Ronald Reagan entered office on January 20, 1981 and on December 13, 1981 the communist regime in Poland had declared martial law and was cracking down on the Solidarity movement. 10,000 people were rounded up and about 100 died during martial law. Ronald Reagan in his Christmas Address on December 23, 1981 denounced the crackdown (beginning at 4 minutes into the above video) and outlined economic sanctions against Poland while demanding that the human rights of the Polish people be respected:
We have been measured and deliberate in our reaction to the tragic events in Poland. We have not acted in haste, and the steps I will outline tonight and others we may take in the days ahead are firm, just, and reasonable.This was in marked contrast to the relationship with the regime in Romania. Out of all the countries of Eastern Europe, the United States had the closest diplomatic relations with Romania. This was due to the Nixon administration seeking to exploit differences between Romania and the Soviet Union. Nicolae Ceasescu denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and continued diplomatic relations with Israel maintaining an independent foreign policy from the Soviet Union.
In order to aid the suffering Polish people during this critical period, we will continue the shipment of food through private humanitarian channels, but only so long as we know that the Polish people themselves receive the food. The neighboring country of Austria has opened her doors to refugees from Poland. I have therefore directed that American assistance, including supplies of basic foodstuffs, be offered to aid the Austrians in providing for these refugees.
But to underscore our fundamental opposition to the repressive actions taken by the Polish Government against its own people, the administration has suspended all government-sponsored shipments of agricultural and dairy’ products to the Polish Government. This suspension will remain in force until absolute assurances are received that distribution of these products is monitored and guaranteed by independent agencies. We must be sure that every bit of food provided by America goes to the Polish people, not to their oppressors.
The United States is taking immediate action to suspend major elements of our economic relationships with the Polish Government. We have halted the renewal of the Export-Import Bank’s line of export credit insurance to the Polish Government. We will suspend Polish civil aviation privileges in the United States. We are suspending the right of Poland’s fishing fleet to operate in American waters. And we’re proposing to our allies the further restriction of high technology exports to Poland.
These actions are not directed against the Polish people. They are a warning to the Government of Poland that free men cannot and will not stand idly by in the face of brutal repression. To underscore this point, I’ve written a letter to General Jaruzelski, head of the Polish Government. In it, I outlined the steps we’re taking and warned of the serious consequences if the Polish Government continues to use violence against its populace. I’ve urged him to free those in arbitrary detention, to lift martial law, and to restore the internationally recognized rights of the Polish people to free speech and association.
Richard Nixon visited Romania in August of 1969. In 1972 Romania became eligible for U.S. Export-Import Bank credits and in 1975 was accorded most favored nation status. In 1978 Nicolae Ceasescu and his wife visited Washington, DC on a state visit and was hosted by President Jimmy Carter who welcomed the dictator and described him in the following glowing terms:
I've enjoyed being with him. He's a very good adviser. He's a man who in the past has suffered greatly, imprisoned, tortured, but because of his courage and because of his belief in the future of his own country, notable achievements have been brought to the people who have confidence in him. It's a great pleasure for me again to express my welcome to him to our country, and I would like to propose a toast to a great leader, President Ceausescu, and to the brave and friendly people of Romania. Mr. President, to you and your people.Despite having the worse human rights record in Eastern Europe it was not until 1988 that to preempt congressional action, Ceausescu renounced MFN treatment, calling Jackson-Vanik and other human rights requirements unacceptable interference in Romanian sovereignty. Secretary of State Schultz had warned Ceausescu in 1985 to improve his human rights behavior or lose favorable trade status. The Heritage Foundation argued in 1985 that the previous twenty years of U.S. engagement with the regime in Romania had coincided with deteriorating human rights standards.
|Ceausescu with Presidents Nixon, Carter and Secretary of State Schultz|
|10,000 Romanian babies infected with HIV through dirty needles|
Nicolae Ceausescu decreed in 1966 that Romania would develop its “human capital” via a government-enforced mandate to increase the country's population. Ceauşescu, Romania's leader from 1965 to 1989, banned contraception and abortions and imposed a “celibacy tax” on families that had fewer than five children. State doctors—the menstrual police—conducted gynecologic examinations in the workplace of women of childbearing age to see whether they were producing sufficient offspring. The birth rate initially skyrocketed. Yet because families were too poor to keep their children, they abandoned many of them to large state-run institutions.Hundreds of thousands of children were subjected to this. This was the country that US taxpayers subsidized with US Export-Import Bank credits.
This close relationship that for decades ignored the human rights situation on the ground contrasted with Poland were U.S. revoked most-favored-nation (MFN) status in response to the Polish Government's decision to ban Solidarity in 1981. The outcome in Poland was a nonviolent transition led by the Polish solidarity movement and a national dialogue between the government and the opposition that ended in free elections in 1989.
Meanwhile the country with the closest diplomatic and economic relationship with the United States in Eastern Europe saw the rule of Nicolae Ceasescu end in a violent blood bath. The dictator and his wife executed in a show trial on Christmas day and scores of innocent Romanians shot by the state security services. More than a thousand people were killed. The communists in power under Ceasescu remained in power until 1996 in a system marked by continuity until democrats were able to wrest control from them nonviolently. Meanwhile, Poland had already been a functioning democracy for seven years.
Prior to getting involved in the struggle for a free Cuba as a college student in the late 1980s and early 1990s joined with Lithuanian exiles in supporting democrats in the Baltic Republics at a time that Gorbachev was trying to starve them out and sent Soviet black beret commandos into Lithuania killing civilians. Decades later traveling through Eastern Europe in 2013 it is Ronald Reagan who is remembered favorably and whose statue is prominently displayed in Warsaw, Poland not Richard Nixon's or Jimmy Carter's.
|Ronald Reagan statue in Warsaw, Poland (2013)|