President Bush and Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland Trade Toasts
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a founder of Solidarity, who became Poland’s first noncommunist prime minister in forty years, visited Washington for three days of meetings in March 1990 as European and American diplomats were engrossed in negotiations to devise a plan for German reunification that would be acceptable to all nations involved. The Polish government feared that a powerful reunited Germany might attempt to claim land ceded to Poland at the conclusion of World War II. While West German Prime Minister Helmut Kohl proposed that Germany would agree after reunification to the current border between Germany and Poland along the Oder-Niesse rivers, Mazowiecki persuaded French President François Mitterand, who wanted to slow down the reunification effort, to support his position that a border treaty should be signed prior to reunification, not after. Before his meeting with Mazowiecki, Bush told Kohl that he favored Poland’s participation in international negotiations concerning the border issue. To resolve the dispute, Kohl then suggested that Bush tell Mazowiecki that Kohl was willing to agree with him on language to be included in a text concerning borders that the two German nations afterwards would officially issue. Bush misunderstood Kohl, however, and during his talk with Mazowiecki, he offered to convince Kohl to agree to a text that Mazowiecki would approve of a German-Polish treaty. The misunderstanding, nevertheless, served to move negotiations further along, and in June, the parliaments of both Germanys issued resolutions prepared by the German and Polish governments that declared the current borders as final. In June 1991, Poland and Germany signed a border treaty. In the excerpt below of toasts by Bush and Mazowiecki, the Polish leader took the opportunity to put forth his views on the matter.
Office of the Press Secretary, Notes from the State Dinner for Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland, 21 March 1990, Bush Presidential Library, Documents and Papers, Bush Library (accessed May 14, 2008).
The President. Mr. Prime Minister and His Eminence Cardinal Szoka and distinguished guests and friends of Poland, Barbara and I are delighted to host this dinner tonight and, as I said this morning on the lawn of the White House, to return in some small measure the warm hospitality that we felt on our visits to Poland. . . .
. . . I do remember my first visit to your country, Mr. Prime Minister, in the fall of 1987. Solidarity, Solidarnosc, was outlawed, underground, but still very much alive. And I remember well meeting with members of Solidarity. And afterward, as I rode to lay a wreath at the grave of Father Popieluszko, the murdered priest, in protest the state security agents removed the Polish flag from our car. But that was in 1987.
And 2 years later I went back to Poland in the summer of 1989 . . . . As I was riding through Gdansk, Solidarity's birthplace, to the Monument of the Three Crosses, thousands of Poles lined the streets, in their hands thousands of American flags and, of course, the red and white of Poland, your national flag, and the banner of Solidarnosc, high above the crowd.
What a world of change in those 2 years. . . . [O]n my return this past summer, on the eve of the Revolution of '89, everywhere we found a feeling of hope -- a feeling that Poland once more held its destiny in its hand, that the time had come once more for Poland to live in freedom, for Europe to be whole and free. . . .
The Prime Minister. Mr. President; esteemed Mrs. Bush; your Eminence, Cardinal; ladies and gentlemen, I would . . . prefer to refrain from talking politics here. But I will have to speak something about politics, and please forgive me for that. . . .
In 1939 we were ravaged by the Nazi invasion. Our people suffered more than any other on Earth. Poland lost 6 million of its citizens, half of them Polish Jews. The Third Reich was crushed, and the war ended, but to our part of Europe, peace failed to bring an order based on freedom. For the next 45 years, we were forced to live under an alien political system, a totalitarian one which was imposed on the whole Eastern and Central Europe. The Poles never accepted their fate and were the first to challenge it. . . . The struggle by the Polish people to preserve their dignity and franchisement played a great role in sparking the change which today has gained such momentum. . . .
The era of Yalta is becoming history. A need is emerging for a new structure which would operate within the parity of powers to gradually free Europe of military rivalry and bring the two separated parts closer together. Such a structure needs to be based on a solid foundation. Reconciliation between nations is possible only when they do not fear either for their present or their future. For this reason, an important component of the building must be the recognition of the Polish border along the Oder and Nysa Rivers in the form of a treaty. The direct participation in the talks about that, for Poland, was a very important matter for Poland; and it has already been guaranteed. . . . I would like the United States to view Poland as one of the important actors of the present-day European politics. A strong Poland engaged in building a democratic order and freed of economic difficulties will be a stable factor of the new European order, an order based on freedom, respect of human rights, and economic and political balance on the Continent.