August 31, 2023
European Solidarity Centre, Gdańsk
Marshal Grodzki, Mayor Dulkiewicz, Vice Marshal Borusewicz, Chairman Lis, Ms. Bigos, and Ambassador Kozminski:
I am honored to be here in Gdańsk on the 43rd anniversary of the signing of the August Agreements.
On behalf of my sister Mika, my brother Ian, and the entire Brzezinski family, thank you to the European Solidarity Centre for honoring our parents, Zbigniew and Emilie Benes Brzezinski, with this year’s Medal of Gratitude.
They would be profoundly moved, as am I, by the words that were said, by the music that was played, and by this very moment.
In a world where one can easily get bogged down in past recriminations, trauma, and bleak history, my parents taught their children, us to “look to the future.”
This was their north star – they were optimists – their guiding light that inspired and motivated them to transform that optimism into action.
As far back as I can remember, my father shared our family’s story with us: from Przemyśl, he was cast on America’s shores by World War II, and emerged determined to build a stable and secure life for himself and his family – and eventually, the world. To create order and understanding from chaos and destruction.
Like my father, my mother was a refugee – she was from Czechoslovakia – and I think their common experience of being outsiders in America drew them together.
She was an artist, first creating resin sculptures and later working with wood and carving huge sculptures with an ecological message.
What I learned from the strength of her personality is that an artist must stand alone, challenge convention, and do something that others may not understand – but something they realize is beautiful and important.
Amazingly, my mother learned Polish language for my father. She knew speaking Polish was important to him, so she learned Polish language.
In 1989, just after the fall of communism and as the Polish people worked diligently to transform this country into a strong, stable, and secure democracy, President Wałęsa was invited to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He said:
“Peacefully and prudently, with their eyes open to dangers, but not giving up what is right and necessary, the Poles gradually pave the way for historic transformations.”
„Spokojnie i w sposób rozważny, licząc się z niebezpieczeństwami, ale nie rezygnując z tego, co słuszne i niezbędne, Polacy torują powoli drogę historycznym przemianom.”
My father sat in the gallery that day, wiping away tears of emotion and joy. He knew, as Wałęsa himself told America’s leaders, that Poland was closing a dark and painful chapter of its history and beginning a new, better, democratic, and secure future.
If my parents were here today, I know they would be profoundly optimistic about Poland’s future. Poland is safe and secure.
The last year has been marked by a deepening of the Polish-U.S. relationship as we stand united against Russian aggression and in support of Ukraine.
Our friendship has never been stronger. Our partnership has never been more important.
As the United States and Poland “look to the future” – a future when Ukraine is victorious, when Ukrainians feel they can return safely to their homes and to the loved ones who stayed behind to fight – Poland can continue to serve as Ukraine’s guiding light.
These Ukrainians will take back with them the feelings of stability and security they felt in Poland, feelings that come with being a member of the EU and NATO.
I know they too will “look to the future” when their country joins these institutions and transatlantic alliances.
When Ukraine wins, Poland will play a substantial role in future transformation and all-encompassing reconstruction. For Poland has been where Ukraine is now and is such as useful model.
Rebuilding after years of occupation, after merciless destruction of cities, families, and economy. Poles came together to rebuild democratic institutions and embrace free-market values that propelled Polish growth for the last thirty years.
Here in Gdańsk, Poles demanded a brighter future by demanding their human rights, by demanding an end to corruption, and by demanding security, safety, and stability.
When I look at this medal, I see gratitude and solidarity – two words that perfectly capture the moment we are living in today.
In the spirit of gratitude, thank you to former President Lech Wałęsa and the European Solidarity Centre for the honor to be with you today to accept this award on behalf of my late parents.
In the spirit of gratitude, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Poland; I am so grateful to be here at such a pivotal time in history; and I am so grateful to see Poland rising as a leader and a model for the region.
In the spirit of gratitude, I echo President Biden’s message to the Polish people, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Dziękuję za pomoc. Americans are grateful for what Poland is doing to support Ukraine.
When I think of solidarity, I think of how, despite the crisis to the east, we have shown collective security works.
When I think of solidarity, I see the optimism of the next generation of Polish youth as they begin to “look to the future,” and more importantly, work to apply their optimism to the national, regional, and global challenges facing them.
Once again, on behalf of my family, dziękuję. Thank you for this beautiful medal of gratitude and for the honor to be with you all here today.