Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference in Warsaw

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Interpress, Warsaw
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1800-1830 local time.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2885
Themes: Economy (general discussions), Education, Monetary policy, Trade, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states)

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen, I long wanted to come to Poland and I could not have wished for a more fascinating or instructive visit and I shall never forget it.

I would first like to thank General Jaruzelski and Prime Minister Rakowski for their hospitality and for giving me the opportunity to meet everyone I wanted to talk to.

The welcome of the Polish people has been warm, generous and moving—intensely moving, as at Father Popieluszko's church, the market and in Gdansk.

As you know, I have met a wide range of opinion in Poland and had extensive talks with General Jaruzelski and Prime Minister Rakowski.

My prime purpose in making this first visit by a British Prime Minister to Poland was to learn at first hand about the situation in this fascinating country, of what people are trying to achieve and their hopes for the future. [end p1]

I come, of course, from a country which has long had the basic freedoms of citizenship, the rights of free speech and association, to organise, to be a member of a trade union or not, according to choice. This is not quite yet the case in Poland.

What I found in all my discussions are people, Government, Solidarity and different shades of independent opinion, searching for the way forward.

I think one thing has characterized my talks—a free and, yes, frank expression of opinion. It is very encouraging indeed that that is possible.

General Jaruzelski and I had a thorough and wide-ranging discussion on East-West relations as well as on economic and political reform. Like Prime Minister Rakowski, he assured me that Poland is very serious about the proposed round table talks and wishes to get them under way soon.

My discussion with Prime Minister Rakowski concentrated more on economic reform. Poland's problems are clearly formidable, but I was impressed by his determination to achieve results.

The discussion with Solidarity and independent opinion gave me a much deeper understanding of the situation in Poland and the hopes—indeed yearning—for greater freedom of democracy. [end p2]

The key question now seems to me to be—given that all sides say they want to move forward—is how to do so.

I did not come to offer advice. In any case, I come from an entirely different system. All I can do—and have done—is to draw on the experience of our system in the hope that it may be of value to those engaged in Poland's historic process of reform.

In drawing on that experience, I have made three simple points:

First, that political and economic freedom are interlinked, indivisible and mutually reinforcing. I believe strongly that free societies not only fulfil people's spiritual aspirations, but also provide the best for their economic wellbeing.

Second, that freedom once secured, incurs responsibility. Freedom is not an invitation to indulgence. It demands a serious response and requires a continuing effort to safeguard it.

And third, we wish Poland well. We admire the individuality and spirit of the Polish people and we shall not be found wanting when Poland makes the progress towards freedom and democracy its people clearly seek.

Gentlemen, ladies, your questions! [end p3]

Question

To what extent did your trip confirm your previous views on Poland and did you learn anything new?

Prime Minister

What you learn when you go to a country is a far deeper appreciation of their problems, their views, their feelings and their ideas about the way forward. You can never get that, no matter how much you read, no matter how many telegrams you read, no matter how many books you read. You have to come and feel that for yourself and one felt it both in the many visits I have made both in Warsaw and in Gdansk; one felt it when I went to some of the churches I have visited; one felt it at Solidarity today very vividly in Gdansk; one felt it at Westerplatte—a very moving ceremony; one felt it at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and again, at the memorial we unveiled to the pilots who lost their lives in the Warsaw Uprising.

The discussions one has indicate much more clearly the problems, but I think there is always a way ahead and I am quite certain the right way to go ahead is for government and Solidarity and others to get together and talk about it.

Polish Agency Interpress

Prime Minister, can we expect any significant change in British foreign policy towards Poland after your visit? [end p4]

Prime Minister

I think that it will be closer obviously, and closer in particular in some detailed matters, in cultural exchanges, in willingness to train managers, in school exchanges, teachers.

I think the main financial change will come when you have completed your IMF negotiations.

Polish Radio Foreign Service

Prime Minister, before you came here the media—British media, even Polish media—spoke of insurmountable differences between your stand and Poland's stand on very many basic subjects across the board, from Solidarity, human rights, down to the economy.

Over the past forty-eight hours, I receive the impression that these differences are not so insurmountable as they appeared.

Where has the greatest closing of the gap occurred if you were to put it in a nutshell, Madam?

Prime Minister

We are fundamentally different systems, of course we are. The Soviet Union and we are fundamentally different systems. Hungary and we are fundamentally different systems. Poland and we are fundamentally different political systems. [end p5]

Our history has been different. The Parliament has developed over a very long period and we have a full political Opposition, so our politics are argued out, have a regular meeting forum and are argued out every day before full radio, full press and full public.

That is quite a different system from the one which you you run, probably because our histories are different. The history of Poland is very very different.

When you come to a country, you get much more feeling for the problems. You get an idea of how people think they can be resolved. You learn some of their difficulties, some of their emotions, but I think in Poland, one gets the feeling that people do wish to find a way forward very much and they wish to find it by discussion between people, all of whom—obviously Government, many independent people, Solidarity and others—have a great contribution to make to that discussion and want to make it, and that I think is the way forward, and I have met many people as well as Solidarity—I have met independent people as well.

Maximilian Barazosky (Polish Newspaper)

I would like to ask you please how do you evaluate the substance and the results of your talks with the Polish Government in the framework of Polish-British relations and in the framework of East-West relations? [end p6]

Prime Minister

I would say they have been very valuable on both counts.

I think one has to look at the East-West relations in the new context of the last two or three years, when East-West relations have been very different and offered far more hope than at any previous time in my lifetime. We played some part in that.

They are very different between the United States and the Soviet Union and between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and we are all going, I think, steadily forward, making very sure—both on the Warsaw Pact and on the NATO side—that our defence is always secure, as you would expect, and it will remain that way.

But the things which are happening in the Soviet Union and the pronouncements there are obviously having an effect and giving increased possibilities in the other Warsaw Pact countries, and so I think from that viewpoint it has been very good.

I have learned a great deal more about Poland's particular difficulties and, of course, only Poland can find the way forward from those. We are all extremely interested that she should succeed. [end p7]

Question

Mrs. Prime Minister, could you please tell us, after these few days in Warsaw, do you not see the need of fresh wind in British foreign policy, especially the necessity of differentiation in London's relations with East European countries, and if so do you not think British policy towards Poland once perhaps shortsighted and of tactical character, could be built on a more long-term basis in future?

Prime Minister

I think one of the reasons that brings me here is the longer-term basis—the longer-term basis both historically and hoping that the relationship will be closer in future than it has been in recent years.

Going back into history, it is very significant. My generation obviously remembers it vividly, remembers the events leading up to 1939 very vividly and, of course, we have a very considerable Polish community in my country, so it is never far from our thoughts and the Polish community is very active.

So I do think it is the desire to get closer once again.

I have been to two Warsaw Pact countries during my Prime Ministership—one, Hungary and now the other, Poland. I have not yet visited the others, but perhaps we have chosen the two which we felt we could be closest to. [end p8]

Question

Madam Prime Minister, you said in your toast at the State Dinner that you would like to see East Europe play a bigger role in all European policy. What do you exactly mean by that in the case of Poland?

Prime Minister

I think that what we are trying to do now is to get far more contacts across what I would call the “European Divide” . There is a divide. There are different systems on the Warsaw Pact side from the political systems that we have on the West European side, but for quite some time now the European Economic Community has been trying to have closer trading relations with some of the Warsaw Pact countries.

We have recently completed an Association Agreement with Hungary, which I hope they will be very satisfied with, and we are if I might put it up this way—stepping up our bilateral relations, many countries in Europe.

It is time that we had more closer relationships across that divide. It is not just a divide between Warsaw Pact and NATO. There are many interlinked things that we can do, from countries on the West to countries on this side, and those are happening—very much so. [end p9]

Question

I was in London this year. I saw a very interesting place, the London Docklands, but what do you think about changes in Britain's economy during the last decade?

Prime Minister

There have been great changes in Britain's economy. The standard of living is very much greater. We are going into about our eighth year of growth. Things are growing very fast at the moment, perhaps a little too fast, because inflation has been rising again. At the moment, as you know, it is nearly 6 percent which is too high, and we will have to take steps to get it down, and because we have been growing so fast we have been importing too much and the steps we have taken to get inflation down will also help to get that deficit down.

But the growth is going well. Very high investment in British industry and in British commerce and all British services, so it is going well. I think it has had a good government for some time!

Question

Prime Minister, you said twice that it is premature to transfer the remains of General Sikorski to Poland, but as you know, a large part of Polish society as well as the Polish Authority and the Pope and the Church in Poland expressed the wish many times, also in London. Are you going to change your position after this visit to Poland? [end p10]

Prime Minister

When we are asked about this, we do two things: we enquire from the closest living relatives what are their wishes—and those obviously count a great deal—and my recollection is that comparatively recently when we enquired, that they did not wish there to be a transfer and I will check that again. And we also understand that there is some difference of view in Poland or in the Polish community, and we took that into account.

So it is not a decision which necessarily endures for ever. It is one which we do re-examine from time to time in the way which I have indicated.

We understand, obviously, why many people wish those remains to be transferred.

Question

Prime Minister, what emerged in practical terms from your second session of talks with General Jaruzelski and linked with that, if Poland should succeed in coming to an accommodation with the International Monetary Fund, will that lead to Britain immediately opening up new credits and joint ventures or will that depend on political advance as well, such as the recognition of Solidarity? [end p11]

Prime Minister

Once the IMF agreement has been reached, you will find that the Paris Club will reschedule. How it reschedules will have to be decided. What kind of period of grace it has and what length of time and what rate of interest, but you will find that that rescheduling will take place and new credits will be opened up. That will not happen until after IMF, but it will happen when an IMF agreement has come about.

Question

Irrespective of political questions?

Prime Minister

Those things we usually do, not on a political basis but on an IMF basis.

Polish News Agency

Prime Minister, Poland is saddled with a $40 billion debt. There are many shortcomings and grievances in this country into the bargain.

My question is: if you were asked to, would you accept our Prime Ministership in this country? [end p12]

Prime Minister

I have already been asked that. It is an astonishing question. I said: “Well, not yet!”

Pat Cozer (UPI)

I think you have now heard both sides of the argument about the closing of the Gdansk shipyard—the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. What is your opinion on that?

Prime Minister

The closing of the Gdansk shipyard is not for me. It is for the people of Poland to decide, but I think that you might be indirectly asking about the talks with Solidarity.

Of course, we regard Solidarity as going far beyond the normal trade union relationship. It is, I think, an expression and a focus of opposition in this country and so it has that character and quality and as such, it is a very important group of people, but the particular shipyard, I think, is a matter for Poland to decide.

Polish TV News

Prime Minister, the national curriculum is now under discussion in your country. My question pertains to whether such events like breaking up the Enigma system by the Polish specialists or for that matter the V1 or V1 missiles being worked on by the Polish underground system, would be included in that. Whether fair representation would be given to the historical facts? [end p13]

Prime Minister

The main curriculum at the moment that we are having on a national basis is English, mathematics, science and technology. I doubt whether those two specific things might be included, but it is quite possible, as illustration of what has happened.

We have not yet managed to do the history curriculum.

The reason we are having a basic national curriculum is because there were so many different ways of teaching and when children went from one school to another that caused problems, so we are ensuring that they have a basic national curriculum which, of course, does not stop extra subjects either within one particular group of subjects or extra subjects which teachers wish to teach.

Question

Prime Minister, many changes have occurred in the Middle East region recently. Israeli elections brought triumph to opposing the peace process in the region. What do you think about this and how can this, in your opinion, influence the further cause of the peace process?

Secondly, the Palestine National Council is going to hold its session in a few days. Sources close to it indicate that the Declaration of Independence will be announced and that the Palestinian State will be proclaimed and this is something which was decided by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 181, acknowledged by your country.

What position will your government assume towards the Palestinian Government in the context of the changes in the Middle East and the international political arena? [end p14]

Prime Minister

First, I think there is another election which is going to take place next week which is quite important in the future of the Middle East, because obviously, when you are considering negotiations, the United States plays a very prominent role in getting those negotiations going between Israel and whoever is going to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people. That is so because as you know, King Hussein recently adopted a very different position on negotiations. He himself would not negotiate on their behalf unless specifically asked to do so and would not go into a confederation unless they specifically asked him to do so.

So I think it is too early to say precisely what form those negotiations will take. It is obvious that there have to be negotiations between Israel and true representatives of the Palestinian people. It is not quite sure who those will be. It is obvious that those negotiations will not get going without the paramount interest of the United States in them and many other countries.

With regard to the Palestinian National Council, I think it would be advisable to wait to see what they do, but I can tell you what our position is: we recognise countries—not governments—countries, not governments.