Walesa Makes Historic Speech to Congress
Solidarity Leader Feted By Joint Session; Bush Promises More Aid to Poland
WASHINGTON--Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, saluted on his historic visit to Congress with cheers, whistles and four standing ovations, told lawmakers yesterday that U.S. aid to Poland "will not be wasted, and will never be forgotten."
He asked for more investment to help pull a bankrupt Polish economy from "the verge of utter catastrophe" and said such assistance in peacetime is "better than tanks, warships and warplanes."
In an emotional speech recounting the nine-year struggle of his union to from the first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc, Walesa gave thanks to Congress and the American people for years of support and words of admiration.
"These are appreciated, but being a worker and a man of concrete work, I must tell you that the supply of words on the world market is plentiful, but the demand is falling. Let deeds follow words now," said the mustachioed 46-year-old former shipyard electrician.
Walesa's triumphant visit to the nation's capital continued during the afternoon, when President Bush appeared with him at an AFL-CIO convention, hailing him as "America's special guest" and promising more aid for Poland.
"Clearly there are times when the need for progress demands that we put differences aside, and where Poland is concerned, now is such a time," Bush said.
"Today, I appeal to the unions and the American labor movement, the business community, and government to look for ways to support a partnership for progress in Poland for the sake of a nation and a people that need and deserve our help," he said.
Walesa, addressing a joint meeting of Congress, drew resounding applause when he said that "assistance extended to democracy and freedom in Poland and all of Eastern Europe is the best investment in the future of peace, better than tanks, warships and warplanes, an investment leading to greater security."
Walesa arrived in Washington, D.C. on Monday for a four-day visit marked by numerous awards and a torrent of praise as Poland and other East European nations rapidly institute democratic and market reforms.
In more concrete action, the Senate voted Tuesday to authorize $657 million in economic aid to Poland over three years and $81 million for nearby Hungary, also dismantling its centrally controlled economy.
The House went further, approving an initial one-year installment of $533 million for the two Soviet bloc nations.
The steps to send economic aid to Poland have been accompanied by personal adulation for Walesa. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush on Monday, an AFL-CIO human rights award on Tuesday, and yesterday became the second foreign private citizen to address a joint meeting of Congress, the first since the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.
Walesa began his remarks with the opening words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, "We the People..."
"I do not need to explain that I, an electrician from Gdansk, am also entitled to invoke them," said Walesa.
Walesa said Solidarity's success was attracting imitators throughout the communist world, and inside the Soviet Union itself, among "Hungarians, Russians, the Ukrainians, people of the Baltic republics, Armenians and Georgians, and in recent days, the East Germans."
"We wish them luck and rejoice at each success they achieve," he said.