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Thursday, 20 March 2003

Satement by the President of the Republic of Poland during meeting with participants of the conference "The Riga...

May I cordially welcome all of you to Warsaw, to the Presidential Palace and thank you for your presence during this event. The meeting of officials from seventeen countries of Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe who represent the area and the peoples between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Seas constitutes an event in itself. The meeting has received additional meaning by taking place at this special moment: on the one hand most of our countries are on their way towards the European structures and towards NATO, on the other we can all observe what is happening around us. Military action has begun in Iraq with different countries taking different positions vis-a-vis this issue - the action which, if it is to bring about more security and more effectiveness in combating terrorism, will prove to be our proper contribution to the 21st century. Last night was one of those nights which one remembers for the rest of his life. For me it was especially poignant as several hours before I had taken the decision to send Polish troops to the area of Iraq and yesterday I took part in a farewell ceremony of the chemical support unit in Brodnica. I saw the soldiers` readiness and their conviction that this is the right thing to do. I enquired about their private lives and how difficult it was for them to take the decision. Their response was: this is our job, our mission. I hope that nations and societies will appreciate this kind of attitude. There are times when things must be done. There are times when decisions must be made - however hard and painful - because they will bring good results for the future. Briefly speaking: it must be done. Although we could not foresee that our meeting would coincide with this particular moment in history, the fact does not alter the ideas behind the concept, nor does it diminish my gratitude for your presence here. It is my conviction that countries represented here constitute a special kind of community. We share a similar identity; our history was marked by the experience of being "in between" - in between different trends, forces and clashing European powers. Being at the borderline of the West and the East remains a strong part of our history - with interweaving cultures, traditions and mentalities. Our nations, against their will, remained for many years within the orbit of the Soviet Union`s sphere of influence. It is symbolic that this meeting and all the flags behind me are in this very room where the Warsaw Pact was signed. Incidentally, the Pact was called a "Warsaw Pact" not because it had been a Polish initiative, but because it was signed in Warsaw. Years later, this room was the venue for the Round Table talks which brought such momentous and profound change for Poland as well as the nations represented here. Today the coming together of our nations is appreciated and felt by us more strongly because we are now able to freely shape our fate, we all try to become members of NATO and the EU, we want to cooperate with these structures and take our rightful place in the European family. Yet, we shall still be perceived by some as that "other" part of Europe, as those who are within but not quite part of the European family. My position and the position of Poland is well known and is clear. We are fully convinced that the enlargement of NATO and the European Union are historic events. They strengthen our security and stability, they obliterate the recent divisions and create a unique opportunity for future development and cooperation. This is the road to follow and there is no better alternative to this course. Naturally, it is for each of our nations to make their own decision: Slovenia will have the referendum next Sunday, other countries will follow with Poland holding the referendum probably on 8 June - but in my opinion there is no alternative. While we rejoice that NATO has decided to enlarge further and that we have been invited to the European Union, let us not forget that not all the countries are benefiting. We should therefore treat this stage as an opening. Open doors should be the permanent feature of the European thought, we should be ready to accept new countries which will fulfill the criteria, the conditions and will attach themselves to this great area of cooperation, development and European security. For us, countries which have gone through so much, the inclusion in the European structures means more democracy, more rule of law, more civic society and more efficient, healthy market economy. The initiative which I presented in Riga constitutes a complementary - and I stress the word complementary - concept to this process. It is not to replace or be against anything, but to complement the processes taking place. The purpose of the initiative is to assist the countries which are neither among the NATO nor the EU candidates - so that they do not feel alienated or rejected but can make use of our experience and, at the same time, we should take responsibility for political support towards their European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. A truly unified Europe will materialize only when all of us belong to the European structures, which - through our presence - will not lose on importance but will become a major concept of Europe as an important civilisational center and - in my opinion - a major concept for the new century. Every political initiative makes sense only when it is filled with substance and I am happy to see that it is taking such concrete shape. We are discussing different forms of cooperation and I wish to thank the Polish government officials for their contribution, because we must consider various elements - not just diplomacy, politics and economy, but also infrastructural projects, borders, combating crime, cultural and regional cooperation, education and cooperation of young people. I am sure that we can draw a long list of issues around which we can build interesting partnership and through the partnership shorten the road to NATO and the EU for the countries which are not yet candidates. There is another important element - we want to share the experience of our achievements but also the experience of our weaknesses or the mistakes we may have committed. The best way is to learn on the mistakes of others - it is less costly. The countries which have made great progress and entered the European structures can share their experience among the states present here: Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro or our great and important friend and neighbour Ukraine. These are the areas for our cooperation. Please convey these words to your presidents and heads of government. At this moment in history there is a need for every kind of decent, worthwhile cooperation. We never expected to find ourselves in such a difficult situation also within NATO and the European Union. Our countries are best placed to demonstrate good cooperation and to generate an impassioned appeal to our EU and NATO partners to resume the closest possible cooperation and not to neglect the necessary dialogue which should take place. There are no better advocates of transatlantic unity and European cooperation than our countries. For so many years we were the victims of European divisions, but we managed to abolish those divisions. It was through our action: these countries brought the barriers down. It was the courage of our nations, of the people from these countries which brought about the change. The courage of those who wanted to live in independent states, who fought for democracy, who wanted to speak their own languages - in Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - those who demanded their rights in the Balkans. It was we who changed the rules and returned to the right values. It may be a harsh assessment but it is my deep conviction that without the movement here we would still be debating how to dynamically democratize totalitarian regimes. But the change has occurred and now we have the moral title to demand consistency, cooperation, dialogue and action aimed at eliminating the kinds of disputes which may take us back to the old divisions. Let us demand the closest possible transatlantic and European cooperation. Let us reject the choice: are you closer to America or to France, do you prefer Europe or the United States. Such questions are fallacious and unwise. Our future is embedded in the Euro-Atlantic area, where we are together with America, France, Germany and Great Britain - being treated a serious, predictable and responsible partner, contributing great hope to the whole area. The hope may sometimes look naive but the hope is with us and inside us. It is the great strength of our region and of the countries which you represent. We have the ability to create, we are not afraid of difficulty, we know how to overcome problems and I am convinced that the cooperation in our group can bring about many benefits. For me your presence here is an excellent start and I trust that further steps will be taken. Let us cooperate extending hope and effort - which are so needed today.
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