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Shared goals, values in Poland

July 5, 2009

Visiting Nashvillians find shared goals, values in Poland

By Douglas J. Brown and George C. Paine II

Earlier this month, a group of Nashvillians visited Poland under the auspices of the Nashville Committee on Foreign Relations. Here are their impressions on the 20th anniversary of the country's first free elections and as Tennessean Victor Ashe prepares to end his stint as ambassador to Poland.

In Poland we discovered a "Western" European country made up of people who truly love our country and Americans. We also found two Tennesseans who are nurturing that friendship, promoting their adopted country and bettering the world community.

One, Ambassador Victor Ashe of Knoxville, who helped pave the way for the trip, hosted a dinner one night at his residence in Warsaw. Amid paintings of Tennessee, including a portrait of Andrew Jackson from the Tennessee State Museum, as well as Polish sculptures, he talked with us about the relative success of the Polish economy today.

He spoke eloquently about Poland's and the U.S.'s common strategic view of the world, underscoring the necessity of retaining the loyalty of that nation.
Ashe, a Republican, is respected in Tennessee as a former Knoxville mayor (the longest-serving mayor there), former state representative (elected at age 23) and later a member of the state Senate.
In Poland, he's known for hosting stirring and interesting events, including a ceremony in May for Polish veterans of World War II, the Warsaw Uprising, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring
Freedom in Afghanistan.

He has held a highly fruitful five-year tenure as ambassador, and is well-liked and appreciated by the Polish people. We saw his photos with monks, heads of state and schoolchildren, and received smiles and nods at the mention of his name as we traveled about the country.

In Washington, D.C, nonpartisan praise comes from the likes of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who has acclaimed him one of our most successful ambassadors.

Ashe travels and lives with modest security for someone in his position, a credit to him and the relationship and friendship between our two countries.

Two bridge cultures

The ambassador has welcomed many Tennesseans to his home in Poland, including Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and family, Sen. Bill Frist and Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Ashe stands out as a quintessential model for building foreign support for America in his role as ambassador.

While in Krakow, we were fortunate enough to meet with Nashvillian Gina Kuhn. She is working at the Galicia Jewish Heritage Institute's Museum, which celebrates the Jewish culture of Poland, commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and presents Jewish history from a new perspective.

The history is told through photographs of the country today.

Kuhn first went to Poland as a high school exchange student while attending University School of Nashville and then took a year abroad in Poland as a student at Northwestern University. At 23 years old, she is another Tennessee ambassador who is building bridges between countries.

Her museum work helps provide a forum for a multicultural dialogue and understanding, and raises awareness of Jewish history and culture.

One surprise was the huge number of Israeli tourists we encountered, from high school students to uniformed Israeli Defense Force soldiers, who come to Poland to visit the sites of the Holocaust at the ghettos and concentration camps set up by the Nazis.
These groups are a natural constituency for Kuhn's work in addition to Jewish and non-Jewish Polish citizens.

Poland as U.S. ally

Poland has suffered through its 1,000 or so years of history from invasions and partitions, and distrusts both Russia and Germany.

Most recently, during World War II, the Nazis killed 3 million Polish Jews, and the Nazis and Soviets combined to kill 3½ million non-Jewish Poles.

The Poles love Americans and America.

Poland had the world's second-oldest written constitution after ours; the country sent soldiers, including Gens. Thaddeus Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski, to assist in our American Revolution, and huge numbers of Poles emigrated to the United States.
We were warmly received and embraced by the Polish people throughout our journey. The sentiment of anti-Americanism so prevalent in other European countries was not found here.

Poland has been a steadfast ally of our country since the fall of communism.

The Poles consider themselves a country of the "West," not the "East." On most major foreign policy issues, Poland has joined a few other countries, such as Great Britain and Australia, in consistently standing by America.

Military aid wanted

Poles do feel some insecurity that they can be overlooked, as America is distracted with other concerns and focuses more on big powers such as Russia.

This could help push Poland away from the U.S.
The young and dynamic, Oxford-educated foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, whom we also met with, gave as an example the disparity of U.S. foreign aid to Poland in comparison with the increasing amounts of European Union aid to Poland for roads, water treatment plants and other projects.

He also noted the relatively few U.S.-backed Fulbright Scholarships allowing Polish students to come to our country in comparison with the hundreds of such educational opportunities underwritten by EU governments.

This could be our loss. Everybody who comes to the United States learns about the country and tends to go away a friend.

Lastly, Sikorski argued strongly — as did everyone from our main tour guide to the Pauline monk who guided us through the monastery housing the famed Black Madonna — that the United States should not go back on the George W. Bush administration promise to provide Poland with military rocketry for its eastern border.

We all concluded that we should not be penny-wise and pound-foolish with such a loyal friend as this country.

Hopefully, the Poles' love for America will be maintained and promoted by continued military and cultural support to the extent possible by our government.

Our tour of Poland was both an educational seminar and a cultural delight. We return to the United States as personal ambassadors of Poland, promoting it as an excellent tourist destination and advocating we further encourage and develop U.S.-Polish relationships.

To remind our new Polish acquaintances of the best parts about home, we left some gifts that were uniquely Tennessee: bottles of Jack Daniel's, Tennessee state flags, Nashville Toffee Co. toffee, Nashville photo books and, of course, Goo Goo Clusters.


Re: Shared goals, values in Poland

I've got a lot of time for Americans generally. Most educated Brits don't - not quite sure why.

Iraq was dumb though.

Re: Shared goals, values in Poland

Poland as U.S. ally

Poland has suffered through its 1,000 or so years of history from invasions and partitions, and distrusts both Russia and Germany.

Most recently, during World War II, the Nazis killed 3 million Polish Jews, and the Nazis and Soviets combined to kill 3½ million non-Jewish Poles.

The Poles love Americans and America.

I cannot agree with this article, I don't believe true Poles have much time for the USA, It has to be remembered that the US did nothing to stop communism in Poland after the 2nd WW nor was it interested in the Katyn question for fear of not getting on side with Stalin.
It currently restricts travel between the two countries.

Sorry Mike C sorry to disagree on this one, rememember not everyone worships the american dollar however overvalued it is.
Nice to have you on board again Mick C.. Good Luck

Re: Shared goals, values in Poland

The dollar overvalued - hmmm. What's in a value? True,it will go down over the next month before bouncing right up again as the world's stock markets crash right on time for a most depressing autumn. But look on the bright side - gas prices will fall and stay low, and the gold in your ex-wife's wedding ring will go down in value too :)

FDR - yes, he did misjudge Stalin, but Poland had no chance anyway - the mere fact of a few million Soviet troops in the immediate vicinity and Russian vital interests in play would have seen to that if the political game had failed. It would simply have resulted in more unnecessary deaths.