The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Lunch for President Walesa – 24 April 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at lunch for President Walesa on Wednesday 24th April 1991.


Mr President, I welcome you and your wife most warmly to Britain on your State Visit – the first by any Polish head of State.

We are delighted to see you here, together with so many friends of Poland. It is also a great joy to welcome here the President and Prime Minister of the former Polish Government-in-exile. That is a true sign that freedom has come to your country.

I am only sad that, because of poor health, Count Raczynski [Former President of the Government-in-exile] could not be here as well.
Mr President, you are a man who has captured the imagination and the admiration of the world.

In your home town of Gdansk there are two monuments which draw all visitors. One is in the church of Saint Brygida. It is to Father Popielusko who was a martyr in the cause of freedom.

The other is to the shipyard workers who lost their lives in the strike of 1970. Ten years later, you climbed the wall of the shipyard to sustain the courage of your comrades.

That was an act of physical bravery. Much more, it set in train a revolution of people, ideas and values that swept away the old order.

So we pay warm tribute to you, and to your wife, Danuta.

Wives are the unsung heroines of many careers. Especially in politics. But Danuta had to show a very special courage.

You and she put more on the line than a career. You put your lives on the line for your people and your country.

Mr President, we have a lot in common.

Our Scottish and English forebears traded and lived side by side with yours in your home town of Gdansk. Some people have even been so bold as to suggest that in times past your family came from the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. I should like to think so. If so, perhaps we can claim some small responsibility if not for your success as a political leader then at least for the technical skills which are the common heritage of the shipbuilders of Gdansk and of Strathclyde.

More seriously, it was the invasion of your country that brought Britain into the last war. The Polish Government came to London to carry on the fight for liberty. Many of your compatriots fought alongside us. In the Battle of Britain – directed by Winston Churchill from this house – Polish pilots fought and died to give us our victory.

I have not visited Warsaw, but all of us know its history and its bravery. Your Ambassador was a young man at the heart of the Warsaw uprising. Today, the old city, re-built, is a monument to the heroism of the Polish people.

It is against that past that we delight in Poland’s return to democracy under your leadership. We want to help you in. practical ways. We have been through an economic revolution in our own country. Your transformation may be more difficult, but the problems are alike. Privatisation, re-training, small businesses. In all these we can assist you with skills and experience. And we are doing so through the Know How Fund.

We will help, too, in the organisation of local government, police training and English language teaching. Two of our initiatives (in management and consultancy) are based in Gdansk.

With our partners in the European Community we have given assistance worth more than £125 million. We have championed your cause in the Paris Club. We were delighted at the recent decision to halve your debt.

For nearly half a century Poland was cut off, politically and culturally, from the mainstream of European development. Now all that is changing. You will soon reach an Association Agreement with the European Community. I have no doubt that, if you want it, you will become full members of the Community in the not very distant future.

Mr President, when you were last in London I recall that you described yourself as an amateur. You had done your bit. Now it was time to hand over to the professionals.

But then I think you found that you could not just ‘hand over to the professionals’. Poland needed your leadership. Now you have become a professional yourself. But although you may be poacher turned game-keeper, I know that you have not lost any of the qualities which led you to climb that wall at the Lenin Shipyard a decade ago.

I know I speak not just for your friends here but for the vast numbers of people in this country who have fond feelings for Poland and warmth and admiration for you. It is that warmth and admiration, on behalf of my fellow countrymen, that I would like to express now in inviting our guests to drink a toast.

The toast is to the health and prosperity of the President of the Republic of Poland and of Mrs Walesa.

The toast is to the people of Poland. Nazdrovia.