Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of Poland

Poland in a Changing World

September 15, 2005 05:00 PM


by President Aleksander Kwaśniewski

Aleksander Kwasniewski: Distinguished director, professors, dear ladies and
gentlemen, dear students, I hope some students from Poland as well, (speaks
Polish). Some students from Poland are here, so this is an additional honor for
me. Dear friends, I'm extremely glad to be a guest of Columbia University.
Thanks for nice and very kind introduction. And, first of all, I'd like to thank you
for this invitation. It is a source of great satisfaction to me to be able to meet with
representatives of the United States intellectual elite, with the community that is
sketching the path of the future, not just for America, but also for the entire world.

Indeed, that is the dimension of today's debate at the World Leaders forum. I'm
very pleased that Columbia University, one of America's most prestigious places
of higher learning is closely affiliated with Poland. It was here that the Polish
Studies program was created two years ago. Thanks to this program, the
research is being conducted into Poland's more distant and contemporary history
and our country has become much better known to the American public opinion.
I would like to thank cordially the authorities of Columbia University, especially its
Eastern European Studies Center for supporting this wonderful undertaking. I
would also like to thank the Katsushika Foundation and the Semper Palonia
Foundation. I hope that it will be possible for the Polish students, faculty, to
launch operations in the near future at this renowned university which will make
our country even better known to Americans.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear students, two notions have modeled the most recent
quarter of the century of Polish history: freedom and solidarity. Today no one
has any doubt whatsoever that what happened in Poland 25 years ago deserves
to be called a turning point. The formation of Solidarnosc, Solidarity, in 1980
changed the course of history and it initiated changes throughout Europe. The
sowing of Solidarnosc has led, although not immediately, to a great yield. In
Poland this took place in 1989 in the form of the Round Table Agreement
between the authorities and the opposition, which demanded democratic
changes. Consequently, the first non-communistic government was formed.

Immediately thereafter, just like a domino, changes took place in Eastern
Germany, the Berlin Wall fell. The Velvet Revolution occurred in
Czechoslovakia. Changes took place in Hungary, Romania, the Baltic States.
And the Soviet, finally the Soviet Union disintegrated. The Iron Curtain which
had seemed was supposed to have split our continent asunder for eternity simply
and suddenly melted away. The Cold War came to an end. The processes of
Enlargement NATO, and the European Union, demarcated a new era. An era of
openness, cooperation, and integration. Poland is an excellent proof of the
immense creativities strength freedom arbors. The greatest resource we had at
the starting point was human energy and creativity.

The Poland of 1989-90, when we embarked on the path of transformation, and
contemporary Poland are, in fact, two different countries. Some examples. Our
gross domestic product has grown over these 15 years by 42 percent. This is
the greatest increase among all the Central and Eastern European states. The
year of 2004 had particular meaning as that was the year Poland acceded to the
European Union. It was a time of truth for the competitiveness of our economy.
The results have proven to be spectacular, especially in terms of exports, which
compared to the previous year, have spiked by more than 37 percent. The
Polish economy has modernized.

It is not just that it produces incomparably more than 15 year ago, but that at the
same time it also consumes one-third less one-third less water, one-half less
coal, with admitting ten times less dust into the atmosphere. Living conditions
have improved considerably. Poles live three years longer on average. There
are four times more phone lines and three times more passenger cars per 1000
inhabitants. We are experiencing an educational boom. You, dear students from
Poland, are a good example of this educational boom. Now in Poland we have
two million students in the universities and that is five times more than in 1990.
Nearly every other young Poland is studying.

Although we are still not a wealthy nation, this year's UN report ranks Poland
high in terms of living condition in number 36. We are among the most
developed nations, of course, and that is necessary to underline. We also have
problems. We must urgently create new jobs, reduce public debt, and effectively
reform the healthcare system. You will concur that these Polish challenges
sound very familiar, even here in America, and especially in Western Europe.
We can see the problems which we have, challenges which we face, they mean
simply normalcy. Including all its splendors and shadows, but this normalcy is
really fact measure of our success.

Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen, the enlargement of the European Union
include ten new member states, including eight from Central and Eastern
Europe, marked with the experience of communism become a great historical
event. It is response to the avenue of the conflicts and divisions that Europe
once lived through while also being an opening to new and numerous
opportunities for development. Poland today is actively participating in debate on
the EU's future. This community of 25 states, which will grow to 27 in the near
future, and certainly more after is a complicated mechanism which must work in
a coherent and effective manner. As problems appear, people sometimes even
speak openly of crisis. However, for some who looks at the European Union
from the outside, the sentiment of crisis may be something incomprehensible. Or
even absurd.

Europe, in the process of uniting, does not have any reasons to have complexes
or to be despondent. Its score card of achievement is really impressive. The
countries that are waiting to join the community also see things this way. After
all, they would not all be knocking on the EU's door if they believe the life of crisis
awaits them there. The reality of the EU is considerably better than the
sentiment prevailing within. The process of EU enlargement should be
continued. That is the most certain recipe for security, stability, and development
for all Europeans. And the best that Europe can offer to the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the most important pillars of global security and
stability is the transatlantic bonds. Poland is of the opinion that the European
Union should continue with America to strengthen this close and lasting
partnership. Only this will make it possible to counteract the global threats and
challenges effectively. This model reflects much better the idea of international
solidarity than a la carte partnership, calling for cooperation on select issues. At
the same time, we are in favor on the EU's co-accountability for global security to
be considerably greater than to date. Europe and America may have different
views and even different interests in one or another matter. Experience shows,
however, that whenever we want we are capable of reaching an agreement.

A perfect example of this is the accord in the issue of jointly persuading the
Iranian authorities to desist from uranium enrichment program. Its achievement
is a good prognostic for further Euro-American cooperation. In matters of
fundamental importance to the world we have common interests. I think that this
one is currently more firmly rooted on both sides the Atlantic, than just two or
three ago. Europe and America contribute toward politics' advantages that are
complimentary, not mutually exclusive. I think that people in regions afflicted with
crisis or countries suffering under despotic governments would have a hard time
understanding why we cannot combine our forces to provide them with effective

Europe needs America and America needs Europe. The North Atlantic Treaty
Organization is also something that strongly bonds our continents. The alliance
has found its place in the new architecture of security after the end of the Cold
War. It plays an enormous role in integration processes, in bolstering stability
and confidence. NATO's open door policy should be continued because it
serves democratic reforms well in countries aspiring to the alliance.

Ladies and gentlemen, Poland feels accountable for the direction that matters
take and not just in our vicinity, not only in the European Union or in the
transatlantic community but also in the whole world. I am thinking now both of
problems that concern security as well of threats ensuing from the absence of
sustainable development. The essence of today's world is interdependency and
Poland has drawn its conclusions from this. We have not just fixed our gaze on
ourselves. We also look to others, seeing them as partners for joint activities or
as to persons to whom a helping hand must be extended. Indeed, this
commitment is the leverage that elevates Poland's international position.

Our country has good relations with all its neighbors. Polish soldiers have been
taking part in peace and stabilization missions for more than half a century and in
special way in recent years. We know from our history what the tragedy of war,
external aggression, the violation of a nation's freedom and human rights, and
the bitterness of isolation mean. That is why those who are currently living
through similar misfortunes can count on the Poles. We are in different places
around the world. In those places where there are threats of conflict, where
citizens have suffered at the hands of authoritative regimes, as well as in those
places where are smoldering ruins people are attempting to build a tranquil
existence anew.

Polish soldiers bring support and hope in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in Syria and
Lebanon, in Kosovo, Macedonia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our response to
global challenges takes the form of support provided to more impoverished
nations and the participation of Polish services and non-governmental
organizations in humanitarian operations. Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, in
conclusion I would like to say the idea of solidarity was not born in Poland. It is
an eternal idea that goes to the core of what is best in our humanity.
Nevertheless, the Poles were the ones who introduced it to the circle of political
values. Who transformed it into a social movement capable of changing reality.

Today this is our great message addressed to the entire world. At this time I
would like to mention Czeslaw Milosz who died one year ago. A great poet, a
winner of Nobel Prize for Literature, a sage who spent 32 years of his long life
here in the U.S. He lectured in American universities. Milosz was partially one of
us and partially one of you. He embodied the fulfillment of the American dream
coupled with the innocent longing for his lost homeland. He investigated the
intricate path of the history and culture of our times. This great humanist wrote
as follows in his moral treatise. I quote: 'You are living here now. Hick at noon.

You have one life, one point. What you manage to do will remain.' Dear ladies
and gentlemen, let us do our utmost to manage to do as much good as possible
for the world and for our joint success. Let's ensure that our posterity is as
meaningful as possible. Let's build our call to openness, cooperation among
nations and people. Let's cherish solidarity. Thank you for your attention.

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