As with everything else in life, there is the good news and the bad news. The good news is that we have had many successes in the past year. The bad news is that we have a number of problems, both internal and external.
As you will recall, I had anticipated that someone would come forward and express an interest in seeking the presidency of the Polish American Congress. Obviously, that is not happened and, as a result, I must presume it to be an affirmation of the leadership which we have tried to exert over the years. I am grateful for the vote of confidence, but must warn you that we will not let up on our strong defense of Poland against the revisionists and we will not abandon our efforts to protect the image of Polish Americans, regardless of how disconcerting that may be to our detractors. Likewise, we have a variety of projects to complete, which will demand that we all work together with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
In order for the Polish American Congress to solidify its position as the representative of Polonia, it is absolutely necessary that we correct some of the errors within our own house. It is not my intention to embarrass anyone, but it is necessary that I point out some of the internal problems that we have faced.
The PAC must act with a united front, not with many discordant voices, but with a single voice through one person who has been elected to speak on behalf of the organization. It creates unnecessary confusion among persons and groups outside the PAC when one of us, who has not been given the authority, takes it upon himself or herself to speak on our behalf. Whether it be a matter of statements, explanations or extending invitations, it should be clear that we cannot have each Director or each Division President assuming power and authority which he does not actually possess. There is a proper way to handle these matters, of which everyone of us is aware. We have two offices, in Washington and Chicago, as well as my own office, where these matters should be directed. Doing otherwise is divisive. It seriously dilutes the unity and prestige of the PAC, and, for the good of this organization, we simply cannot permit that to happen.
The U.S. Senate's approval of Poland's admission into NATO was, of course, a highpoint of the year. That was the good news. The bad news was that some individuals among us have attempted to assume the accolades that went with that spectacular success. The truth is, and I know you will agree, that the effort to gain approval by the Senate was led by our Washington and Chicago offices, following years of work by our professional staff. Thereafter, it was a matter of teamwork in which many persons in the PAC were deeply involved. It was the united effort of the PAC that led to an affirmative Senate vote that exceeded our expectations. Rather than one particular person accepting kudos for this victory, we can, instead, be collectively proud that the PAC as a whole did the kind of job that it was created to perform.
As leaders of the PAC, it is vital that we be careful about the way in which we present ourselves, our divisions and the PAC itself before the public. There was a time when a popular warning was that "Loose Lips Sink Ships." Although it is not a matter of secrecy in our situation, it is still a fact that using terminology loosely or incorrectly can sink the PAC's "ship of state." Not long ago, for instance, one of our divisions described the PAC's Washington office as its "affiliate." That is not only an incorrect use of the word "affiliate," it is extremely misleading to the general public and, worse, it confuses officials and other leaders who we are trying to inform and influence on a national basis.
The foregoing are a few of our internal problems. We cannot continue to limp along with these mistakes, which may seem insignificant, but which are important because they detract from and diminish our endeavors as a national organization. Likewise, it is imperative that we rid ourselves of these and other side issues, which distract our attention from the truly vital work that lies before us.
And, make no mistake about it ... we do have very important work ahead of us in the coming months. Only by working together, following proper channels, will we be successful with our programs.
Our most pressing issue at this moment is the attempt by our government to obtain the return of over $250 million that was given to the Polish Enterprise Fund in 1989. That sum was given to bolster the emerging free market in Poland and, even though not a huge sum in international terms, it has had a salutary effect on the Polish economy. Succinctly put, we contend that the money was a grant and not an investment, and that both the initial grant and its proceeds should remain in Poland to promote a free market, bolster democratic institutions, improve the environment and provide better health care. When we consider the enormous sums, in billions and not millions, that has been literally thrown at such nations as India, Russia, Israel and Egypt, without any thought of return, it is incredible and unjust that a demand should be made upon Poland for a return of a grant.
With the encouragement and moral support of the United States, Poland has adapted more quickly and efficiently to a free market economy that the other emerging democracies of East Central Europe. It should not be penalized for having used an American grant more wisely than other nations. On the contrary, it would be to the advantage of the United States to solidify Poland as an anchor of democracy and financial strength in East Central Europe.
There is another matter of fairness, which has received little attention either by historians or the media, in which we have also become deeply involved. During World War II, over one million Poles were transported by boxcar to work as slave laborers under the most tragic and inhuman of circumstances. It is not sufficient that they are honored in our memories. We demand justice for them or their heirs and that they be adequately compensated for their suffering.
Five decades after the war's end, the survivors of that horror have still not received that which is rightfully theirs. Although the press singles out the Jewish victims, we know that there are great numbers of Christian Poles who have been refused assets deposited in Swiss accounts, or were refused payment on life or casualty insurance policies. We are taking action to address that issue. Likewise, the Swiss banks have established a Humanitarian Fund to benefit non-Jewish claimants, and we are watching the manner in which it will be administered and the process by which eligibility will be determined.
The situation regarding the cross at Auschwitz is no longer in the headlines, but the permanent placement of that symbol is still in question. At our May meeting, you voted unanimously to support retention of the cross at the site just outside the camp. It was a strong, unified statement in support of the cross, but, unfortunately, there do not appear to be many in Poland's high offices who are prepared to duplicate your example. Although there have been statements indicating varying degrees of support, no major political or religious leader has had the backbone to firmly insist that the cross must stay. We do not wish to be insensitive to other religions or nationalities, but neither do we intend to abandon our Polish values. Because the controversy surrounding the cross touches upon the very essence of the Polish spirit, as well as Polish sovereignty and honor, it is an issue that requires our continuing vigilance.
On another front, we have continued to provide the Polish people with medical equipment and supplies, both for emergency needs and for the general improvement of medical services. Although there has been some improvement, we continue to have problems relating to the acceptance of medical supplies in Poland. That is, of course, an unacceptable situation and unreasonable bureaucratic barriers must be lifted, if we are to persist with our efforts.
There are, of course, many other matters and issues that present themselves during the year. I won't bore you with the details, but I do wish to assure you that your national officers, as well as the offices in Washington and Chicago, are always prepared to meet each issue or challenge as it presents itself.
I ask for your continued cooperation to meet the many challenges that remain before us. Alone, we are but a few, lacking the strength to accomplish our goals ... together there is no limit to what we can achieve. We have made great strides in recent times. Together, we are writing a new chapter of history, so that future generations will say, "They set their goals high and they did not shirk their duty."
We must remember that whatever action we take is not without limits. Yesterday's discussion about the plights of the Poles both in Lithuania and Belarus is a very emotional issue. On the one hand, a dialogue has begun with the highest authorities in Lithuania and I believe we can make a difference in our relationships. We will continue to have faith in the policies of President Adamkus but we must also remember not everyone in Lithuania will agree with him and will not help to provide a working relationship with all sides. Proof of that is what's happening in the Ukraine in Lwow, to be exact was not theirs in the beginning, it was a part of Poland ceded to Ukraine by the Murderous Joseph Stalin and agreed to by powers that be but the fact still remains the Polish presence is still there. Witness the gravestones at the Lyczakowski cemetery where many of our most famous Polish heroes of music, drama, history and the written word are buried. Those graves are being desecrated by these grave robbers so they either steal what they can or use these it graves to bury their own in them. One must ask themselves just where are the authorities who have full knowledge of what's going on. What kind of cooperation can one expect when the local bishops has problems in retrieving his own residence also.
No matter what kind of agreements they Polish and Ukrainian governments agree to, the local radicals don't want peace, don't respect the rights of law. Common decency, human rights, if you please, and yes they want to join the nations of the West. What irony.
We of the Polish National Alliance put up a monument at the cemetery to the American pilots who fought on the side of Poland during the First World War and Loa and behold they desecrated that also. They butchered it and built a garage façade over the graves of the pilots. Apparently history continues to gall them having the resting-place of the Orlets, the student cadets fighting the armies of the Ukraine and beating them. This despite an agreement on both sides to its restoration.
So now they get their sick revenge by desecrating the gravestones, destroying the many statues of the Blessed Virgin and the vestiges of their fight for freedom, valor and yes, glory. Words those radicals don't understand and now they want to be part of our civilized world?
Should we be surprised as to what is going on against Poles in the other countries, not at all. I wish I could believe that pacts among countries and governments are adhered to but I'm sorry to say that I've become an active pessimist.
Events in Poland have made me a half way house non-believer. With the hierarchy in Poland lacking the courage to say once and for all, the cross will stay at Oswiecim and not perhaps. The Polish government will truly protect the rights and integrity of Poland, all its land and rights of its citizens
Talk to us even if you think it's just frivolous. You may never know if the individual you invite to your own home is only trying to manipulate you and draw you closer to some of our own mutual demeanors.
Enough of our Polish problems but let me say that once again I say that this is the Polish American Congress and not just the Polish Congress. I believe we have reached quite a successful effort with NATO, but the effort only shows what we can achieve success if we want to. Would that we could put as much effort and energy in electing our own Polish American candidates into political office with the same emotion, energy and verve as we are asked to give our Poles in different lands.
Whatever conclusion you might, make I feel that we can continue to help
our community and the people of Poland by electing officials to Congress
or the Senate who we know to be friendly to our cause. We are the Polish
American Congress and not the lobbying group for Poland's causes. We are
first loyal citizens of the United States and proud to be Polish Americans.