POLISH AMERICAN JOURNAL
Buffalo, New York
Text/Photo: Richard P. Poremski
“U.S. Visa Waiver Feted on Polish Independence Day”
David Pekoske, Rafal Milczarski, Stephen Pekoske
An Abundance of Luminaries: Pictured, from left, are the invited speakers during the Polish Independence Day ceremonies at the Residence of the Polish Ambassador: David Pekoske – Acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Rafal Milczarski – Chairman & CEO of LOT Polish Airlines, Guest of Honor Stephen Biegun – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, as nominated by President Trump.
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Poland’s 101st Independence Day – in the year of the Centennial of Poland-U.S. Diplomatic Relations – was celebrated here on November 7, 2019 at the spacious residence of Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek. Also being co-celebrated was the 90th Anniversary of LOT Polish Airlines (Polskie Linie Lotnicze), and the inclusion of Poland into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Well over 500 guests attended the celebrations and they represented the full spectrum of official Washington that included officials and representatives from Poland, the international diplomatic corps with their military attaches, the U.S. Congress, administration and armed forces, European Union and World Bank. Also included were various luminaries, think tank administrators, and the extended Polonia.
Ambassador Piotr Wilczek, in his remarks, recounted the history of Polish-U.S. relations over the past 100 years. During the past 3 years of his tenure he personally cited examples of the two countries “dynamic and positive relationship”. They included mutual security agreements, health and business accomplishments, border security and immigration issues, and space exploration cooperation between the Polish Space Agency and NASA. In closing, Ambassador Wilczek unequivocally stated that “Poland is a dependable and full-fledged partner with the United States with untold future possibilities.”
The U.S. VWP was a main focus of the speeches delivered by the ambassador and the invited speakers. Ambassador Wilczek intoned that “The United States demonstrated our strong ties on the 101st Anniversary by including Poland in the Visa Waiver Program.” He thanked all the members of the U.S. Congress for crafting legislation to fix this longstanding issue. “On November 11th – on Polish Independence Day – Poland will become the 39th member of the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program was very important on our to-do list in our bi-lateral relations. It brings our communities closer together and enhances many business opportunities and the existing trade landscape.”
Also thanked by Ambassador Wilczek were the previous ambassadors and their staffs who continuously raised this issue with U.S. government officials, the Polonia that worked tirelessly over the years campaigning for the VWP as an issue of the utmost importance, and the many business partners involved. But the ambassador also made it clear that: “Poland did its homework. Our membership in the Visa Waiver Program is no reward, credit or gratification. Poland forged all necessary agreements and completed all necessary requirements.” He lastly thanked the President of LOT Polish Airlines, Mr. Rafal Milczarski, for “his inspiring visionary leadership to establish the visa coalition.” LOT was praised for its gracious and very generous underwriting of the evening’s elaborate reception.
“Ladies and Gentlemen … we did it!” spoke a jubilant Rafal Milczarski – President of LOT Polish Airlines. “After 30 years we did it by actually meeting the criteria by lowering the percentage of rejections by the United States.” He thanked a number of Polish and American companies that participated in a very concerted and joint initiative that was started by LOT – Visa Free to the USA – with a lot of public support. Milczarski concluded his remarks on philosophical note saying “The Visa Waiver Program was a thorn in the foot of the Polish-American relationship that has now been removed … and now we can firmly walk together to a much greater future.”
Guest of Honor David Pekoske – Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, stated in his remarks that “I’m very excited about the opening of the Visa Waiver Program, it will greatly facilitate travel between Poland and the United States,” and that Poland met the difficult entry requirements. He thanked Poland for its security partnership with the United States and said that it greatly improves the security of our people.
Stephen Biegun – Nominated U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, firstly stated that he was very proud to be a Polish-American. Then he recounted how Poland and the U.S. have worked together in NATO and as military allies and partners in many ways around the world. He spoke that “The United States and Poland have many things to celebrate this year: Poland’s 15th anniversary of entry into the European Union; the 20th anniversary of Poland’s entry into NATO; the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising; the 76th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and the 100 years of diplomatic relations between Poland and the United States.
In concluding his Polish Independence Day speech, Ambassador Wilczek voiced a most profound declaration: “I’m proud to say that our current relations with the United States are the best they can be in all our history. May they continue to flourish for 100 years and beyond.”
Richard P. Poremski
Polish American Journal
Washington, DC Bureau
December 8, 2019
ADDENDUM TO MR. POREMSKI’S ARTICLE
by John Czop
The purpose of this addendum to Mr. Richard P. Poremski’s article below, “U.S. Visa Waiver Feted on Polish Independence Day” is to let readers know that since 2002 the POLISH AMERICAN CONGRESS (PAC), relentlessly lobbied for Poland’s accession to the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) under the leadership of both its past President, the late Edward Moskal, and its incumbent President, Frank J. Spula.
Polonia is proud that President Spula met many times with Illinois Congressman and then Senator Mark Steven Kirk, Congressman Daniel Lipinski, and Congressman Mike Quigley. Long serving and powerful Michigan Congressman John Dingell was persuaded by President Spula to move forward Poland’s accession to VWP. For over a decade, President Spula encouraged Dr. Suzanne Lotarski, President of the PAC Washington Metro Division, and Dr. Barbara Andersen, Executive Director of the PAC K Street Office, to make Poland’s accession to State’s VWP the PAC’s top priority on Capitol Hill.
The long-serving Vice-President for American Affairs of the POLISH AMERICAN CONGRESS, Dean Anthony J. Bajdek, led the successful campaign for State Legislatures to enact numerous resolutions calling for Poland’s accession to the U. S. Department of State’s Visa Waiver Program as follows: Massachusetts, Joint Resolution, May 2004; New Jersey, Joint Resolution, October 2004; Vermont, Joint Resolution, January 2005; Pennsylvania, Joint Resolution, April 2005; Connecticut, Senate Resolution, May 2005; Maine, Joint Resolution, May 2005; Nebraska, Unicameral Resolution, June 2005; New York, Joint Resolution, June 2005; Ohio, Joint Resolution, June 2005; Michigan, Joint Resolution, June 2006; Arizona, Joint Resolution, April 2007; Illinois, Joint Resolution, October 2007; Massachusetts, Joint Resolution, July 2010; Illinois, Senate Resolution, November 2011; and Rhode Island, Senate Resolution, March 2012. Both Massachusetts and Illinois had distinguished themselves by passing two Visa Waiver for Poland Resolutions each. All the Resolutions had been forwarded to each State’s Congressional delegation in Washington, DC as well as to the Embassy of the Republic of Poland.
Vice-President Bajdek’s campaign, which lasted for some eight years, persuaded elected officials that Polish Americans would vote for the election, re-election, of legislators who supported VWP. This put the power of Polish American votes behind the principal of fair treatment for Poland.
Moreover, it is doubtful if the President would have issued an Executive Order calling for Poland’s accession to VWP had not President Spula asked him to do so in September 2016, when then candidate Donald J. Trump visited the Polish National Alliance (PNA) Building in Chicago to ask for Polonia’s support in that year’s November presidential election. Accession to the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program has the status of a treaty and requires ratification by the United States Senate. The PAC continues to work for this goal to prevent President Trump’s successors from issuing an Executive Order to repeal Poland’s accession to VWP. Persuading the Senate to ratify Poland’s accession to VWP will not be easy.
Mr. Poremski is a long serving member of both the PAC and the PNA. This is why this writer is perplexed that the PAC’s good work to promote Poland’s accession to VWP is not mentioned in Mr. Poremski’s article.