Greg Hands MP speech on the anniversary of the birth of Solidarity in Poland

London, 27th June 2011

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

The first of my 10 visits to Poland was in 1985.

I was on a train from East Berlin to Warsaw, and the change at the border wasn’t only to swap the “Mitropa” wagon for a “WARS” wagon. It was also the change in people’s spirit. Both countries had oppressive regimes, but thanks to Solidarity and the incredible spirit of the Polish people, one couldn’t help but notice the change in people’s vivacity.

Truth be told, however, in 1985, nobody knew if Solidarity was, by then, simply an event in the past. We all know – and we can all today give thanks – that it was a big part of the future as well.

When Solidarity was born, I was a teenager, and was spellbound by the events. It was part of my own political awakening. I had a “Solidarnosc” poster at university.

It is an amazing story, which has been told just now by the Ambassador so eloquently, who lived it in Gdansk. I won’t repeat it, but I will try to draw out three lasting ramifications of Solidarity.

First, it was a worker-led revolution. This was, of course, contrary to the Marxist ideology that gripped the Soviet Empire, and, indeed, some people in the West.  According to Marx and Engels, the workers were supposed to be on the other side, not rebelling against Communism.

Second, and in a similar vein, was the vital role played by the Church and by Pope John Paul II. Again, under Marxist thinking, the Church was supposed to be part of the establishment, not the co-leaders of a workers’ revolt.

And third, we must always recognise the role of world figures like Michael Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in the ending of the Cold War. However, Solidarity predated both of them. We must never forget that the end of the Cold War was also brought about from home-grown grassroots movements like Solidarity and Charta 77.

So, Solidarity was a bottom-up, popular workers’ revolt, with church support – precisely the opposite of what Marxist doctrine told us should be the case!

I will also pay tribute at this point to my former Hammersmith constituent Giles Hart, who led the “Polish Solidarity Campaign” here in the UK, and who was to die tragically in the 7th July London bombings in 2005, a victim of a different kind of tyranny.

But today is not just about looking back. We should also celebrate the contribution of today’s Poles in the UK. I have said this before, and I will say it again, that the Poles are Britain’s most-popular ever set of immigrants, and I have never, in London at least, heard a bad word said about them.

UK – Polish links could hardly be stronger. We work closely together in NATO, the EU and in Afghanistan. We in the Conservative Party have particularly strong links. Nor is it just links at the top. When I first visited in the 1980s there were two flights a day between London and Warsaw. Now 10 Polish cities have scheduled air links to the UK.

So I look forward to the Polish presidency of the EU. I am sure that we have many items of common interest – just as we did 30 years ago!