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Friday, 27 May 2011

President opens 17th Meeting of Presidents of Central European States

I open this summit in Warsaw dedicated to reflection concerning the road to democracy. We will recall the experiences of Central Europe during the period of change. Democracy is our common goal, achievement, and challenge and it is worth remembering that, close to the place where we now are, the Warsaw Pact was made in 1955. It had a significant impact on the division of Europe, the consequences of which we all so painfully felt. Let us remember that only 20 years ago the borderline of the Soviet Union lay 250 kilometres east of Warsaw. This country was the source of oppression, fear and a foul ideology which hindered the unification of Europe and made it impossible for many nations of Central Europe to develop. Today, in Warsaw, the presidents of independent and democratic Central European states meet to discuss something more than just the path towards freedom our region has taken – they meet also to talk about experiences useful in further spreading independence and democracy in Europe and the world at large.


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I believe all of our countries have encountered difficulties on their road from totalitarian regime to democracy and that this part of Europe was particularly affected by wars, armed conflicts, dictatorships, and other limitations of human and national liberty. Some of us felt the breath of change towards democracy after the end of World War II with the defeat of fascism and the followers of Hitler while others had to wait and struggle to win their liberty and democracy. It came to them as late as 1989-1990 and after the political changes in our part of Europe.


Many of our countries felt safe only after joining NATO and the EU, or at least one of these two organisations.


What we achieved would not have been possible without the involvement of the European Union. The expanding of the Union was essential here, but the association stage and various instruments for providing aid were also of consequence. This remains important as some countries in our region are still on that same road and are to follow in our footsteps. It was our determination and our efforts that made it possible to expand the European Union in a unifying manner. I use the word "unifying" because subsequent EU expansions, starting from 2004, amount to stages of another process – one of unifying a Europe which has remained divided since World War II. From this perspective, shared in our region, we appreciate the political boldness and financial contribution our Western European partners have added as their share of the unification process. Our paths may have been different – the path leading to freedom, democracy, and European integration was particularly painful for the Balkans and former Yugoslavia – but I sincerely hope and firmly believe that such freedom, one for which we paid with our sweat and blood, is only of especially high value and appeal. In this light, striving to achieve full democracy and European integration is the best solution to the issue of lack of security in our part of Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Here, in Warsaw, the heads of so many countries from within our region have gathered, representing the "second 'lung' of our common European motherland." I take these words from the famous speech Pope John Paul II delivered at the European Parliament in 1988. I am glad that we who have gathered here together form a full image of Europe – a land diversified in terms of its culture, language, and tradition. This is Europe in all its splendour. This "brilliance" is precisely the result of this variation.


Europe has always been open to the outside world and eager to establish contact with other regions. We have always been interested in other countries, wishing to learn more about other people and their culture. Thanks to this, over the course of history, a tradition of European relations with other regions has emerged. The united Europe must not sever its ties with this tradition, it must not try and live in seclusion and isolation, flooded by egoism.


We have to remember, however, that not everyone in Central, Eastern, or Southern Europe benefited from changes for the better and reforms now spreading across the entire region. Transformation processes are never fully synchronised in different places and there are various factors in particular countries which influence their dynamics. We have seen, also in Poland, situations where reformatory initiatives are countered. We have witnessed attempts at restoring the status quo and at protesting against change. There have been instances of social unwillingness and populist counter-offensive, sometimes taking the form of a political diversion of sorts initiated by the real opponents of reform and change.


It must and should not be denied, however, that even the reformers themselves sometimes erred because of not having full knowledge of the processes taking place at a given time and being incapable of imagining all the consequences of the changes being introduced. Others were at fault because they did not fully consider the issues of their own country and of the neighbouring states.


In spite of this, it can be reasonably stated that the changes which did take place and which are still in progress in the countries of our region are changes for the better. Thanks to them, our people can cherish freedom and enjoy increasing well-being. They may safely hope that the future is even brighter for states and societies.


         All this should make us think and ponder over the degree to which our positive and negative experiences, and I mean both the individual experience of particular countries and the experience of the region at large, our mistakes, and, most of all, our eventual success go beyond the boundaries of our region and become universal. We have to look inside ourselves and look for an answer to the question of whether or not we can afford to help others. How can we do it? How can we support democratic change in our vicinity. How can we help the southern and eastern neighbours of the European Union? We are all aware of the weak and strong points of our respective experiences connected with changes in our countries. If we are able to find a common denominator of sorts for these experiences then perhaps we will also be able to share them with others who are now traversing their path towards freedom and democracy, sometimes at the very beginning of this road, sometimes in the middle of it. 


In Poland, the tradition connected with the Solidarity movement obliges us to help others. This 10-million strong social movement altered Polish reality without resorting to any violent means. Back then, we experienced the solidarity of other countries, the unity of the western world. The smooth, rich, and well-structured democratic world aided our region of Europe.

After the commencement of the first democratic changes in Poland and after the first non-communist government was created – and even later, up until the conclusion of these profound changes – we could count on the support of others. They helped us with more than just words and money – they also shared their experiences with us and aided us in establishing mechanisms for further spreading change in our region of Europe. I think that today most Poles associate the "Arab Spring" with the "Spring of Nations" which, in our part of Europe, took place after 1989.
Polish experiences suggest that making use of reserves connected with de-centralising power or developing local self-government is important for democratic transformation. It is essential to "bet on" the development of civic society, as well as on the development of associations and free media. Economic reforms unleashing individual creativity and innovativeness are also important, as is openness to the world, to contacts with others and discussion with them. We should watch others and skilfully adapt their successful solutions to our very different local conditions. What is important may well differ from country to country.
Ladies and Gentlemen!

The direction of our progress and our objectives remain the same. Our common aim is democratic order for free nations and free people. This will be the subject of today's discussion.      

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