The story I want to share with you is that of Zbigniew and Sophia Romasczewski, the couple who ran Solidarity’s underground radio in Warsaw during the first six months after the socialist regime imposed martial law in December 1981. That was a time of terror and oppression, when many Solidarity leaders and sympathizers were rounded up, arrested, beaten, and worse.
The Romasczewskis were discovered and arrested by the authorities in 1982. They were each given sentences of four years behind bars, and kept apart from one another in solitary confinement for much of that time. His eyesight suffers today from the beatings he endured in prison. I had the privilege of meeting with them in the privacy of their apartment in November 1986, not long after they had been released. They were active again in the underground, defying the regime, and fully expecting to be arrested again, but that didn’t deter them for a moment. They were totally committed to the cause of a free Poland and were not about to give up.
In my time with them, I asked many questions about what it was like to run an illegal radio operation. At one point I asked, "How did you know if anyone was listening?" I’ll never forget Sophia’s response. She said, "We could only broadcast for about 8 to 10 minutes at a time and then had to go off the air to avoid detection. One evening, we asked listeners who were supportive of the radio to blink their lights, and to call others who were also supporters but might not be listening at that moment, to ask them to do the same."
With a tear in her eye, she then said, "We went to our window, and for hours, all of Warsaw was blinking."
The Romasczewskis and so many other brave souls like them were the examples that galvanized not only a nation, but half a continent, and in the course of events, brought an evil empire to its knees. They are heroes to millions.
And by the way, Zbigniew later became a duly elected member of the lower house of Parliament of a free Poland whose President is Lech Walesa.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about how my theme today applies to the field in which I now work—public policy. This is an area that touches each of your lives in important ways.I interact on a regular basis with policy makers, including politicians. I am not one who disparages all politicians. I recognize that there are good ones and bad ones, just as in all other professions. And when I think of what makes a good one and what makes a bad one, I don’t think first about how they vote—which may surprise you. I think of why they vote the way they do. And I have friends in the political arena from across the philosophical spectrum.