Remarks by U.S. Ambassador George Krol at the Ceremony to Unveil the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Monument
Tadeusz Kosciuszko was born in 1746 into a family of petty nobility in a modest home located in the area of Kosovo now in the Brest oblast of western Belarus. Earlier this year on the anniversary of his birth I participated in the dedication ceremony of his newly rebuilt birthplace Ц a project to which this embassy gave considerable financial support to complete. I am pleased we have with us today Dr Leonid Nesterchuk, who was the guiding force behind this project. Dr Nesterchuk knows more about the life and times of Tadeusz Kosciuszko than practically any person now alive. I will therefore be cautious about what I say about Kosciusko in front of such an eminent authority!
But first, I wish to pay tribute to the monument`s sculptor, the well-known Belarusian artist Ales Shaternik. Many of his works grace Minsk and other cities in Belarus. Mr. Shaternik unfortunately cannot be with us today. He is in America in fact, visiting his daughter in New Jersey. But I know he is with us today in spirit.
I want to express special thanks our great GSO team for their dedication and skill in providing General Kosciuszko his "headquarters" Ц the stand from which he now will command our attention and admiration. I also wish to thank our gardener for his skill and artistry in beautifying the General`s "quarters."
Friends, Tadeusz Kosciusko loved his homeland, which at the time of his birth was known as the Commonwealth or "rzeczpospolita" -- the union of the kingdom of Poland with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which was the historic name for the territory comprising today`s Lithuania and Belarus. Some think that Kosciusko, of Lithuanian-Belarusian roots, may have spoken Belarusian as his first tongue. Like many from that region, he came from a Catholic-Orthodox family and was christened in both churches and bore the names Andrei and Tadeusz respectively. As a young man he went to Warsaw where he attended the famous Cadet School. He then went on to France for further studies as a military engineer. There he came under the influence of the Enlightenment.
Graduating in 1774 Kosciuszko returned home and promptly fell in love with a local girl (who can blame him here in Belarus!). But, when that romance was thwarted by the girl`s angry father and hearing the "shot heard round the world" Ц the start of the American revolt -- he decided to travel to the American colonies to fight for freedom and perhaps, like many other disappointed lovers, "to forget."
Kosciuszko`s engineering skills were put to good use by General George Washington. He became famous for designing fortifications and bridges and placing artillery. In America, Kosciuszko is known as the Father of West Point, the strategic fort he designed on the Hudson River north of New York City that later became the home of the U.S. Military Academy. He is also known as the Father of the US Artillery for his brilliance in that area of warfare. The strategic gun placements he engineered at the Battle of Saratoga brought about the defeat of the British Ц the decisive victory that brought France into the war. He later served with distinction in the southern campaign that drove the British north to their ultimate defeat at Yorktown. In gratitude the American Congress made him a Brigadier General and granted him land in Ohio and money -- $15,000 Ц a considerable sum at that time, although it took him years to collect it. Any American citizen can certainly sympathize with Kosciuszko on that score!
Kosciuszko returned to his home in 1784 where he became progressively involved in managing his own estate, reforming his homeland and fighting off its political disintegration. His disgust with the slavery he saw in America was a constant complaint in his voluminous correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. Kosciuszko himself freed his own serfs and urged this policy on his neighbors.
The dismemberment of the Commonwealth by Austria, Russia and Prussia caused Kosciuszko to take up arms, first in defense of the King of Poland and later in a popular insurrection he led in 1794 that, after several astounding victories against much superior forces, finally ended in his defeat, capture and imprisonment in Russia.
Kosciuszko`s military prowess and love of liberty made him wildly popular in revolutionary Europe. France made him a citizen. In conservative England, ironically the country he fought against in America, he was renowned as a supporter of constitutional monarchy. Even his Russian captors admired his devotion to his cause. Shortly after becoming Tsar, Paul I freed him, bestowed on him a large sum of money but forbade him ever to return to his homeland.
In exile, Kosciuszko traveled to Europe where he was feted as a hero and to the United States where he visited old comrades George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and stayed in the then capital of Philadelphia where hundreds of admirers visited him. The house where he stayed in Philadelphia is now the National Kosciuszko Museum.
When Napoleon decided to move eastward, he asked Kosciuszko to lead an uprising in the former commonwealth lands. This Kosciuszko declined when Napoleon would not promise freedom and sovereignty to a reconstituted Commonwealth. Following Napoleon`s defeat, Kosciuszko was even courted by the victorious Russian Tsar Aleksandr, who exhibited liberal leanings. But the Tsar never responded to Kosciuszko`s appeal to free all serfs and restore the independent Commonwealth.
Kosciuszko spent his final years in Switzerland where he continued to maintain a lively correspondence with his long time American friends George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Kosciuszko died in Switzerland in 1817, never having returned to his homeland since his defeat in 1794. But there is a romantic element to his passing Ц shortly before he died, his long ago love, that Belarusian beauty he hoped to run away with, now the Princess Lubomirskaya, visited him. Their love for each other had never died.
Kosciuszko`s body was interred in the chapel of Krakow`s historic Wawel castle after the Tsar refused permission for his remains to be buried in Vilnius. In Washington DC his statue stands across from our White House along with those of Lafayette, Von Steuben and Rochambeau. Scores of towns, counties, schools, streets and bridges in the United States are named after him.
Kosciuszko is therefore a national hero of Poland, Lithuania, and the United States, a citizen of France and a resident of Switzerland. But he was always the son of this land, now called Belarus. He gave his all for the freedom and independence not only for his own people but for all peoples Ц the motto he gave to the 1794 insurrection was "For our Freedom and yours!" Thomas Jefferson described Kosciuszko as the "purest son of Liberty" he had ever encountered.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko is truly a man for all ages for all countries. I am honored to bestow this monument to the American Embassy in Minsk so that all members of our embassy family now and in the future and all visitors to this embassy can think of this great man and his enormous contribution and sacrifice to our countries` history and freedom.
It is only appropriate that we honor him in the land of his birth, the land of his forefathers, the land where he struggled for freedom and the land that deserves to honor and cherish the values of liberty and responsibility he so admired and served so selflessly throughout his life.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to dedicate this monument today with all of you as witnesses.
Major John Pilloni, U.S. Army, in recognition of your own unparalleled service to the army and nation General Kosciuszko served so valiantly, may I ask you to do the honor of unveiling the monument.