Primary Sources

Prime Minister Thatcher addresses the Polish Government


On November 3, 1988, Margaret Thatcher became the first British Prime Minister to make an official visit to Poland. In her toast given at a state diner in the Radziwill Palace in Warsaw, Thatcher highlighted the long historical relationship between Poland and the United Kingdom, especially the cooperation between the two powers during the Second World War. Along with offers of assistance and cooperation with the Polish government and organizations, Thatcher pressed General Jaruzelski to maintain a course of reform, to open up the borders, and respect human rights. Thatcher welcomed Poland back to "Europe," yet reminded the audience that Europe also represents a common set of values. If these values are not respected by European states at home (i.e. if the Helsinki Accords are not respected) then the Western European countries might be less willing to assist their Eastern European countries.

Interestingly, Thatcher called upon Poland to tear down "walls"- noting that to sometimes when rebuilding a house (perhaps referencing Gorbachev's "common European home"), it is necessary to first tear down a wall or two before beginning the process of rebuilding (perhaps referencing the Berlin Wall). Overall, Thatcher's speech delivered a message to the Polish government and, by extension to all of Eastern Europe, that the West was ready to welcome them and assist them where they can. However, the prerequisite for this new assistance would be continued reform at home and the respect for civil liberties.


Margaret Thatcher. "Speech at dinner given by Polish Government," speech, Radziwill Palace, Warsaw, Poland, November 3, 1988, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Both our countries were in that war in Europe from the earliest days until the last. It was a war in which one million Britons lost their lives, in which at least six million people in Poland lost their lives.

The Polish Government came to London to continue the fight for freedom. One pilot in eight fighting in the Battle of Britain in 1940 was Polish—and like the British pilots alongside whom they fought, they bore heavy casualties.


Nothing can create a stronger bond between peoples than shared experiences such as these.

Now, nearly fifty years since Britain gave its historic pledge to fight if Poland was attacked, it is with a profound sense of history and a deep wish that neither of our countries should ever again have to suffer the agonies of war, that I pay this first ever visit by a British Prime Minister to Poland.


From this past, two lessons stand out:

Poland's irrepressible sense of nationhood, which has survived through centuries of turmoil to regain a national home; and at the same time, Poland's indisputable place in the mainstream of Europe and its affairs.

For us, Warsaw, Prague and Budapest are just as much great European cities as London, Paris and Rome. Your roots lie as deep in the soil and the history of Europe as do ours.

President Gorbachev has spoken of building a common European house, to which you referred, Mr. Chairman, but the only wall so far erected is the Berlin Wall, which divides and separates. As so often when one wants to build a new house, you have to start by knocking a few walls down.

We want to see the barriers which have divided Europe for the last 40 years dismantled, so that Poland and other Eastern European countries can once again share fully in Europe's culture, Europe's freedom and Europe's justice—treasures which sprang from Christendom, which were developed through a rule of law and found their expression in democracy.

So you will find in Britain and Europe a great readiness for more contacts of every sort, together with a wish to see the peoples of Eastern Europe play a much fuller part in the life of Europe as a whole, and that is why we are keen to expand the economic and trade links between the countries of the European Community and of Eastern Europe; that is why we welcome the bold and courageous reforms being undertaken by President Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and earnestly hope that he will succeed.


Above all, we need to see that the basic human rights enshrined in the Helsinki Accords—signed by 35 nations, including all the Warsaw Pact countries and the countries of the Nato Alliance—are genuinely and fully respected.

When contemplating closer relations with other countries, we judge them by how they treat their own citizens. We shall not reach the trust and confidence we need for full-hearted cooperation until those rights are entrenched and observed as part of the way of life of the countries of Eastern Europe and of the Soviet Union; until all enjoy freedom under the law—a law which applies not only to those who are governed, but to those who govern as well. It is both a moral and a practical matter.

In modern societies, success depends upon openness and free discussion. Suppress those things, and you are unable to respond to the need for change. We in the West could never have achieved our great technological advance without them.


But experience also teaches us that freedom incurs responsibility. Responsibility to greater effort; to accept the hardships and dislocations which inevitably go with far-reaching change; responsibility to make the commitment necessary to restore the nation's prosperity. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Those who seek the one must be prepared to offer the other. That is why it is so vital that there should be a real dialogue with representatives of all sections of society, including Solidarity. People have to be involved in decisions about the way forward. They must have freedom to choose. The chances are that they will then make the right choices.

Only the Government and people of Poland herself can provide the commitment, the resolve and the perseverance to break through to success. When that happens and when that great day comes, you will find your friends ready, not just to stand and cheer, but to help in practical ways . . . .


How to Cite this Source

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "Prime Minister Thatcher addresses the Polish Government," Making the History of 1989, Item #72, (accessed September 19 2021, 9:01 am).

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