For his contribution to the downfall of the communist rule in the Central and Eastern Europe and for his unwavering support for Poland, Ronald Reagan has been posthumously conferred with the Order of the White Eagle.

On the July the 17th 2007 President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński met with Mrs. Nancy Reagan in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Institute in Simi Valley, California. Mr. Kaczyśnki presented the US President’s widow with the Order of the White Eagle, the most prestigious of Polish orders.

During the ceremony Lech Kaczyński stressed the fact that the transition in Poland could not be achieved without the decisiveness, determination and sense of mission displayed by Ronald Reagan.  The Polish President said:

"Mrs. Reagan, Minister, Distinguished Ladies, Distinguished Gentlemen.

I was thinking what to begin this speech with. I think the best way will be to provide the broadest possible justification of my decision, which in our country is exclusively for the President to take. This is about posthumously conferring upon President Ronald Reagan the Order of the White Eagle. Several years ago President Ronald Reagan had received – while still alive – the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit. It is Poland’s highest decoration awarded to foreigners. Today posthumously he shall receive a decoration, which is basically meant for Polish citizens; a decoration, which has over three hundred years and whose name is connected with the emblem of my country; an emblem, which is used since over seven hundred years. In this respect it is one of the oldest decorations worldwide because decorations, that is to say the national emblem was usually connected with the ruling dynasty. Meanwhile in Poland it is the emblem of our state, regardless of the dynasty in power. Why did I therefore decide to take this step, which is quite unusual and unconventional? I did it deliberately as an eyewitness of the events, which are connected with the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. But as an eyewitness of course not here in the United States, only on the other side – in Polish “Solidarity”. In the ‘70’s for the first time illegal but public opposition arose. In a matter of a few years this opposition turned into one of the greatest mass movements in the world’s history – “Solidarity” with its ten million members in a nation, which at the time numbered thirty six million. Thus the movement included almost everyone, who was a hired worker. And what was “Solidarity”? Formally speaking it was a trade union, but in fact it was a great national movement against communism. The question arises, how this movement could arise and last legally – I say this quite consciously – for as many as sixteen months. It broke all rules of the leading role of the communist party. Naturally the reason was the strength of this movement but there were also other reasons and President Reagan was directly connected with them.

When for the first time there was almost certainty that the Russians would intervene in Poland, Ronald Reagan had only been elected President. He had not assumed office yet but it was known he would do it. And in Moscow they knew who the US President would be six weeks later. It was known that the period of softness was over. That power in the world’s mightiest country would be taken by a genuine anticommunist – with all due respect to the achievements of President Carter. It must be remembered that this awareness was extremely important as regards the decision to back off and not intervene. When the threat of intervention appeared again a few months later Ronald Reagan was already President. And it is doubtless that the awareness of the Soviet authorities of the fact that US policy would now be tough kept them again from intervening. Moreover it indeed eradicated any such plans. Something else was chosen – internal intervention – which is quite different that external intervention. The difference between introduction of martial law in Poland in December of 1981 and the entry of the Soviet army is a difference, which you Americans perhaps do not understand, because you have never been in such a situation, however it is indeed a fundamental difference. Years after martial law have been very difficult for Poles. However the pressure encountered by the regime of general Jaruzelski undoubtedly limited the scope of repressions. In these circumstances something in the semblance almost of an underground state arose. New elites could arise. An elite could arise, which was the only one in post-communist states capable of independently taking over government. The fact that the pressure on the government of general Jaruzelski came above all from the US I need not explain. At the same time President Reagan was engaged in a great global war against communism, Secretary Schultz spoke about this. This fight also deprived Polish communists of their self-assuredness. They had to retreat step by step. Since autumn 1986 the leadership of underground “Solidarity” was already certain of victory. And in this case too was it connected with Ronald Reagan’s policy. Victory came in 1989. However enclaves of freedom, a different Poland, existed already in the years immediately before 1989. One can say that already then everything was decided, though we in the leadership of underground Poland of those times did not know when exactly it would happen. It happened in June and September 1989. First the great victory in not quite free, but at least partly free elections. Then something, which even a few months before seemed unrealistic to many – a non-communist government in Poland; the government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. It was preceded by the re-legitimisation of the “Solidarity” union. I take today this opportunity to recall that it was earlier than the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. What I am speaking about was certainly a great achievement of my nation, but this achievement would not have been possible without the resoluteness and determination, without the sense of mission of President Ronald Reagan. Hence my decision."

Sources: TVN24, KPRP.