Jan Ferdynand Olszewski, Poland’s elder statesman, died on February 8 in Warsaw at the age of 88. The Government of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski transformed the future of Poland and of Central Europe.
A teenager during World War II, Jan Olszewski fought German totalitarianism as part of the Gray Ranks, the paramilitary arm of the Polish Scouting Association. In 1944 he took part in the Warsaw Uprising. In the Polish People's Republic, a satellite state of the Soviet Union, Jan Olszewski bravely defended activists in political trials, including oppressed workers following the June 1976 protests.
He notably represented the family of Solidarity chaplain Jerzy Popiełuszko, slain by the secret police for his anti-communist activities. Fr. Popiełuszko was recognized as a martyr by the Catholic Church and beatified in 2010.
Jan Olszewski was an ardent supporter of the alliance of Central Europe with the United States. Intermarium, a concept formulated in interwar Poland, has been at the forefront of the Polish independence movement since the 1970s. In 1979 Jan Olszewski, Antoni Macierewicz, and Piotr Naimski shared this vision in correspondence with President Jimmy Carter.
In the 1980s Jan Olszewski was a significant figure in the Workers Defense Committee (KOR), the forerunner of Solidarity, later helping craft Solidarity’s founding charter. He opposed the Round Table Talks of 1989.
In 1991 Jan Olszewski became Poland’s Prime Minister, the first one chosen as a result of democratic elections since the fall of the Polish People's Republic. The Olszewski Government included the legendary anti-communist leaders Antoni Macierewicz, who was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs, and Piotr Naimski, who served as Head of the Office for State Protection. Jan Olszewski facilitated Poland’s liberation from Russian domination and resurrection of political independence, leading to the nation’s admission into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The alliance of Central Europe with the United States was a guidepost for the Olszewski Government. Importantly, it led de-communization efforts, reinvigorating Polish traditions of freedom and independence. Following a nonpartisan investigation of officeholders, Minister Macierewicz listed those illuminated in surviving records as collaborating with the secret police. Moreover, the Olszewski Government blocked efforts to establish a Russian intelligence presence at former Soviet bases in Poland.
Last year I had the distinct honor of heading an International Security Forum conference marking the 26th anniversary of the Olszewski Government, which was held at Warsaw’s Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University. Today, as lawmakers across the political spectrum rightfully laud the former Prime Minister, we — on both sides of the Atlantic — must work to ensure that his legacy lives on.
Actions by the Olszewski Government serve as a framework for present-day progress, embraced by President Donald Trump, including the Three Seas Initiative, as well as the presence of U.S. and NATO troops in Poland, groundbreaking economic growth, enhanced social dynamism, and a renewed appreciation for Poland’s military valor. The permanent stationing of U.S. troops in Poland is not only strategically sagacious from an international security perspective, but will also serve as an enduring memorial to the leadership of Jan Olszewski.
Edmund Janniger is the Director of the International Security Forum, an institution under the patronage of the Minister of National Defense of the Republic of Poland. His work at the Ministry of National Defense encompasses academic affairs and global engagement. Mr. Janniger holds the record as the youngest sub-cabinet official in Poland’s history. In the Parliamentary Office, Mr. Janniger has been the Deputy Chief of Staff to Minister Antoni Macierewicz and, during the 2015 elections, was the Deputy Campaign Manager for Law and Justice in the 10th District. Mr. Janniger has a proven track record directing complex political and policy-related matters. He holds an adjunct appointment at Marconi University, and was elected by the full Rutgers University Senate to three terms on its Executive Committee. Mr. Janniger splits his time between the Warsaw and New York metropolitan areas, has one young dog, and is an avid hiker. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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