Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the Polish Senate

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Warsaw
Source: Thatcher Archive
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3453
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservatism, Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, Privatized & state industries, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Religion & morality

"For Your Freedom and Ours"

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour to have been asked to address the Polish Senate, Poland's first democratically elected parliamentary body for well over half a century. I know that later this month the lower house will also have its first truly free elections. All this represents a triumph for democracy and for the people of Poland. 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. Poland and Britain have more in common even than our shared experience: we have a shared vocation to liberty. For both of us the idea we have of our country is inseparable from our mission to defend and extend the reign of freedom. The defiant words emblazoned on the banners of Poland's freedom fighters in the nineteenth century would find an echo in any British heart: “For Your Freedom, and Ours” . And let me add that we will never forget the courage and sacrifice of Polish airmen who defended our skies and our liberty in the Battle of Britain in 1940. You will all have been especially pleased that this year when communism was uprooted in Russia has also seen the celebration of the 200th Anniversary of your famous Constitution of 1791 - the first written constitution of mainland Europe to set out a framework for free government. For Poles have known throughout your history that freedom must be indivisible and universal. Ladies and Gentlemen, surely no people - except perhaps for the Jews, Armenians and Kurds - has been so repeatedly subject to attempts by others to destroy it. In 1795 Russia, Prussia and Austria swore to abolish everything which might recall the existence of the Poland they had torn from the map of Europe. In 1939 the Nazis promised that the concept of Poland would be erased from the human mind. In 1945, with torture, imprisonment, purges, assassination and deportation the Communists tried to extinguish the Poland of your fathers. Polish patriotism defeated them. Two great Polish patriots - President Walesa and Pope John Paul II - inspired the Polish nation to cast off its chains. And I am struck today as I was when I came here three years ago, how loyalty to the nation itself is allowing painful changes to be endured in hope of a better future. The Polish nation knows that, whatever the difficulties which lie ahead, it has come through the valley of the shadow of death - and witnessed dawn.

Making Democracy Work

Since 1989, you have been recreating political freedom. And you will have found that this is almost as heroic a task as winning freedom in the first place. You can draw confidence from three considerations. First, Poland's passion for liberty has never been and can never be extinguished: and you must have a passion for liberty if it is to survive. Second, political and economic freedom correspond to men's natural aspirations: certainly there are institutions to be created and techniques to be learned, but human instincts and interests are on your side. Third, democracy and free enterprise are on the march across the continents: not necessarily irrevocably, and certainly not universally - as the tragedy of Croatia shows - but the tide of ideas is flowing in your direction. Different countries find different democratic paths and patterns. That is only to be expected. But when they reach their destination with democracy they will: be governed through the consent of the majority - expressed in free elections, which must take place regularly within a specified period; the electorate will be able to choose between different parties which, alone or together, can form a government; and there will be a just rule of law which applies equally to everybody, guaranteeing their fundamental rights, and enforceable by an impartial and independent judiciary - a rule of law is what makes freedom work. These are the political foundations of a free society. As such they are vital. But they are not sufficient to make democracy work well. For democracy also depends heavily on the character and calibre of those who aspire to govern - and on the sense of responsibility of the people. A democratic electorate will insist on being told the full truth by politicians about the country's circumstances. It also demands clear principles and policies - not ones geared just to short-term requirements but to the needs of the long term future. It will respect and be inclined to support those whose character and convictions mark them out as leaders - not just followers of fashion. I have not the slightest intention of interfering in Poland's internal politics, especially at such a time as this. But I will say two things. First, those who willingly supported, directly or indirectly, socialist policies which shored up tyranny and led to economic collapse are least likely to make freedom work now. Those who fearlessly criticised the old system and have set about building the new are likely to secure for the Polish people all the benefits it can bring. Second, I urge you all to recognise the huge advantages which properly established political parties can bring. So often people speak as if political parties were an unwelcome and undignified distraction. They are not. One of my own country's greatest political thinkers, the acknowledged father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, described the purpose of a political party in these words: “Party is a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed” . Please note it is the broad principle, not the details - about which Party members may legitimately differ - which counts. I have seen in other European countries what happens when the reformers of the centre right do not work together. Fragmentation has been a prescription for impotence. Liberty requires unity of purpose and of action among her friends. Yet to underpin democracy here in Poland - and indeed in any country - politics is not enough; even law is not enough. You need strong defence. You need free enterprise and private property. And you need a moral basis to sustain freedom. Let me now say a word on each of these topics.

Security and Defence

Ladies and Gentlemen, your country's history, like mine, has taught us that liberal ideals and democratic institutions have to be defended by force if they are to survive. The tragedies which Poland has suffered have all resulted from the fact that your predatory and aggressive neighbours had military superiority. So democracy requires its security to be assured by strong defence. And that applies just as much in the New World Order as it did in the old. Freedom would not have been allowed to triumph in the Cold War if the West had permitted the Soviet Union to gain military superiority. It was only when, under American and British leadership, NATO showed that it would not be intimidated, that it could not be beaten militarily, and that it was determined to remain technologically ahead, that the Soviet grand strategy had to change. This was what first prompted the Soviet Communist Party to choose a different kind of leader. This was what gave him the advantage over his hard-line opponents. This was what must have convinced enough people even in the Soviet security apparatus earlier this year that the perpetrators of the coup had no real alternative to offer. I know that you in Poland are deeply conscious of the need to assure your security at this time of uncertainty. And for this you and your neighbours look to us in the West, and in particular NATO. It would be impractical for your countries to join NATO as full members - at least in the short term. But I do feel that NATO should offer you some form of participation and assistance within its framework, to the extent that conditions in your countries permit. The more you are seen to be friends and partners of the NATO alliance, the greater your security. I know that there is a long tradition of regional cooperation - going back, I understand, all the way to the time when the sons of your 13th Century King Kazimierz were simultaneously on the Polish, Lithuanian and Hungarian thrones... Not, that I wish to suggest that you repeat this model of regional cooperation today! But there is much that the three leading reforming countries of the area - yourselves, Czechoslovakia and Hungary - can do together. You face common problems with the collapse of your Eastern markets, you have common security concerns, and you face common political challenges in terms of your relations with the West. So I think there is ample scope for coordinating your reform efforts and working out common positions, and so strengthening your arguments in relation to both your Eastern and your Western neighbours.

Inevitably, the greatest challenge and opportunities for your security will come from the developing situation in the former Soviet Union. Of course, we are interested in stability in the area. We must know with whom we are dealing; that agreements are being honoured; and that duties are being discharged.

But we should also be clear that the best - indeed the only acceptable - basis for such stability is national self-determination, democracy and respect for human rights. So whatever uncertainty there may be at present, the long term security of Poland will have been enhanced by the fall of Soviet Communist domination over your Eastern neighbours. We in the West share Poland's concern about the continued presence of Soviet troops in your country. We understand, of course, the logistical problems for the Soviet Army, involving the evacuation of their forces from Germany. But we hope that the negotiations to ensure their removal will be successfully completed soon. Poland is seeking to normalise her relations with the Soviet Union on a new basis. The Soviet Union must fully respect Poland's sovereignty in the Friendship Treaty that is currently under negotiation.

Capitalism and Democracy

The security provided by defence is one necessary condition for democracy: a free enterprise economy is another. To some, this may seem less evident. But it is no coincidence that democracy and capitalism were both on the retreat in the 1970s - nor that they are both now advancing together. I am not going to apologise for using the word “capitalism” : but I do want to explain exactly what I mean by it. I know that here in Poland capitalism has been given a bad name because many of those who held influential positions under the old Communist system used them corruptly to gain benefits under the new system. Nor, among the former communist countries, is Poland unique in this. The capitalism which I support and which is practised in the West is not a free for all in which the powerful are able to exploit their position at the expense of fairness, decency and the common good. Capitalism can only function when there is a strong and just rule of law, to which everyone, including government, is answerable. Corruption in capitalist countries is increasingly severely punished. It is almost entirely absent from public administration. And we set the highest possible standards of impartiality for our courts. All these things are not qualifications or modifications to capitalism. They are essential to it. Capitalism above all requires confidence in order to operate. And such confidence can only be created by a just rule of law - never by the law of the jungle. So capitalism needs the institutions of democracy to underpin it. And it shares, of course, a common root with democracy. For capitalism works because, like democracy, it gives real power to the people. In even the most active form of political democracy, individuals are not asked to cast their votes on the performance of politicians more than once or twice a year locally, or after a period of years nationally. Yet in the market place men and women are making their economic choices every minute of every day through the goods they buy. Free enterprise capitalism is economic democracy. It limits the power of government by maximising the power of the people. Free enterprise capitalism is necessary - though not a sufficient - condition for political democracy itself. Once you permit personal choice to rule through the market, it will in time extend to the ballot-box too. You in Poland know all about this. In retrospect, we can see that it was when the communists were unable to destroy private ownership and enterprise in agriculture that the limits of communism itself were recognised. Not that the end came quickly: nor that it could have come at all without extraordinary courage and sacrifice. But when the communists were forced to accept that collectivism could not feed the people the system was ultimately doomed. Capitalism alone can mobilise people's talents. Governments themselves do not create wealth: they consume it. The proper and positive task of government is: to see that money keeps its value; to break up monopolies, replacing them with the spur of competition; to set some consumer standards; and, of course, to provide a safety net of social benefits for those genuinely unable to cope for themselves. And on this last point, we should always remember that those who can work must. In Poland there is so much work to do to reconstruct your country. But unless people are given an incentive to work, rather than stay unemployed, they will just join the dependency culture. Let us remember too that only in so far as factories produce goods that people want to buy will the jobs there be secure. And only if businesses are encouraged to generate wealth first can there be any question of redistributing it. I have already described how capitalism depends upon democracy and the rule of law. Yet, just as important, it also directly underpins political freedom. When the state intervenes in the economy through planning industry, imposing layers of controls, hindering free trade, when it raises ever larger sums in taxation, when it cuts the value of people's savings through inflation, it is also diminishing people's freedom. By contrast, when people can choose between different employers and different products, when they can improve their own and their families' standard of living by their efforts, without losing all the benefit in taxation, when they can acquire, accumulate and hand on property, their independence against the coercive power of the State is strengthened.

Making Capitalism Work

Ladies and gentlemen, my main message to you today is that you are moving in the right direction - but that you have much further to go. Your bold and brilliant Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Mr Balcerowic, has set out the course you need to pursue - and now you must persist in implementing the measures which are required. Inflation has been coming down - but it is still too high and you must be prepared to take action if it threatens to accelerate. You were one of the first Central European countries to make your currency convertible. By opening your economy to the outside world, your own industries have at last had to compete and produce better quality goods.

Let me say, however, that in my view Poland and her neighbours have been selfishly, short-sightedly and shoddily treated by the European Community. The very products - textiles, steel and farming - which are so crucial to Poland's industrial prospects are those which, for the sake of minor short term political gain, some Community governments are determined to exclude. This is not just harmful to Poland: it restricts the choice and puts up the price of goods to consumers within the European Community. I would like to see immediate agreement on opening up Community markets to the widest possible range of Polish products: and I want to see Poland admitted as soon as possible to full membership of the European Community. You have not only much to gain - you have much to contribute: you should be allowed to do so.

Poland's economic difficulties - though worsened by foolish European Community behaviour - stem, above all, from the legacy of socialism. They are not the result of policies for free enterprise capitalism. Rather, too much still remains of the old system and the attitudes and interests which perpetuated it. You need to make a clean break with the past. From my own experience in tackling the legacy of socialism in Britain, I can tell you this: the faster, the more radical and the more coherent your programme of economic reform, the sooner it will yield benefits and the greater these will be. But the medicine may well be unpalatable at first. You just have to persist until it brings about a cure. And, as all experience shows, the patient does recover. So I would urge you to: gain even tighter control of public spending so as to reduce your still excessive government borrowing: this will eventually allow interest rates to fall without risking renewed inflation; cut taxes, regulations and restrictions - and do not needlessly alter them in ways which cause uncertainty - so as to liberate talent and encourage business;

privatise your State-owned industries, even if the financial yield seems disappointingly small: their performance will often be transformed beyond recognition - and if they do fail that itself will free capital and labour for more productive tasks which will yield profits, incomes and employment. There is a very human and understandable temptation which any country experiences when deliberately setting out in a new direction. Fear of the unknown can lead us: to try to buy time through accepting just a little inflation, just a little larger budget deficit, just a little more taxation; to seek refuge in more state intervention in industry as a means of resisting fundamental changes required by the market; and to regard foreign companies and investment as a threat rather than a boost to economic progress and a source of jobs. My advice is this: ignore the seductive voices of political sirens, which can so easily wreck reform by weakness and procrastination; be as bold in transforming your economy as you have been in fighting Communism; and become an example to peoples everywhere who wish to enjoy the fruits of freedom.

Moral Foundations of Democracy

The third condition for a successful democracy is, as I have said, a moral order which is favourable to freedom. Here in Poland it is impossible to speak of these things - indeed impossible to speak of your country's glorious struggle for freedom - without speaking about the Catholic Church. It is no surprise to me that it is a Polish Pope John Paul IIPope who has now given explicit and powerful recognition in his encyclical Centesimus Annus to the moral and practical arguments for the free economy. But let me immediately say that no political or economic system itself makes men good - and democracy is no exception. Some virtues, like tolerance and honesty, are necessary to sustain freedom: and some virtues, like industry, thrift and taking responsibility, are even encouraged by it. But the main moral argument for freedom is not that it moulds people in its own image but that it allows them to create theirs. It does this because it alone protects those rights without which none of us enjoys the full dignity of human personality. It is not just that capitalism works. It is not just that capitalism is morally right. What we have to recognise and proclaim with the most intense conviction is that capitalism works because it is morally right.

Poland's Inner Strength

Ladies and Gentlemen, your fight against communism had ultimately to be a spiritual fight. This is because communism - as the most extreme and odious variety of socialism - seeks to deny Man's God-given and unequal talents, seeks to pervert the natural aspirations of human nature and seeks to crush the human spirit. Communism is the ultimate materialism. And it commits the ultimate infraction of the First Commandment - because it demands the worship of the State. From the struggle for national rebirth, Poland has acquired an inner strength which it is now for you to use to create a new and better life. The way of freedom is exhilarating - but it is hard. And only those prepared to live a life of effort can travel far along it. More than thirty years ago, when I fought my first parliamentary campaign in Britain, I remember being inspired by words attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who knew more about freedom than most of us could forget. I have kept them by me ever since. The passage runs:

“You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.

You cannot further the brotherhood of Man by encouraging class hatred.

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

You cannot build character and courage by destroying Man's initative and independence. ”

Treasure these sentiments. Act upon them. And let Poland's example give faith and hope to those who love liberty in every corner of the world.