Polish Government Recently Honors Michael Novak ’56
January 04, 2013
The Polish Government recently honored former trustee and alumnus Michael Novak '56 for his efforts in "fostering democratic change" in Poland during the 1980s when the country was still within the Soviet sphere of influence. He was also recognized for his work in developing Polish-American cooperation.
An author, philosopher, and theologian, Novak received the Commodore's Cross with a Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland from President Bronislaw Komorowski on the 31st anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Poland. A former U.S. Ambassador and now a professor at Ave Maria University, Novak was the only American among the 40 honorees recognized resisting the then Communist government's crackdown.
Before the ceremony, Professor Novak gave a lecture at the Presidential Palace on the meaning of social justice, part of the series of Polish Presidential lectures on Ideas for the New Century. The lecture was introduced by Paweł Lisiewicz, director of the Polish cabinet, and in it Novak emphasized the importance of the institutions of civil society that properly precede the activity of the state.
The ceremony took place in the historic grand hall of the Presidential Palace, the site of the 1955 signing of the Warsaw Pact, a Soviet Union backed Eastern European military alliance.
Professor Novak was cited for his "merits in fostering democratic change in Poland as well as developing Polish-American cooperation." These merits include Novak's influential masterpiece, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which was published in an illegal samizdat translation in 1984 under the imprimatur of the anti-communist Solidarność or solidarity movement, a turning point away from Soviet dominance.
As ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1982, Novak initiated the international condemnation of martial law in Poland, the first ever U.N. condemnation of a regime behind the Iron Curtain.
In his remarks, President Komorowski recalled the aid, both material and moral, that the Polish people received from the West while under martial law. President Komorowski also mentioned in particular the significance of Radio Free Europe, which Novak served as a member of the Board of International Broadcasting. He also noted Novak's founding of the Summer Institute of the Free Society which still meets annually in Krakow and his assistance in setting up the delivery of needed infant formula during winter 1981, a huge gift from the Mormon Church.
In his remarks President Komorowski noted Ronald Reagan's slogan "Let Poland be Poland," and Reagan's initiative to ask Americans to light candles in the windows of their homes, as an expression of solidarity with those suffering in Poland in the 1980s. Today, Komorowski noted, the Polish people have a duty to extend the same solidarity to those still suffering under unjust regimes.
Following the decoration ceremony, Novak visited the recently erected Ronald Reagan monument located outside the U.S. embassy in Warsaw. There President Komorowski, Novak and others from the embassy lit candles and placed them around the monument.
The author of 27 books, Novak has explored issues of ethnicity, sports, democratic capitalism, American Catholicism and the relationship between religion and civil society. His papers are preserved at Stonehill by the Archives and Historical Collections department. They include over 400 linear feet of manuscripts, books, correspondence, newspaper columns, and journal articles and is increasingly regarded as being central to a fuller understanding of American Catholicism in the second half of the 20th century.
Novak received the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Stonehill Alumni Association in 1974 and a Honorary Degree (Doctor of Humanities) in 1977. In 1994, Novak received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
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