Gdansk, Poland Secretary of State Madeleine Albright honored Poland as an "author of the new Europe" Sunday during a very personal visit to the famed shipyard city where 20 years ago she witnessed liberty's first stirrings against a totalitarian system.
At a ceremony to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Gdansk, Albright recalled "how deeply moved I was by the bravery of the Polish people" during a 1981 stay in Poland to study how the media was contributing to the fledgling anti-communist Solidarity movement.
The trip fueled Albright's vision of democracy's role securing human rights and her admiration of Poles' courageous struggle. It also marked the start of a friendship with a young Solidarity activist, Bronislaw Geremek, who is now Poland's foreign minister and one of the academics who reviewed Albright's achievements for the honorary title.
"I wanted to become a Pole, because I was so excited by what was happening," she told the university audience. "I really do want to recognize and commend those incredible days when the Poles were so brave."
Poles claim the Prague-born Albright as a fellow Slav, and two university officials emphasized her role in helping address and overcome anti-Slavic stereotypes that enabled Poland's full acceptance in a reunited Europe.
"In world policy, she granted Poland the place we believe Poland deserves," said Geremek, the Polish foreign minister.
Albright's three-day visit to Poland is dedicated to promoting democracy. Her trip continues today and Tuesday in Warsaw with a conference of more than 100 countries aimed at creating a world community of democratic nations with a single set of shared values.
Poland's troubled history couldn't provide a more apt backdrop. Poland adopted the second democratic constitution in the world, modeled on America's, in 1791, but then was partitioned just four years later and disappeared from the map for more than a century. Poland's reemergence as a democratic state in 1918 lasted only until the Nazi invasion in 1939.
Not until the Solidarity trade union toppled communism in 1989 did Poland again adopt a democratic constitution, its third.
"History has taught us that the struggle for liberty is never-ending, because threats to liberty will never disappear," Albright said. "Democracy is not the answer to every human problem. But it is the best system of government humans have devised."
Albright's Gdansk itinerary followed Poland's transition from communism to democracy, starting with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Solidarity Monument outside the Gdansk shipyard where militia shot and killed workers in 1970 to quell a protest against rising food prices.
She ended the day at the nearby port of Gdynia, where the prime minister's wife christened a former U.S. frigate given to the new NATO ally by the United States under the name Gen. Kazimierz Pulaski, for the Polish patriot who died fighting in the American revolution.
She met on board with Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, head of the Solidarity-led government, which has fallen on hard times since its coalition partner dropped out of government earlier this month to protest Solidarity's failure to win necessary support for controversial reforms.
Buzek later told reporters that he assured Albright that Poland's foreign policy remained stable and the minority government would continue a reform course.