Primary Sources

President Reagan Discusses the crisis in Poland


In August 1980, a worker's strike began in Gdansk, Poland in reaction to the struggling economy and massive shortages. In a compromise, the Communist government legalized Solidarity, but this only increased tensions. Imports from the Soviet Union and the West failed to improve the economy, with more strikes becoming endemic throughout 1980 and 1981. Fearing a Soviet military invasion to restore order, President Ronald Reagan issued a stern warning to Moscow in the spring of 1981. On December 13, the Polish Communist Party, prodded by the Soviets, declared martial law and outlawed Solidarity. Reagan wished to “quarantine the Soviets & Poland with no trade, or communications across their borders,” he told the National Security Council, and “tell our NATO allies & others to join us in such sanctions or risk an estrangement from us.” In the following televised address, however, the president issued more modest sanctions on Poland.


Ronald Reagan, "Address to the Nation About Christmas and the Situation in Poland," speech, The White House, Washington, D.C., December 23, 1981, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, Reagan Library (accessed March 19, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

As I speak to you tonight, the fate of a proud and ancient nation hangs in the balance.... [T]his Christmas brings little joy to the courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government. The men who rule them and their totalitarian allies fear the very freedom that the Polish people cherish. They have answered the stirrings of liberty with brute force, killings, mass arrests, and the setting up of concentration camps.... The tragic events now occurring in Poland, almost 2 years to the day after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, have been precipitated by public and secret pressure from the Soviet Union.... If the Polish Government will honor the commitments it has made to human rights in documents like the Gdansk agreement, we in America will gladly do our share to help the shattered Polish economy, just as we helped the countries of Europe after both World Wars.... I want emphatically to state tonight that if the outrages in Poland do not cease, we cannot and will not conduct "business as usual" with the perpetrators and those who aid and abet them.... 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.... I have also sent a letter to President Brezhnev urging him to permit the restoration of basic human rights in Poland provided for in the Helsinki Final Act. In it, I informed him that if this repression continues, the United States will have no choice but to take further concrete political and economic measures affecting our relationship.

How to Cite this Source

President Ronald Reagan, "President Reagan Discusses the crisis in Poland," Making the History of 1989, Item #58, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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