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Friday, 24 June 2005

President of the Republic of Poland takes part in a Ceremonial Opening and Consecration of the Lvov Eaglets Cemetery

On 24 June 2005, President of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski paid a visit to Lvov where he took part, alongside President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, in a ceremonial opening and consecration of the Lvov Eaglets Cemetery and in celebrations at the Ukrainian Galician Army Soldiers’ Memorial.
After ecumenical prayers and the consecration ceremony of the Lvov Eaglets Cemetery, representatives of French and USA diplomatic corps and of Polish and Ukrainian Armed Forces unveiled memorials to French infantrymen and American airmen.   
Addressing people attending the ceremony, President of the Republic of Poland said:
The opening of the Lvov Eaglets Cemetery is a fulfillment of a heartfelt need of the Polish people – it is also a sign of peace, conciliation and friendship radiating from the hearts of Ukrainians. And we do appreciate this. On behalf of Poland and Poles, with deep emotions stirred on this momentous historical day, I say to you: Thank you!
We, Poles and Ukrainians, reach out to each other with open hands over divisions of history, over the divine of graves – I am convinced that from here we go into the future arm in arm!
The Lvov Eaglets Cemetery is a place endowed with a special significance, its turbulent past intimately interwoven with the tangled history of the town and thorny relations between Poles and Ukrainians over the past century. The soil here holds the ashes of soldiers fallen in Polish-Ukrainian armed conflicts, mostly young people that gave their lives struggling to preserve Lvov part of Poland, a country then reasserting its presence again as an independent state. It was the place where two desires, two patriotisms, two national prides came into collision. We, Poles of today, bow our heads low in tribute to the sacrifice of the Lvov Eaglets. We pay homage deeply moved by the remembrance of their bravery, sacrifice and ardent devotion to their homeland.
At the same time we think with reverence about the Ukrainian victims of warfare that also gave their lives struggling for freedom and Ukraine’s independence. They also fought for the good of their country with valor and fortitude and their sacrifice merits our deep respect.
The place where we stand acquires a new symbolic meaning. Of old it bore witness to struggles. Today it becomes a symbol of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation that began with the downfall of totalitarian rule. The reconstruction of the Eaglets Cemetery was made possible by the emergence of Ukraine as a sovereign and democratic state. In 1997, our countries signed a declaration of reconciliation. In this way we expressed the wish of our nations to build friendly relations and trust on the foundation of truth as it is the only way to overcome stereotypes and oversimplifications in mutual perception. The memory of troubled history is a cautionary lesson – but no longer an obstacle! – for and in the task of jointly building shared future for ourselves.   
Reconciliation is always a two-way process. Poles do understand Ukrainian sensibilities. We feel we have an obligation to repay a moral debt. I trust that Ukrainians likewise will become ever more understanding of the Polish suffering, of the Polish pained memory. The celebrations in Wolyn in 2003 affirmed that reconciliation is possible, that the process has been set in motion. I am pleased to note that numerous research projects and publications appeared of late that enhance mutual familiarity and help both sides to gain better understanding of each other. We support such undertakings believing they make invaluable contribution towards deepening our dialogue. (…)
With great sense of responsibility and mutual compassion we build on the legacy of Pope John Paul II who has so profoundly altered the face of the world and transformed so many human hearts. It was Him who in this city exactly four years ago appealed:
“Let forgiveness – given and received – spill out like a healing balm into the hearts of all. By virtue of purging historical memory let us all put higher value on that which unites rather than divides so that we can jointly build future based on mutual regard, brotherly cooperation and genuine solidarity” – guided us John Paul II.
And so we witness today another historical step being taken. The fact that the President of Poland and the President of Ukraine are together at this cemetery, that our nations can talk to each other with due respect for each other’s sensibilities about even the most emotion-laden occurrences of the past – all this shows that we march on down the road of understanding and reconciliation with firm will and great resolve.
It is through President Viktor Yushchenko that I wish to convey words of thanks to all our Ukrainian friends. To all those that helped – and continue to help - bring Poland and Ukraine closer together, that help enhance our mutual understanding, cooperation and the strategic partnership between our countries and peoples. We thank you Mr. President, we thank you Viktor.(…)
The longed-for freedom has arrived at long last. We relish our freedom in Poland and have been showing the past sixteen years that we can make good use of it. The voice speaking up for the freedom of the nation and dignity of  people, for the truth and democracy, issued forth loud and clear from your hearts in Majdan Nezalezhnosti in November and December last year. And Poland heard the voice calling from Ukraine. Responding to the request of both the sides of the conflict, we initiated, together with European mediators, the ‘roundtable’ at which the crisis was resolved by political means. Ukraine made its own sovereign decisions. We welcome your success and we are very proud of it. The path you have chosen is not an easy one. But we want to assure you that you are not left alone. Poland wants and will assist you          in the pursuit of your aspirations. And we believe that the moment will come when we shall welcome you on your entry into the family of European Union nations!
This cemetery is an important witness of the epoch. The necropolis suffered changing fortunes. The construction work went on for twenty years. It was not brought to completion because the work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. After the war, the Eaglets Cemetery gradually fell into ruin. In the early ‘70s, the cemetery was deliberately destroyed, ran waste by Soviet tanks and bulldozers. This hideous desecration of the Lvov Eaglets graves was meant to injure our pride and defile the memory of our heroes. But foremost it was a savage act of barbarity committed against our culture and traditions of the civilized world that demand that we treat human remains with reverence and respect.
We should also remember that the Lvov Eaglets Cemetery is part of the Lychakovski Cemetery. It is one of the oldest in Europe, preserved to this day, places of burial and commemoration. For centuries it was the place of eternal peace for the citizens of this magnificent city: for Poles, Ukrainians and Germans. Buried here are also people of other nationalities. They all conjointly molded the multicultural character of Lvov. (…)
I wish to extend heartfelt thanks to all people that made by their contributions today’s ceremony possible – to state authorities of both countries, local self-government authorities and all people involved in this undertaking. To Cardinals, Bishops, clergymen - for the moving ceremony. We know full well that the reopening of the cemetery was a difficult venture, both for you as well as for us. Our presence here today is the fruit of many years of efforts. I wish to thank the citizens of Lvov, you, the inhabitants of today as well as all those anonymous Lvovians that over the years showed concern for the cemetery and thanks to whom the necropolis survived at all. The power of memory and love prevailed and gave this place a new lease on life. Without you – the guardians of memory – today’s ceremony would not be possible!
I turn to you with a request- please attend to this place with due care and attention so that never again it is defaced by acts of vandalism as unfortunately happened in the past. In defiance of history and notwithstanding all the blood shed – let this cemetery unite our nations rather then divide.
Both in Ukraine as well as in Poland there are still great many places that we   should guard and protect with reverence. There are many graves that hold the ashes of fallen and killed Poles and Ukrainians. Attending to these with tender care is our shared obligation. We should fulfill it with conviction, sensitivity, mutual respect and tolerance.
Nations to survive have to remember. We, Poles and Ukrainians – experienced by painful lessons of history – do know the value of keeping memories alive. But we should not dwell on the past only. This alone is not enough and it holds us back. We – Poles and Ukrainians, in the XXI century, in the uniting Europe – have to be quick learners of history’s lessons.    
This is a task for all of us but most of all for the younger generations. This is because now the task of cultivating and preserving our shared memory is passed to you – young Poles and Ukrainians. You will be the ones that will enrich relations between our countries, ones that will strengthen our common Europe.  And it is you, young people gathered in this special place, that we dedicate the words Taras Shevchenko once addressed to Poles in a line of verse: “To Poles – let’s rebuild that tranquil paradise of ours!”
It is possible. This can happen. For the very reason that today, here, transcending history, over the graves, Poles and Ukrainians reach out to each other and say – we want to go into the future together!
The ceremony ended with the Presidents of Poland and Ukraine laying wreaths and lighting vigil candles.
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