Keynote address by Zbigniew Brzeziński
at the Memorial Evening
honoring Col. Ryszard Kukliński

Embassy of the Republic of Poland
March 31, 2004

Ambassador Grudziński,
Mrs. Kuklińska,
Ladies and Gentlemen

First of all let me echo what Ambassador Grudziński said a few minutes ago about the role played by Mrs. Kuklińska. Colonel Kukliński in his struggles, in his remarkable commitment acted alone, but he had support and understanding, and loyalty and love and the willingness to risk everything from his immediate family, and especially his wife. In honoring him we also pay tribute to her. Because patriotism is a very, very special characteristic not only of Polish men but of Polish women and they provide the strength, the commitment, the faith that sustains you when you seem to be alone.

I think we can all agree today that Ryszard Kukliński is a historic figure, but what does that mean, when you say that someone is a historic figure? In part it comes from our knowledge of history, of certain facts, of certain chronologies, of certain accomplishments. But in part it is also a function of the historical myth, the creation of a certain image of the person involved. It involves ultimately the creation of a certain perception in your own imagination; some sense of that person, some very personal image of that individual.

And I would like to share with you the recollection that I have of a certain historical image, and of a certain historical personality.

I can conjure in my mind the picture of a young officer who cannot accept the domination of his country by Russia; who engages in a conspiracy to undo that unacceptable reality. I can see him in my imagination being court marshaled by senior Polish officers who condemn him for his willingness to act on his own for the sake of a higher ideal. I can imagine a picture of him being drummed out of the military, paraded in front of his troops, stripped of his uniform and then sent off to prison.

I can also imagine him being forgotten at the moment of Poland’s emancipation when he should have been remembered.

Now for those of you who know Polish history, you know that I am speaking of someone else. I am speaking of major Walerian Łukasiński. Who was major Walerian Łukasiński? He was a young Polish officer arrested in 1822 for organizing a conspiracy against Russian domination of Poland. He was arrested, denounced, even forgotten. During the uprising of 1830 when he was still in prison in Warsaw, no effort was made to liberate him. And he spent the rest of his life in the Schlizenburg fortress in St. Petersburg, imprisoned for 37 years in that fortress until his death.

Now why do I mention him? Because I see some dramatic parallels between him and Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, who was a patriot, who risked everything, literally his own life was at risk, and the fate of his family was at risk; who demonstrated enormous courage over a number of years in remarkably risky undertakings, which are well documented in a recent book about him, which has been published in this country. He was acting alone, but knowing that he was acting on behalf of a truly vital issue: the survival of his people in the event of war. Knowing what he knew about Soviet strategic plans and being where he was and being who he was, he knew that he had a special duty to ensure that they were forestalled.

Was there any other action, any other course of action that would have served Poland better then? The action that he actually undertook, by himself, alone in the face of this enormous risk? It is sometimes suggested that he should have joined Solidarity. That would have been an act of folly, he would been exposed and it would have been an ineffective act because it wouldn’t have contributed to the forestalling of the ominous strategic plans for a war against the West in the course of which Poland had to be the victim of American counterattack.

Could he have joined the opposition by organizing some conspiracy? What good would that have done? He would have been caught. And there would be no wider effect. What he did was the right and single most important act: to enhance the ability of the West, to deter the Soviet Union and thereby maximize the chances of Poland’s survival. That required enormous commitment and endurance.

We know that in recent years he has been denounced in Poland, but mostly and most energetically by those who earlier had been most servile in their loyalty to the Soviet Union. The denunciations by them are no shame. He was also denounced by some who did not understand the risks that he was running, nor the strategic significance of what he was doing, but who also aspired to Poland’s independence. That hurt the most! That was difficult to understand and it is still difficult to understand. But I suspect that that attitude originated in the feeling of some that the Polish regime, communist regime, while vile, was still a Polish regime. And they didn’t comprehend that Kukliński was struggling not against just the Polish regime but against domination of the entire region by a country that was at the same time preparing aggressive strategic plans, the inevitable consequence of which would have been destruction of Poland in a war between the West and the East.

This is why what he accomplished was historically was so important. This is why he is today a historic figure. And I have no doubt that as time passes on and as others much younger than me conjure up in their own minds the image of the historic figure, they will feel about him the way those who were educated earlier in Poland think of major Łukasiński: a lonely hero, a lonely hero who risked all, so that Poland could be safe and that ultimately Poland would be free.

And there is a broader lesson to be learned in this, that the routes to freedom, the roads to recovery of Poland’s independence were many. And were pursued by many in different ways. But certainly among them Kukliński’s mission, his commitment, was of central historic importance.

I once described him as the first Polish officer in NATO. He was that, but he was more than that; he helped to lead Poland into NATO.

And he will be remembered, and as he should be remembered - a great Polish patriot. Let me end in Polish “On się dobrze Polsce zasłużył”. [He served Poland well.] Thank you.