The tragic deaths of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the Polish First Lady Maria Kaczynska, and dozens of senior Polish officials, are being mourned today by tens of millions of people across the free world. For much of the 20th Century, the Polish people fought to be free, from the twin evils of fascism and communism, and their sacrifice and bravery has been a testament to their courage and indefatigable spirit, as well as an inspiration.
In recent years as well, Poland has shed blood in the defence of freedom, with 2,600 Polish troops bravely fighting alongside the United States and Great Britain in the NATO-led war against the Taliban on the battlefields of Afghanistan. In the dark days following the 9/11 attacks, the Poles were among the very first to offer their support for America in the war against Islamist terrorism, and have consistently stood shoulder to shoulder with their US ally. Poland also played an important role in the liberation of Iraq, and by 2005 there were 2,500 Polish troops serving as part of the multinational force.
As Margaret Thatcher noted in her speech before the Polish Senate in October 1991, it is the love of liberty that has united Polish freedom fighters with the English-Speaking Peoples:
The bonds of affection and respect which bind your country and mine together have been forged in our common struggle for liberty: Liberty in the face of the evil tyranny of Nazism from 1939 to 1945. And liberty during the terrible years which followed when Poland was in the grip of the no less evil dictatorship of Communism. Historians will long debate the consequences of the Yalta Agreements, but let it be said now: many in Britain, including myself, will never forget the way in which the fate of your country was left in the hands of Stalin and his Polish communist allies.
In a sense, victory in the Second World War – a war which was fought to defend Polish freedom – was only achieved in 1989. No country put more effort into that struggle than yours: none bore heavier sacrifices: none gained less when peace was signed. For all these reasons Poland’s fate and Poland’s freedom have a unique significance for the history of Europe and the future of democracy.
The passing of President Kaczynski, a tremendous patriot, is a great loss not only for Poland, but also for the free world. His sacrifice, and that of many of his closest aides, will be remembered for generations to come. The spirit of freedom in Poland burns brightly upon the foundations of many of those who died today and will continue to do so. And in their hour of need the American and British people stand united with their Polish friends and allies.