Lech Walesa’s Nov. 15, 1989 speech in Congress was broadcast jointly by Voice of America and Polish Radio

Photograph of President George H.W. Bush and Lech Wałęsa was taken a day before Solidarity leader’s historic speech to the joint session of the United States Congress on November 15, 1989.

The historic speech delivered on November 15, 1989 by Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa to the joint session of the United States Congress was broadcast to Poland in a joint program between the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service and the Polish National Radio. Walesa’s translator was Jacek Kalabinski, a Polish journalist who was Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) correspondent in Washington.

Lech Wałęsa is the only Pole and one of few foreigners who were not heads of state to have addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

In December 1989, Voice of America Director Richard W. Carlson announced the opening of a VOA office in Warsaw. “Establishing a permanent workplace in Poland is an important first step toward opening a full-time news bureau,” Carlson said.

The move followed a joint broadcast by VOA’s Polish Service and Polish National Radio on November 15. The joint broadcast of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa’s speech before the U.S. Congress was the first cooperative effort between VOA and Polish National Radio. After the broadcast, Polish listeners took part in a call-in.

In 1989, Voice of America was part of the United States Information Agency (USIA). According to a VOA press release, in December 1989 VOA broadcast 1200 hours of radio programs each week in 43 languages to an estimated weekly audience of 130 million radio listeners. (In 2013, with the addition of the Internet, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter mobile phone apps and satellite television, the Voice of America still has 43 languages and claims a worldwide audience of 134 million weekly, according to the Broadcasting Board of Governors which has had oversight over VOA after USIA was disbanded in 1989.)

In January 1990, radio Listeners in Poland for the first time ever could tune into Voice of America bilingual (English-Polish) live newscasts on Polish Radio’s nationwide network. This arrangement also marked the first time an Eastern European broadcaster had agreed to use VOA live newscasts. Also in January 1990, the VOA Polish Service and Polish Radio conducted a joint live news conference and a call-in program with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

In March 1989, VOA Polish Service organized a similar program with Polish National Television in cooperation with Worldnet, which was then the television service of the USIA. The joint VOA-Wolrdnet-Polish TV satellite broadcast with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski was moderated by VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien.

Polish Television broadcast the program, as did the VOA Polish Service in a radio broadcast.

Link to video.

Newspapers in Poland reported on these joint programs between VOA and Polish broadcasters.

A U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer (PAO) Steve Dubrow sent this report to USIA in January 1990:


Polish newspapers noted the recent joint effort by VOA and Polish Radio which presented former NSC (National Security Council) Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to Polish audience for a call-in program. Comments were devoted to the substance of the discussion and not the fact that such cooperative programs take place.

The mass circulation daily Zycie Warszawy carried the item on page one in its January 3 edition under the headline “Brzezinski Holds Live News Conference on Polish Radio.” The article was largely a summary of Brzezinski’s response to questions on Polish foreign policy, East-West relations, the Soviet Union, and the future of China, Cuba and North Korea. The Communist Party daily Trybuna Ludu also noted the program in page five article published Jan. 4

The Party weekly Polityka, in a brief page two comment, mentioned Brzezinski’s program and focused on the question of U.S. Polish policy prior to the declaration of martial law here in 1981. According to the article, in reply to the question as to why the U.S. Govt. did not inform Solidarity leaders that martial law was about to be declared, Brzezinski allegedly replied that “American authorities came to the conclusion that one of the eventual consequences of a confrontation in Poland between the Government and Solidarity would be a Soviet intervention. In the long term, that would have been even more dangerous.” The article also touched on Brzezinski’s observations on the current situation in Poland.

VOA Plans Coverage of Walesa 1989 US Visit p. 1

VOA Plans Coverage of Walesa 1989 US Visit p. 2

VOA Estabishes Polish Presence 1989

Polish Radio to Broadcast VOA 1990

In the late 1980s, according to a Solidarity poll and audience research conducted USIA, the VOA Polish Service reached the largest percentage of radio listeners among all countries to which VOA broadcast radio programs at that time. The following USIA report is from 1986.