On the 31st anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Poland, Michael Novak, author, theologian, Ave Maria University professor, and former U.S. ambassador, was decorated by President Bronisław Komorowski with the Commodore’s Cross with a Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
Before the official decoration ceremony, Professor Novak gave a lecture at the Presidential Palace on the meaning of social justice, part of the series of Polish Presidential lectures on the Ideas for the New Century. The lecture was introduced by Paweł Lisiewicz, director of the Polish cabinet, and in it Novak emphasized the importance of the institutions of civil society that properly precede the activity of the state.
The decoration ceremony took place in the historic grand hall of the Presidential Palace, the site of the 1955 signing of the Warsaw Pact. In addition to Professor Novak, who was the only American recognized at the ceremony, also honored were more than forty heroes of the political opposition to Polish martial law in the 1980s, civilians and members of the military, many of whom worked clandestinely for the cause of liberty.
Professor Novak was cited for his “merits in fostering democratic change in Poland as well as developing Polish-American cooperation.” These merits include Novak’s influential masterpiece, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which was published in an illegal samizdat translation in 1984 under the imprimatur of the anti-communist movement Solidarność. As ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1986, Novak initiated the international condemnation of martial law in Poland, the first ever U.N. condemnation of a regime behind the Iron Curtain. In his remarks, President Komorowski recalled the aid, both material and moral, that the Polish people received from the West while under martial law. He mentioned in particular the significance of Radio Free Europe, which Novak served as a member of the Board of International Broadcasting.
In his remarks President Komorowski also noted Ronald Reagan’s slogan “Let Poland be Poland,” and Reagan’s initiative to ask Americans to light candles in the windows of their homes, an expression of solidarity with those suffering in Poland. Today, Komorowski noted, the Polish people have a duty to extend the same solidarity to those still suffering under unjust regimes.
Following the decoration ceremony, Novak visited the recently erected Ronald Reagan monument located outside the U.S. embassy in Warsaw. There President Komorowski, Novak, and others from the embassy lit candles and placed them around the monument.