Thirty years ago today, in Poland we witnessed a scene that had once seemed impossible – an election where, for the first time, the people of this nation had a choice. The Communist regime thought an election would validate their rule or weaken the opposition. Instead, Poles turned out in the millions. And when the votes were counted, it was a landslide victory for freedom. One woman who voted that day said, “There is a sense that something is beginning to happen in Poland. We feel the taste of Poland again.” She was right. It was the beginning of the end of Communism – not just in this country, but across Europe.
The images of that year are seared in our memory. Citizens filling the streets of Budapest and Bucharest. Hungarians and Austrians cutting the barbed wire border. Protestors joining hands across the Baltics. Czechs and Slovaks in their Velvet Revolution. East Berliners climbing atop that wall. And we have seen the extraordinary progress since that time. A united Germany. Nations in Central and Eastern Europe standing tall as proud democracies. A Europe that is more integrated, more prosperous and more secure. The spark for so much of this revolutionary change, this blossoming of hope, was lit in Poland.