Death of a victor

From the New York Timesthis morning comes word of the death of Bronislaw Geremek, a Polish Jew who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation and became one of the leaders of Poland's transition out of Communism:

In a lifetime of enormous achievement, Mr. Geremek's greatest contribution may have been as one of the leaders of the round-table negotiations that helped pave the way for elections in 1989 that eventually brought the Solidarity movement to power, initiating a peaceful end to Communist control of Poland.

This negotiated change of power provided a template for other countries in the Warsaw Pact and, in the years since, far beyond.

Twenty-seven years ago this month, I personally witnessed a portion of the exodus of Polish citizens during the brief flowering of liberty before Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law that fall. On a tourist bus, in transit across East Germany on the autobahn leading to Hamburg, I did not suspect that the families I saw in overloaded Polski-Fiats were but the first sign of a crack that would split apart the Soviet bloc and end Communism less than ten years later. As a child of the Cold War, it was something I never expected to see in my lifetime.

As Americans, we like to think that we "won" the Cold War under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. But without the bravery of men like Bronislaw Geremek, who had the courage to stand up to tyranny in whatever form it presented itself, we would still be facing Soviet troops across the Iron Curtain. His life stands as testimony to the fact that freedom cannot be imposed from without, it must be fought for from within.

Godspeed, Bronislaw.