BIRMINGHAM, Ala.---Radek Sikorsky, elected to the new Polish Senate two weeks ago, described his nation as "trans-Atlantic minded," and said the United States now has a willingness to talk with European allies.
"Only when Europe and the United States speak together does it make them seem legitimate," he told a Samford University audience Monday, Oct. 10. His hope is for a more united Europe because that would mean "a more effective Europe," he said as part of Samford's annual Ray Rushton Lecture Series at Cumberland School of Law.
Sikorski spoke on a program with author Anne Applebaum, whose book Gulag: A History was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction writing. Applebaum, Sikorsky's wife, is a Washington Post columnist.
Sikorsky, serving his final week as executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., said Europe needed the U.S. "in the old days" to protect it from the threat of Soviet Russia. Now, he said, Europe needs its American allies because, while the population of Europe will shrink during the next few years, the number of terrorist-minded Jihadis will grow dramatically.
Poland remains a U.S. ally, Sikorski said, and in the recent election, voters actually exchanged one pro-U.S. government for another that is even more pro-American. Poland has a peace-keeping tradition through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he noted, and that continues, with Polish troops in Iraq.
Sikorski will return to his native Poland this month to help form the new government to which he was elected. Even though elections have been held since the fall of communism in 1990, he characterized the recent election as the first in Poland "that is about the future."
One reason, he said, was that it took the people of Poland a long time to get away from their "Gulag vision" that stemmed from almost half a century under Soviet control.
Applebaum detailed the history of the Gulag system of work camps built by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin during 1929-1953. Some 18 million people passed through the camps during this period, she reported, and another six or seven million were deported to exile villages.
The work camps were located all across the vast country, and while they were designed as places for people to work and were an important part of the Soviet economy, "they were, at times, very lethal," said Applebaum. Nearly one-fourth of the Gulag's prisoners died during the years of World War II.
But the camps also were intended "to terrorize and subjugate the population," said Applebaum. "It was a living threat (of being sent to a camp) that every Soviet citizen would have known about, and everyone would have feared," she said.
This legacy produced the "Gulag vision" to which Sikorski referred.
Applebaum's book was the first written on the Gulag system since the release of Soviet archives. Such documents bring into focus "the full extent of the system, and its importance to the Soviet economy," she said.