2010 Vol. 2 No. 3 — Fall / Commentary

Former U.S. Ambassador: Poles Have a Basic Love of Liberty

Victor AsheFormer U.S. ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe was the keynote speaker at the official Poland in the Rockies banquet, and addressed an audience that included student participants, sponsors and other guests – including representatives of both the federal government of Canada and the provincial government of Alberta.

Mr.  Ashe made a point of addressing the “younger people from the US, Canada and Poland,” speaking with such admiration for Poland and Polish values that many felt that he would be a wonderful ambassador of Poland.

“A consistent characteristic of the Polish people,” Mr. Ashe said, “is a basic love of liberty.” Two Poles were prominent in the battle for American independence, at a time when their own country suffered the loss of theirs, he said: Casimir Pulaski gave his life for America; Kosciuszko lived to liberate not only the United States but used his award from the Continental Congress to liberate African slaves – people who had been brought to the United States against their will and enslaved.

Mr. Ashe reminded his listeners that towards the end of Poland’s long period of partition, it was President Woodrow Wilson who was the strongest advocate of the restoration of the Polish state. And it was Wilson’s friend, Ignacy Paderewski, who taught Wilson about Poland, and that Poland was not an area to be occupied by three other nations, but was a nation unto itself that should be recreated to resume its rightful role in the destiny of Europe.

“Personal relationships have an impact on public policy, and in this case, very much so…” Mr. Ashe said.

He encouraged his young audience to get involved in the political process, “… to consider foreign service as a career. It will enable you to serve your country, Canada or the US, but also provide an opportunity to move the agenda of your country of origin.” American foreign service, he pointed out, is different from most other countries in that one third of ambassadors are appointed by the president from outside the foreign service; the president appoints friends, party supporters, as well, of course, as respected statesmen.

“Reach out to all parties,” he advised. “Today’s government could be next year’s opposition; and reach out to all different sections of a community.”

Mr. Ashe recalled memorable events from his time in Poland: the death Pope John Paul II, when everyone felt they had lost a father, the city of Krakow lit up with candles, the throngs of people out in the streets.

“We were there for many anniversaries,” he said, “World War II, Solidarity, the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

Speaking of the tragedy of the crash in Smolensk, Mr. Ashe said, “Joan and I lost friends, people who had visited us, whose homes we had visited.” But the continuity of the Polish government did not collapse, the system did not collapse.

“I remember the assassination of President Kennedy,” he said, “the system was in place and worked, just as it did in Poland.”

Poland was one of the few countries in Europe to register economic growth during the recession, Mr. Ashe said. “I can assure you President Obama would be thrilled if the US registered 1% economic growth. A lot of that is due to a couple of things… the location, having two large powers on either side – which were once its curse but now are an economic opportunity; the Polish education system is good – a higher percentage of Poles have university education than do Americans; the work ethic of Poles is incredibly high – everybody wants Poles working for them… If you want to invest, to locate somewhere, go where the work force is well educated, the work ethic is good, and there’s good security… I was one of the few American ambassadors anywhere who did not have a security detail the entire time I was there, which speaks volumes about the risks there.”

“Poland in the Rockies,” Mr. Ashe said, “must not just be a time to look back, but a time to look forward… Continue those values of liberty, freedom … cherish your common ancestry, celebrate it here in the wonderful Canadian Rockies and everywhere else.”

Gracious and friendly, with a knowledge and respect for Poland’s history and its people, Mr. Ashe was much admired and his and his wife’s presence was much appreciated. Prior to her husband’s keynote address, Mrs. Ashe gave a brief talk about her time as America’s official hostess in Warsaw.

It was clear from the words of both Mr. and Mrs. Ashe  words that the affection and respect the Polish people felt for them was a direct reflection of the affection and respect that the Ashes felt for the Polish people.

PitR was truly honored to have such a distinguished keynote speaker. Several PitR participants from the US had been in Poland during Ashe’s tenure there and had attended Fourth of July celebrations at the embassy. They recalled his and his wife’s warm hospitality and were delighted to meet them again in the Rockies.


Irene Tomaszewski
Irene Tomaszewski is a writer and editor of CR. She is the co-author, with Tecia Werbowski, of "Codename Żegota: The Most Dangerous Conspiracy in Occupied Europe," published by Praeger in 2010, and translator /editor of "Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska" published by Wayne State University Press in 2005.
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