U.S. President Barack Obama is hoping that Poland's history of transition will prove to be the model for the 'Arab Spring' nations.
Obama tied up a six-day working visit to Europe with a trip to Warsaw, where he paid tribute Saturday to victims of the 2010 plane crash that killed Poland's President Lech Kaczynski. After the crash, Israel held a memorial for the victims, and it was noted that the Chief Rabbi of Poland, who had been invited to join the flight, was saved because he would not fly on the Sabbath.
Poland, Obama said, “has gone through what so many countries want to now go through.” Speaking at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Donald Tusk, he added, “Poland can play an extraordinary role precisely because they have traveled so far, so rapidly over the last 25 years.”
A quarter of a century ago, the Solidarity Movement led by Lech Walesa overthrew the Communist regime in the country and instituted a more democratic form of government.
Obama met during his visit with the “elders” of the movement who led the uprising.
One of the members of the audience identified himself as Jewish and asked Obama to guard Israel from harm.
He also met with younger activists, some of whom had returned from a trip abroad to consult with their counterparts in Tunisia.
The American president asserted that despite the fragile economy in the United States, his nation nevertheless has a responsibility to continue to facilitate the journey of others along the path toward democracy.
He also did a bit of campaigning along the way, as a reporter for The New York Times noted that he did in Ireland as well. Joking with emigrants to the U.S., Obama commented that those who have lived in Chicago and “haven't become a little bit Polish, then there's something wrong with you.”
He also mentioned that he planned to support a rewrite of the criteria for the State Department's visa waiver program in order to ease the application for Poland, which has yet to qualify.
The visa waiver program, which enables tourists to enter the U.S. without having to first obtain a visa, has not been granted to Israel.