For many Soviet Russia was an enemy with which one could negotiate a deal – don’t touch my business. And the soviet slogan was  – don’t interfere in my internal affairs.  But democracy couldn’t be treated as only internal affair of one’s country.

In these point the understanding of democracy of Ronald Reagan meet the understanding  of democracy in Central Europe. It was and it is deeply connected with antitotalitarian experience. American long disagreement for Hitler-Stalin Pakt was a stable element of American politics towards Central Europe. […]

Do we need today new Roland Reagan – country boy? How far Europe needs only America with “hard boys” – like Roland Reagan? It would be naïve to say something like that. Firstly we need good understanding of American politics and the new role of American in a more pluralistic world. We need shoulder to shoulder cooperation, forging a common US-EU strategy, as it define in a fundamental paper-study of a group of prestigious American and European think-thanks. [2]

There are many aspects where the discussion about America could be valuable for EU-Europeans. The apparent example is American melting pot and European difficulties with  nationalism and divergence of ethnicities. EU-Europe needs integration and it is a condition to be a partner of America. European one country nationalism couldn’t be a true partner of America. The image that America could support some sort of national particularism is naïve in the same measure as to believe one should defend one’s national identity from cosmopolitan mc’donald’s American culture. Anti- Americanism is  equally characteristic for European far right and far left.

Today’s world seems to be more complicated as it was in Ronald Reagan’s time. In that situation we need the conviction on universal value of democracy. One sided, party oriented to enthusiastic with republican Roland Reagan and skeptical about American Democrats. Obama’s in Cairo and American engagement for democracy in Arab World seems to me similar to Reagan’s previous engagement for democracy in Central Europe.

Our remembrance on Ronald Reagan is today for us needed to understand not only previous time but as well our quite contemporary situation.

[1] John McCornick, The European Superpower; Daniel Burstein, Euroquake. Europe’s Explosive Economic Challenge will Change the World, 1991, Leonard Mark: why Europe will run the 21st century (2005).

[2] Shoulder to Shoulder. Forging a Strategic U.S.-EU Partnership. Lead Authors: Daniel S. Hamilton and Frances G. Burwell. Contributors: Atlantic Council of the United States, Center for European Policy Studies, Center for Strategic  and International Studies, Centre for Transatlantic Relations, John Hopkins University SAIS, Fundacion Alternativas, Prague Security Studies Institute, Real Instituto Elcana, Swedish Institute of International Affairs,  December 1, 2009.



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