Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2005
Volume 16
Issue 4
Page Numbers 182-85
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August 2005 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the “Polish August” of 1980, when workers’ strikes at a Gdansk shipyard gave birth to the free trade union Solidarity, which played a key role in bringing down communism in Poland. Excerpted below are speeches given at an August 29 Warsaw event commemorating the anniversary by former Solidarity advisor and foreign minister Bronisław Geremek and President Aleksander Kwaśniewski .

Bronisław Geremek:

The 25th anniversary observances of the August Accords and the birth of Solidarity are above all an act of commemorating the Polish road to freedom, of honoring those who gave their lives in the fight against the totalitarian system, those legions of Polish workers who had the courage to fight for their rights and the rights of their country, and those millions of people from all walks of life who made Solidarity a powerful social movement capable of opposing communism and the post-Yalta order in Europe. We need also call to mind all those people in Europe and the world over who greeted the Polish August of 1980 with joy and hope, and who then backed the new movement and assisted Polish society during the 500 days of Solidarity’s independent activities, as well as later in the years of its underground existence.

This year’s commemoration is also a time to remember the beginnings, when the dream of freedom and justice went hand in hand with the feeling of responsibility, when the heart and mind in tandem defined people’s actions, and the evil of communism somehow spawned its very opposite. Czesław Miłosz once said that the Poland of Solidarity seemed to confirm that sometimes the most beautiful flowers bloom at the edge of the precipice. Gathered around Lech Wałęsa today are the people who created that movement, those who wrote about it, who informed the world about it, who in real time recorded its history and who analyzed its successes and failures. But our purpose is not to recall the [End Page 182] past with admiration or with bitterness—or with both—but to ponder the place of the phenomenon that was Solidarity in the history of Poland and of Europe. This means examining the sources and historical particularities of the Polish movement, its relation to the Helsinki human rights paradigm, its perception and influence in other Eastern bloc countries and, finally, inscribing it into Europe’s shared memory. For in so doing does the chance arise of rescuing Solidarity from oblivion here in Poland, and maybe even of discerning its emblematic role in European awareness as a founding legend of our united Europe.

Aleksander Kwaśniewski:

Twenty-five years ago people in the Gdansk shipyard were in solidarity. Out of their courage was born a movement of ten million people, which changed the course of history. Today I want to thank all those brave people. I believe that all Poles owe you their gratitude. Also those who were not in Solidarity then. Who did not understand that you were right. Who did not want to or could not support your cause. And even those who fought with you then. Since we all, I stress all, live in a free Poland. . . . As the president of the Republic of Poland I wish to dedicate words of admiration and respect to the great leader of the Polish August, Mr. Lech Walêsa. Twenty-five years ago I did not stand on the same side as you, but today I have no doubts that your vision of Poland led us in a good direction. And thanks to your courage, today we can build together the well-being of our homeland. . . .


On June 5–8, more than a dozen former heads of state and government, including Nicéphore Soglo (Benin), Jerry Rawlings (Ghana), Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique), Sam Nujoma (Namibia), and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), attended the African Statesmen Initiative symposium in Mali’s capital of Bamako to discuss democratization in Africa. The meeting resulted in the “Bamako Declaration of the African Statesmen Initiative,” which is excerpted below:

We, 15 former heads of state and government from across the African continent, have gathered in Bamako, Mali, from June 5 to 8, 2005, to discuss the individual and collaborative contributions that former leaders can make to address the urgent challenges facing Africa today. We believe that democracy is the sole form of government that permits the development of the range of national institutions needed to ensure sustainable peace, security, economic growth, and social well-being. We applaud the spread of democratic values and respect for the rights of citizens in a growing number of African countries. We commit ourselves to continuing to use our good offices to foster dialogue and the peaceful [End Page 183] resolution of the continent’s conflicts, and to promote human security and democratic models of government that offer citizens the opportunity to choose their leaders freely and participate fully in the political life of their countries. . . .

Individually and collectively, we commit to promoting strong and sustainable processes and institutions of democratic governance on the continent. We highlight the important role of militaries and security forces in protecting citizens, as well as the necessity for civilian oversight of the military. We recognize the importance of addressing the challenges and root causes of conflicts that undermine the development of accountable and inclusive democratic rule. . . .

We affirm that changes of power and political succession should always be based on constitutional rule and democratic principles. We are gravely concerned that a number of countries are still experiencing serious difficulties in meeting such requirements for successful democratic transitions. We urge that inclusive frameworks for dialogue be created in such countries in order to chart a course toward reconciliation and consolidation of democracy.

We affirm the special responsibility of former heads of state and government to support the development of strong, well-functioning legislative and judicial bodies, as well as other public institutions to ensure public accountability. We commit to addressing the barriers that prevent the full political participation of women. We will continue to support the development of free and participatory electoral processes as the method for settling peacefully the competition for power. We recognize that no election can be separated from its broader historical and cultural context and that elections must be conducted with full respect for internationally recognized civil and political rights. When organized hastily in post-conflict situations and without attention to the root causes of violence or to overcoming previous exclusionary policies and practices, we know from experience that elections can exacerbate rather than resolve instability. Yet, we recognize that while elections are insufficient to create democracy, democratic governance is not possible without genuine elections. Such elections require workable and participatory political systems, and the promotion and support of wider civic and voter-education efforts.

Drawing on African traditions of consensus and inclusive dialogue, we note in particular the need to foster internal democracy within political parties, and to develop and reinforce the role of opposition and minority voices in governance structures. We draw attention to the ongoing decentralization programs of many countries and encourage these efforts to extend democratic participation to the communal level. We encourage the international community to commit resources to democratization efforts at all levels of governance. In this regard, we acknowledge the recently proposed United Nations Democracy Fund and encourage that it be appropriately funded if approved. [End Page 184]


Below is the text of an open letter in recognition of Aung San Suu Kyi’s sixtieth birthday on June 19, signed by 14 of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Shirin Ebadi, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, and Bishop Desmond Tutu:

We wish to use this opportunity, on the occasion of Aung San Suu Kyi’s 60th birthday, to reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Burma and their legitimate struggle for democracy, human rights, and civilian rule. Our sister laureate has spent almost 15 years under house arrest. Her determination and courage inspire us. We offer to her our heartfelt congratulations on this auspicious day.

Many of us have witnessed sweeping political changes in our own countries. We know that change will come to Burma, too. The illegal military junta that rules through force and fear will yield to the power of justice. The people of Burma will control their destiny again. But we also know from experience that tyranny does not crumble by itself. Freedom must be demanded and defended, by those who have been denied it and by those who are already free.

Many people and nations around the world have seen the suffering in Burma and looked for a way to help. The best way to do so is to stand with the people of Burma, not with the regime that is the cause of their suffering. We call upon the international community to maintain pressure against Burma’s military junta. We applaud those countries that have imposed sanctions to deny the regime the wealth it craves to sustain itself. Such measures accord with the wishes of the National League for Democracy and the ethnic nationalities, who suffer egregious human rights abuses, including torture, arrest, forced labor, forced relocation, and rape. They remind Burma’s military leaders that they cannot reconcile with the world until they reconcile with their own people.

With its extraordinary human and natural resources, Burma will one day be a leader in its region. But that day cannot come until Burma has a government that truly speaks for its people. We encourage those countries in Southeast Asia that have begun a campaign to deny Burma’s military regime leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2006. Burma was admitted to ASEAN to lift its people up, not to drag the organization down.

All should join in urging the Burmese government to release, immediately and unconditionally, the nearly 1,500 political prisoners it holds, to end its brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the minority peoples of Burma, and to begin a transition to genuine democracy. That is the only hope for Burma’s future, and the only outcome Burma’s friends in the world should accept.