Presented to President Andrzej Duda
By Lawrence W. Reed
Recipient of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit
Of the Republic of Poland
November 11, 2023
Mr. President, Distinguished Guests, and the People of Poland: I deeply appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness in presenting me the honor of this award, and I offer you my most profound gratitude in return. Thank you, very much!
In a sense, I must share this honor with the millions of brave Polish men and women I admire, whose courage inspired me during my first visit to this great country 37 years ago this month. The history of the late 1980s shows conclusively that Polish courage played a major, indispensable role in the liberation of Eastern Europe. I saw it firsthand during my time here in November 1986. The vast underground resistance to communist rule led directly to the historic free elections of June 1989, the first big crack in the edifice of what President Reagan aptly dubbed “the Evil Empire.”
What I saw in 1986 was not new for Poland. Your country’s history is a tapestry of courage. You endured and resisted foreign-imposed socialism for decades. Before that, you made the Nazis pay dearly for every inch of Poland. Before that, you stopped Lenin’s drive to subjugate Europe. And for the 123 years when there was no Poland, Poles showed the world how a repressed and occupied people stand up to tyrants until freedom and independence are won.
I met many Polish heroes in 1986. While Cold War defeatists elsewhere in the world sought accommodation with the Soviets, arguing that Poles should simply accept their servitude, Poles shouted to the world an emphatic NO! When Pope John Paul II returned to his beloved country and urged, “Be not afraid,” you knew exactly what he meant. You made him proud. You made every freedom-loving soul on the planet proud as well. No wonder that a previous recipient of this very award, President Ronald Reagan, also held the Polish people in the highest esteem.
I love this beautiful country nearly as much as my own. I love the courage I found in the hearts of so many in 1986 and during many subsequent visits. I love the examples left us by courageous Poles of history, including many about whom I have written: Witold Pilecki, Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, Stanislaw Lem, Maria Sklodowska, Jan Karski, Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, and others. I love the historic outpouring of assistance your nation has given its Ukrainian neighbors as they fight to repel a brutal invasion from an evil regime.
This is an award I shall proudly display as long as I live. I will use it to help tell the story of this nation’s brave people. From a depth in my heart no words can adequately reflect, I thank you for this singular honor. God bless Poland!
--- Lawrence W. Reed
Foundation for Economic Education