Greetings from Warsaw!

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, President Obama, President Lech Kaczynski

The economic crisis in Europe continues to be the focus of much of our attention. World financial markets became nervous over the winter about Central and Eastern European economies’ ability to pull through the global economic crisis. Western European banks invested heavily in the countries of the region over the last 20 years, helping their economies restructure and grow. Markets began to worry some of those investments would sour as a result of the global crisis, damaging the region’s economies and dealing another blow to Europe’s banks. I reported back to Washington that Poland’s economy is stressed and some Poles are hurting. But I was happy to add that, thanks to good policy and good fortune, Poland has held up remarkably well through the global economic crisis, better than many of its neighbors.

On March 23, U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner announced the U.S. government’s plan – the Public-Private Partnership Investment Program – to lay the foundation for economic recovery in the United States. Global stock markets rose dramatically on the news the next day, giving their seal of approval. We have seen other positive signs of life from the U.S. economy – some of our largest banks have reported profits in the first two months of the year, while some major U.S. retailers report better than expected business. To borrow from Churchill, this is not the end of the crisis. It is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

In March, Poland celebrated the 10th Anniversary of its membership in NATO. It was on March 12, 1999, when Poland, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic signed the documents required for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership in Independence, Missouri. Four days later, the flags of all three countries were raised for the first time at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw joined in the ceremonies and events marking the occasion. The activities served as a reminder that Poland has become one of the strongest proponents of defense cooperation with the U.S. and other NATO Allies. Poles have demonstrated time and again – in the Balkans, in Iraq, and by their current presence in Afghanistan – that they are active and eager contributors to our common security.

During the anniversary week, numerous senior U.S. officials attended meetings and events in Warsaw in celebration of Poland’s 10-year membership in NATO. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, met with President Lech Kaczyński, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski, and other government officials and diplomats. During her visit, former Secretary Albright also joined a 10th Anniversary of NATO Celebration hosted by Minister Sikorski with the Hungarian and Czech Ambassadors in attendance and I hosted a luncheon in her honor on March 11, which was also attended by former President of Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, former Polish Ambassador to the United States, Jerzy Koźmiński as well as the Czech and Hungarian Ambassadors to Poland. On the morning before the luncheon, Former Secretary Albright gave interviews to the leading Polish media. U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, also in Warsaw for the 10th Anniversary celebrations, participated in a conference panel: “NATO –Challenges and Tasks Ahead” and attended a gala dinner sponsored by the Warsaw Transatlantic Forum, an umbrella group of Polish and U.S. non-governmental organizations that joined forces to commemorate Poland’s 10th anniversary as a member of the NATO Alliance. As you would expect, representatives of the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were present as NATO celebrated its 60th anniversary at the Summit of Heads of State and Government.

The Hercules military planes donated to the Polish Air Force by the United States were delivered on March 24. The first of five refurbished Hercules C-130E transport planes landed at the Powidz Air Base in central Poland. The C-130 provides the Polish Air Force the capability to carry a far greater payload (more supplies or more troops), and travel greater distances than its current primary airlift aircraft. The Polish Air Force plans to use the planes for the next 20 years. Because the Hercules is used by numerous nations around the world, including NATO allies, its presence in the Polish fleet enhances opportunities for interoperability and shared support.

Members of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, DC will be visiting Poland from April 17 to May 1 this year to conduct research and interviews in connection with several unresolved cases of American servicemen missing since World War II. In addition to traveling to Warsaw for research, the team will visit sites throughout Poland including Szczecin, Kostrzyn, Świdnica, Mysłakowice and Kraków. The researchers will be assisted by U.S. Embassy Warsaw’s Defense Attaché Office and are requesting information from anyone who may have knowledge of incidents potentially related to missing American servicemen in Poland. U.S. researchers are particularly interested in information related to aircraft shoot downs, crash sites, the capture or burial of persons believed to have been U.S. servicemen, and any groups who may have aided downed air crews from World War II.

The first quarter of 2009 has been a very busy time for the Cultural Section of the Embassy. In late March, we opened the New Media/New Democracy Forum, a well-attended two-day multimedia forum. The event took place at Warsaw’s prominent arts and cultural center, Fabryka Trzciny, on March 19-20. The program featured two outstanding American experts: Joe Rospars, New Media Director for the “Obama for America” campaign, and David Silver, a civil society activist and Director of the University of San Francisco’s Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies. Renowned Polish journalist and Chairman of the Central and Eastern European Media Center Foundation Stefan Bratkowski gave the keynote speech. Leading Polish newspapers showed great interest in the event and most of them were represented at the event resulting with detailed reports and interviews in the print media the following week. In addition to panel discussions on the role of new media in promoting democracy, the Forum featured two historical exhibits: an object exhibit of underground publications from the Communist period in Poland and an audio exhibit of Radio Free Europe clips. We also had an exhibit of winning photos from our „Democracy is…” photo competition, a video exhibit of the 26 short films submitted by Poles for the YouTube/U.S. Department of State global Democracy Video Challenge, and, on March 19, a performance of Edward Gordon Craig’s play „Democracy.” Our Internet Patron www.wyborcza.plblogged live from the conference.

The Forum culminated with the presentation of the winner of the „Democracy is…” photo contest, young photographer Szymon Stec, author of the photo “Democracy is a dialog without boundaries” where he captured an animated conversation between a Rabbi and a Russian Orthodox Priest. Polish finalists of the global Democracy Video Challenge were introduced on stage by Poland’s legendary film director Andrzej Wajda. I would like to encourage you to visit the U.S. Embassy homepage, where you can view the works by these accomplished young Polish photographers and filmmakers. The Global Democracy Video Challenge will culminate in May when an independent jury chaired by award-winning director Michael Apted and renowned economist Hernando de Soto will select three semi-finalists from Europe. The whole world will have a chance to vote online through YouTube for the grand-prize winners, who will each have an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington DC, New York, and Hollywood, including meetings with filmmakers and activists and gala screenings of their productions.

Another cultural program currently underway is the “Allies in Need” journalism contest we are sponsoring together with the Wprost weekly newsmagazine on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Poland. Young writers (born after Jan. 1, 1984) are to submit previously unpublished essays or feature stories in response to the contest theme: “Allies in need. How can America help Poland and how can Poland help America on the 90th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our countries?” The Embassy will send the grand prize winner on a three-week internship at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism in the United States. Contest participants are eligible for numerous other prizes including internships at Wprost.

I am also happy to report that our Embassy recently launched a special website to commemorate this important anniversary, another milestone in the nearly century-long relationship between our countries. The website devoted entirely to the 90th Anniversary of U.S.-Polish diplomatic relations and developed in close cooperation with the young people from the Fundacja Instytut Spraw Zagranicznych (Foreign Affairs Institute Foundation) features 90th anniversary-related content including relevant dates in history, information on current events and profiles of prominent political figures in the U.S. and Poland. Since this is a relatively new project, please be sure to check the website regularly for new updates and interactive content like blogs and reader comments.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions about the newsletter and hope to continue to receive your thoughts. Please don’t forget to check our homepage for latest news, events, and updates.
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Sincerely yours,

Victor Ashe