President of Poland, Alexander Kwaśniewski, in the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic
I am exceedingly glad that I can be visiting Prague, the magic city, the capital of a country which is so close to Poland and the Polish people. For me, it is a real satisfaction to meet you, the important representatives of the Czech political and intellectual elites. I sincerely thank you for the invitation and the warm words of welcome.
We meet in eventful times. Half a year ago we have experienced a major historic milestone, the accession of our countries into the European Union. We have hardly begun to perceive our membership in the European Community as an everyday fact, and we are again experiencing the feeling that the history has suddenly increased its pace. This time it is not in our countries but in the close neighbourhood. We turn our sight to Ukraine.
Great things are happening there, things that are very exciting even for us. The dramatic emergence of the civil society in Ukraine, the force of its protests, its self-control and the hope – remind us Poles and Czechs of the memorable year 1989. The voice of freedom and democracy resonating in Ukraine, awakes not only profound sympathies in us, yet mainly the feeling of solidarity. This voice also very keenly brings back to life the memories and reflections about the journey, we undertook ourselves, about the role, we can play in the uniting Europe and about the cooperation of the countries of our region.
The recent enlargement of the European Union is not only the result of the success of each state newly accepted to the European Community. It has also created a new political quality in our region and also in whole Europe. The Czechs, Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, Slovenians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, the nations of this part of the continent, have gained, as never before in their history, a real chance to participate in shaping Europe. As we have for centuries participated in creating the European civilisation, so nowadays we put our hands to the helm of European politics.
Josef Kroutvor very fittingly writes that “The Central Europe is one large family with numerous family ties, traditions and intricate history.” We have a deep feeling for community. We are linked by historical destiny: The existence in the middle, the existence between. Between the West and the East, and among the European powers. Our lives were influenced by empires and totalitarian systems and we had to muster up all our strength to save our own identity.
The desire of freedom became the basic experience of our nations, which showed itself stronger than anything that was trying to quell it. The period of the last fifteen years is a major triumph of our region. Two streams contribute to this success. The one stream are the different successes of each country, the difficult efforts of systemic reforms and transformation. The other stream are the results of our cooperation and coordination, of the unanimously shown reason and responsibility, of the determination to reach a common vision.
Our region did not get stuck in antagonisms, nor did it fall apart. There has always been the risk that when we free ourselves from the artificial unity, i.e., from the structures of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) and the Warsaw Pact, and that when the shadow of the Soviet Union disappears, the old contentions and historical wounds will come back to life. We could have gone our separate ways regardless of the others. Instead, we have been able to show the will to reconciliation. We have been able to create a network of partnership, consultations, and regional cooperation. We have been developing cooperation within the framework of the Visegrad Four, which I consider a great success. We have gained the good reputation of those who strengthen stability, of those who build. The success of our region has been exceptionally good news for the uniting Europe and for the world full of problems. We have not become an issue for the Continent, on the contrary – we are listed among the virtues.
Now, after having entered the gates of the European Union, we face the question of what will happen next with so nicely commenced sequel. How do we want to understand our regional community – should it be a mere stage on the way to the united Europe or an undying source of our identity? We understand each other well, and we look at Europe through the prism of common experience. Is this prism, however, a pointer into the future? Do we feel like supporting each other in our endeavour, like deepening our knowledge, and in a true manner bringing our nations together? This is a serious question.
In the 21st century Europe the perspective of cooperation of the countries in the area stretching from the Baltic Sea, through Central Europe to the shores of the Black Sea is taking shape. It can develop within the framework of the Union and within the ever closer contacts of the European Union with Ukraine, Russia and Turkey. This would be another positive breakthrough in the history of the continent. For now, it remains a vision. It is certain, however, that without our engagement, without developing the already reached regional results, and without openness to other countries that stand at the doorsteps of the Union, this project would not reach realisation. Today, we hold a real key to the future.
There are many topics that have to be discussed between the Poles and the Czechs. Please, allow me to draw the attention to one of the most essential subjects and that is to Ukraine. Not only because the Ukrainian crisis attracts attention, stirs emotions and also raises concern. But mainly because the development of the events in Ukraine and surrounding Ukraine is a test for the uniting Europe, for the community of our region, and for each of us.
I would like to explain why Poland has engaged in solving the Ukrainian political crisis with so much conviction and energy. Why I have personally come out with the initiative of the “round table” and made the sides in discord to negotiate. I consider bringing them to a successful conclusion as one of the most important tasks of my political activity.
At this occasion I would like to thank cordially for all the positive voices of support, advice and consultations, for which I am grateful to many statesmen and many countries and I also thank for the very valuable cooperation with President Václav Klaus and the Czech Republic.
Poland is imminently concerned with the destiny of Ukraine, since it is our Eastern neighbour. We are linked by strategic partnership. We believe that the security and sovereignty of our countries are interdependent. Poland was the first country in the world to recognise the independence of Ukraine immediately after it had been declared in December 1991. We have taken many steps to build bridges of reconciliation spanning the tragic side of history. Our political and economic cooperation advances successfully. Many Ukrainians live in Poland, the Polish and Ukrainian local authorities and non-governmental organisations cooperate very closely. We are trying to make our contacts with Ukraine into a model of cooperation for building an open and friendly border between a Member State of the Union and a neighbour state of the Union. The example of which is the visa agreement, based on which the Polish people travel to Ukraine without visa and the Ukrainians are issued Polish visa without useless procedures and free of charge. Poland is rightfully considered an advocate of the Ukrainian pro-European efforts in the European Union forum.
Not only that is a proof of our engagement in solving the Ukrainian crisis. We have recognised that the demonstrable manipulation of the results during the second round of the presidential elections in Ukraine is a thrown down gauntlet for the European values. It is a challenge of solidarity uniting the countries of our region. The “Orange” peaceful revolution in Ukraine, which is a large protest against lies and against manipulating democracy, is asking the uniting Europe, is asking each country of the Community the question what value do the European ideas really have and if we all, be it in Prague, Paris, Brussels or in Warsaw, are ready to defend these truths and values. This question is being asked urgently and with hope particularly of us, the nations of the Central and Eastern Europe. After all, we had been demanding freedom and democracy long and stubbornly, and reached it and have it. We can now strengthen these values within NATO and the European Union. The question however is if we are open to the faith of those who today lead similar struggle, same as we did several years ago. The question, which has to be asked of every capital in the Central and Eastern Europe, of all those who undertook the journey of transformation in more than the last ten years – if we still want and can be solidary.
Poland and I personally have begun a mission of good will. We cooperate with other countries, with Lithuania, representatives of the European Union – with all who perceive the gravity of the situation in Ukraine, and who also perceive the chance, the awakening of the civil society in Ukraine is for the whole democratic and open Europe. It is very important that the European Union has raised its voice in concern with the Ukrainian elections and that it has engaged in the role of a mediator. The chance of a peaceful and lawful settlement of the crisis is being strengthened. Here, it is possible to see an example of how the enlargement of the European Union brings positive results already today. The voice of politicians and Members of the European Parliament from Poland and other countries of the Central and Eastern Europe has a crucial importance in the European forum. Before our eyes and with our participation there emerges that, which until recently has only been declared: The Common Foreign Policy of the European Union and mainly the Union’s Eastern policy. The partnership of the countries in our region will have a substantial influence on further directions of this policy. And that should be the principal direction of our effort.
It is, of course, necessary to answer the reproofs as well. Some of them claim that Poland, in the international discussion surrounding the Ukrainian crisis, is engaged on one side and on one side only. This is not true. The Polish state does not support any of the candidates, and it does not oppose any of the candidates for the office of the President of Ukraine either. We stress that Ukraine is a sovereign state. If we participate as a mediator, it is only due to one reason. It is necessary to offer the Ukrainians a possibility so that they themselves honestly, clearly and transparently can make a decision on their own matters by the means of completely free elections. Merely this is the concern. Or rather this is how high the concern is. From the depth of our hearts we wish our Ukrainian neighbours to, by the means of talks and legal solutions, find the way to strengthen the Ukrainian independence, democracy and indissolubility, that is, the unity of the country.
I would like to fully stress that Russia is an inevitable partner in settling the Ukrainian crisis. The stirring surrounding the Ukrainian matters must not be perceived as an occurrence of a new antagonism along the West – East line. After all, it is obvious that Russia cannot remain indifferent to a situation of tension, crisis and conflict right at its border. It is bound with Ukraine by many historical, cultural, economic and linguistic bonds as well as by bonds of human faiths. Russia should become a co-creator of the emerging understanding in Ukraine and one of the essential allies in the effort to prevent the crisis there from turning into a violent solution, so that such decisions can be found that will aid in building a democratic state that respects the rule of law. We approach Russia in this matter with a justified intention of partnership and cooperation. We are convinced that in the cooperation dealing with the Ukrainian matters, our results of the cooperation, which arise from the Polish and Russian transformation, will be of assistance. We are certain and we wish from the depth of our hearts the stable and democratic Russia to be as active a partner as possible in creating European and worldwide order.
Today Poland testifies its loyalty to European values. We cannot be indifferent to the violation of democratic principles and human rights anywhere, including beyond our Eastern border. This concerns also Belarusian matters. We would like to do everything so that the border, which is the formal border between the European Union and our Eastern neighbours today, would not become a new curtain and would not be an obstacle, but so that it would be a friendly border favourable to cooperation, open to business people, scientists, culture and politics, yet at the same time strict for those who do not want to abide by the law, who assist terrorism and who work in the structures of organised crime, etc. Under the current circumstances and international cooperation there is a chance how to distinguish these two groups efficiently. To open the border between the European Union and our friends – neighbours in the East for anything that is good and that serves our future. To fight against that which is pathological, dangerous and that which threatens each of us. Here in Prague, I would like to, with the participation of our Czech friends, build this way of thinking, these political practices, in order for us as the region of the Central and Eastern Europe to be not only united as far as the activities supporting our interests in the European Union are concerned, but also to be the link to further integration. So that the idea of the open door would be spreading from our side, our countries, so that we would simplify the task of integration of Eastern countries in the European structures despite the fact that nowadays it would be very difficult to decide in advance when we could talk of a more formal membership. I am certain that this European mission is our historical obligation. It is a conscious choice, and its goal is stable Europe. Safe world. After all it is not that long ago, perhaps a year, two or three, when the content of the Visegrad cooperation has been found in relation to the fact that our countries found themselves both in NATO and the European Union and this issue seemed very pessimistic. We thought it would be problematic to set the tasks for these structures for the future. First of all, we have considered everything that still is regional, which belongs to our territory and which still has to be provided. More open borders, more cultural cooperation, more interpersonal contacts and more understanding each other. Since a certain time, and it has not begun with Ukraine, it began earlier with Belarusian and Moldovan matters, it shows that the Visegrad Group and our regional cooperation can have a substantial significance for the European policy towards our Eastern neighbours. That we can be those who can not only appeal but also undertake concrete initiatives to aptly and with benefit, for those nations who expect the accession, spread the European idea, spread the space for European values, and also spread the feeling of safety of all those who are in this space. I believe that here in Prague and the Czech Republic we find people who understand both this idea and this project. I am grateful for it and that is about everything I wanted to tell you at this moment. Thank you for your attention.