The first twenty-five years
President Bronisław Komorowski addresses the National Assembly
June 4, 2014
The 25th anniversary of the elections which accelerated the course of modern Polish history provides an opportunity to reflect on past achievements and failures. In this address to the Polish parliament, President Bronisław Komorowski summarizes the road taken and outlines the challenges facing Poland and the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the National Assembly,
Your Majesty, Presidents,
Prime Ministers, Ministers,
Honorable Guests, and all my Compatriots!
Ladies and Gentlemen, I will not try to conceal my own personal touch of emotion as I stand here at the parliamentary rostrum to recall 25 years of serving Poland; and if it was not exactly 25 years, then it was most of them. With your permission I would like to use today’s gathering not only to recall Poland’s difficult road to independence – to Polish freedom – but also to recall the extremely interesting and fruitful road that led to Polish independence over a period of 25 years.
I would also like to say a few words about the things which are important in my view and which still need to be tackled, and what burdens need to be shouldered in order to secure both freedom and further development in the next 25 years, for the generation to come.
The elections of the June 4th 1989 and their outcome were a defining moment in ensuring the success of the long Polish road to freedom. They also entailed the restoration of the Sejm as the beating heart of Polish democracy. At the same time, the June 4th was the beginning of our new journey through 25 years of freedom. And, of course, the result of the elections was decisive for the formation of a coalition government, the “Government of Great Change”, with its first
post-war, non-communist Prime Minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
Solidarity was victorious in those elections, which at that time represented the freedom movement; the elections were a defeat for the forces of the old regime. That was decided by the nation – by the nation and not by political elites! It was decided by the nation in an electoral vote that even then was not yet entirely free. The change-over was not effected by revolution, the matter was resolved through the ballot box.
That victory of freedom came about as the result of many factors, notably the long-term social resistance nationwide against a system that lacked sovereignty, combined with the fact that the underground Solidarity movement somehow managed to survive. Clearly, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which lost the political, military, and economic race against the West, was a contributing factor. And then the moral, political, and economic bankruptcy of the People’s Republic of Poland, symbolized by empty shop shelves and repression of the democratic opposition, was conducive to radical change. Moreover, the entire success – the survival and the victory – were also made possible thanks to the teaching and message of faith and hope that was given to us by “the Polish Pope” John Paul II.
The “Round Table” was an important staging post on our road to freedom. It was the sign of a growing conviction, both in the opposition camp and among the ruling regime, that an evolutionary process must be sought, not a revolutionary one, and that confrontation must give way to compromise. Decisions made at the “Round Table” included the legalization once again of the „Solidarność” trade union and the agreement to organize parliamentary elections, although these were only partially free.
I say “partially” as the newly instituted Senate was to be elected one hundred per cent under free suffrage, whereas the lower house, the Sejm, was elected in a poll in which only thirty five per cent of the vote was free.
The nation, nevertheless, decided otherwise, departing from political calculations and party strategies. Solidarity gained ninety nine per cent of the seats in the Polish Senate. In spite of the guarantees and preferences obtained, many prominent figures from the ruling regime failed to get a seat in the Sejm. It is noteworthy that Solidarity even won in the “closed constituencies” that used to exist at that time, where votes were cast under particular supervision of the army and the police.
This was a political knockout! Polish freedom was won by a political knockout, but at the same time sought agreement and compromise on substantially changed conditions. The famous gesture of victory made by Tadeusz Mazowiecki in this historic hall hosting the sessions of the Sejm was concurrently an invitation to all political parties to cooperate and shoulder the shared responsibility for the difficult process of transformation of the country. This gesture was also a confirmation of the national will to return the beating heart of a newly-reviving democracy to the Polish Parliament.
This is why today, on the day marking the 25th anniversary of the elections, so important for the well-being of the Polish people, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to meet this national assembly, the opportunity to meet members of the Polish Sejm and Senate. I wish to convey the sense of gratitude we feel towards Parliament for the role it played twenty five years ago as well as for its entire twenty five year long endeavor to consolidate Polish freedom and manage it well.
My gratitude goes to all Marshals of the Sejm and Senate who held office over those twenty five years. It goes equally to all political parties coming from the right, left, and the middle ground of the Polish political arena. Indeed, my thanks go to all who made up and continue to make up the collective heart of Polish democracy.
We know, and being a former Marshal of the Sejm and a longstanding parliamentarian I, myself, know full well, that that heart of democracy sometimes misses a beat and even suffers from occasional political palpitations. But we also know full well that this is the beauty of democracy; a political system which is not easy but the only one founded on a free citizenry in a free state.
Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government obtained the support of an absolute, gigantic parliamentary majority and trod a pioneering path that nobody had ever explored before. It was then that the famous talk between Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Leszek Balcerowicz took place, before the latter received the portfolio of the Minister of Finance. As Mazowiecki observed: “They all wish to offer advice but nobody wishes to take on the responsibility.”
All the greater, therefore, should our thanks be to all of those who shouldered the burden of responsibility – for the difficult reform work that was carried out in the following twenty five years. And all the greater should be our sense of gratitude to subsequent governments, their Prime Ministers, and ministers. To take on that responsibility meant being ready to work in a spirit of compromise and co-dependence, in the hope of swift reformation in Poland. The more change we managed to engender in Poland, the stronger impetus became for further development.
Today, the sense of responsibility means the capacity to take decisions driven by the need to do our best for the incoming – the second – free generation. In order to find new sources of vitality, the success of those twenty five years of freedom needs to be recalled and revived over and over again.
Nowadays, as many as seventy one per cent of Poles admit that it was worthwhile changing the political system, eighty nine per cent support our integration with the European Union, and eighty one per cent support membership of NATO. This is also an important signal after twenty five years of transformation. What speaks volumes for all our people is that twenty years after the initiation of all these changes, our per capita gross domestic product measured by purchasing power parity reached sixty seven per cent of the EU average in 2012. And it is our objective to catch up and reach that European average. This is a great success but also underlines that there is an ongoing pursuit to embrace and a further objective to be reached. Ahead of us the intense work must go on so as to catch up with the EU’s lead.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
We have not only changed Poland, we have also changed our whole part of the world. It was us who gave impetus to reform across the entire region. It is we who can truly say that in this part of Europe in the last twenty five years “Freedom was made in Poland”.
For us, freedom also entails integration and good neighborly relations. Together with the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, we overthrew the system in 1989 and together with them we followed the road to NATO and to the EU. Sovereign Poland has built relations of partnership and good neighborliness with almost all of its surrounding countries. And key outputs of the last twenty five years have been the profound progress that has been achieved in Polish-German and in Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation. One can only wish that we would likewise make such headway in internal, Polish reconciliation.
These twenty five years of freedom represent a success for society: creative, active, and entrepreneurial. The Polish economy, mainly thanks to its private sector entrepreneurs, is developing at a dynamic pace. We all know that we have managed to protect it very effectively against recession and the global economic crisis. The political system is stable and functions with democratic rules. Poland belongs to the EU and NATO, and Poland is an important actor in international relations.
Nevertheless, we still feel a certain sense of insufficiency. What we want to achieve, and we articulate it on many occasions, is a better democracy, is better integration with the West, is a better civil society, is a better state, is a better market, is better jobs, is a better life, and is better education and training. This is only normal. We want to hand over a better and safer Poland to our children. We want to make sure that the second generation of free Poles also achieves success. We cannot afford to be negligent. Politicians sometimes tend to think about the next round of elections, and not about the generations to come. Especially now, on this twenty fifth anniversary of freedom, even if we are preoccupied with upcoming elections, as candidates or as voters, we should keep in mind the generations to come. We cannot rest on our laurels.
At the beginning, everyone had to carry the burden of the change. But the taste of success was not evenly savored by all. We want to win, and we should be winning, together. The success of the forthcoming years must be shared by as many Polish people as possible.
In my view, after these twenty five years, we are still only halfway through the job. A great new challenge is ahead of us: to use the next twenty five years to bridge the gap which still separates us from the most successful European countries. I do believe this is possible. I do believe that we can make it happen; that we, the Poles, can achieve it. There are, among others, many surveys to corroborate this, including one which says that over eighty five per cent of young people in Poland have a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. This means that they have an optimistic mind-set, they are optimistic about Poland, about the world, and about their own perspectives. They realize that the future depends on them.
Therefore, I do believe that the second generation of free Poles will make good use of the coming quarter century. The people born in 1989 are the best-educated generation in Polish history. It is worth remembering this. And this is also proven by a clearly visible boom in higher education and by the excellent results of international surveys pointing to the high level of our secondary education.
But let us aspire to something more than just being like the countries we are seeking to catch. Let us do our best to make other countries want to be like Poland. Let us recall the message of John Paul II who said: “One cannot just own freedom (…), one needs to constantly win it and create it”. This is the task for future generations.
In the course of our development, we need to overcome the challenges of the present day. Among them, the most serious are the demographic crisis, enhancing the competitiveness of the Polish and European economy on the global market, and the crisis in Ukraine, which stirs up strong emotions. The situation in the East is unstable and old and new threats are emerging. The power aspirations and the violation of human rights beyond our eastern border represent a challenge to our Polish solidarity. This situation behooves us to take care of our own security.
Ladies and Gentleman, never before has so much depended on us. The future begins today.
Today, it solely depends on us whether the success of the twenty five years of transformation will be used for even greater success of free Poland. Economic successes achieved in the past are no guarantee whatsoever of success in the future. If we do not speed up reform, Poland, which is growing today, will slow down tomorrow for good. It is up to us whether we manage to give a new impetus to the Polish state; an impetus that will make intense new development possible, and that will, first and foremost, lend a new quality to Polish freedom and pave the way for the success of the second generation of free Poles in the next twenty five years.
First: national security – a guarantee of our freedom
The twenty five years of building free Poland has also been a period for creating a modern security system. Its main pillar is, of course, our own defense capability, while its external constituents include membership of NATO and the EU, along with strategic partnerships, especially that with the United States.
The worrying turn of events on our border produces additional expectations of our armed forces. To meet them, consistent implementation of a multiannual program of technical modernization of our armed forces is a must, in line with the priorities that we have set out for them. It is essential to prepare a “third wave of modernization” focusing on broad introduction of information technology across the armed forces – cyber defense, UAVs, and satellite technology. We must enhance and integrate our system of national security management, including state defense management. Soon I intend to submit to Parliament an appropriate legislative initiative to deliver this.
The events unfolding in Ukraine show that modern threats are of a non-classical, hybrid nature. Therefore, it is also important to intensify efforts on non-military security. The objective must be to enhance the country’s strategic resistance to aggression. I have discussed all these factors with the Prime Minister and we have taken them fully into account. Together we arrived at the same conclusion. Accordingly, I shall recommend an increase in defense spending to the level of two per cent of gross domestic product, restoring it to the levels engaged when the program of technical modernization of the armed forces was originally launched at the beginning of the last decade.
Among the external pillars of our security, membership of NATO plays a particular role. Bearing in mind the changes in our immediate environment, at the forthcoming NATO summit we shall seek strategic reinforcement of the eastern flank of the Alliance, mainly through an updated system of contingency plans, regular exercises to verify these plans, an extension of the defense infrastructure, and the continued stationing of NATO troops and military bases in Central Europe, including in Poland. What is also important is to reverse the negative tendency of reducing military spending in Europe, when such spending is increasing east of NATO’s borders.
In parallel to the strengthening of NATO, we shall also strive to develop the European Union’s common security and defense policy. What is needed is a new – I would say a real – strategy for European security, involving a systematic mechanism for NATO-EU cooperation which would need to be set up.
Bilateral relations invariably continue to be the key pillar of security of the Republic of Poland. Among them, the strategic partnership with the United States continues to be of special significance. We appreciate the fact that, in response to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that has instilled fears for the security of the whole region, the United States not only verbally but also materially has supported the security of Central and Eastern Europe by stepping up its military presence. In this way the United States has testified to its attachment to the defense of allied freedom and territorial integrity. We also wish to strengthen cooperation with other countries in this area, especially in the context of the Visegrad Four and through further rapprochement with France and Germany through the Weimar Triangle.
Poland has a special responsibility for shaping transatlantic relations, which are important equally to our country and to the whole of Europe. Poland will continue to be vitally interested in maintaining the unity of the West.
An important constituent in building a bond between Europe and the United States should be the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership5, which is currently being negotiated, albeit with difficulties. This has the potential to boost the competitiveness of the economies on both sides of the Atlantic. It may enhance the ability of the Western World to compete effectively on a global scale.
Of substantial importance for our Polish security and development is and will be the continued independence and development of our close neighbor, the Ukraine, and the continued prevalence of a pro-West orientation there.
Second: by deepening our economic freedom we should seek to enhance the competitiveness of Poland.
Economic freedom is an opportunity for entrepreneurs and an opportunity to create jobs for Poles, even more effectively and in even greater numbers. Of course, when speaking about future opportunities for entrepreneurs, one needs to visit a related difficult subject – the Polish position on the common European currency.
A new Polish European integration strategy needs to be elaborated in this regard. In developing it, we must, among others, resolve the dilemma: do we actually intend to adopt the common currency? At present, the question of the euro cannot be reduced to simple fulfilment of the nominal convergence criteria and the date of entering the Eurozone.
Since the problem is multifaceted, the decision will always be prone to various risks. Nonetheless, if we are serious about strengthening Poland’s position and if we are serious about Poland finding its place in the decision-making center of Europe, and not remaining on its periphery, we must courageously face this challenge.
He, who simply contests our entry into the Eurozone without prior reflection or discussion, should have the courage to come up with a realistic alternative about how to achieve our full integration with the West. That person should also explain how, albeit in a different way, we can strengthen the position of Poland effectively, without entering the Eurozone where, as we all know, the most important decisions in the whole of Europe will be reached.
In my view, discussion on this subject should take place after elections. Then, all of the political parties will have a chance to present a responsible concept for building Poland’s position and unfold it in detail. This discussion must be broadly based, as we will need, one way or another, a broad consensus on that count, not least if we are to overcome the constitutional blocking majority. In this way, nobody will prevail over someone else; nobody will outvote anyone else. The only feasible approach will be mutual persuasion promoting broad consensus for the sake of a responsible stance towards Poland’s position worldwide.
The adoption of the euro means greater openness of the economy and implies deliberate increased economic interdependence. It may prove to be very beneficial, but only for an economy that is strong and competitive. A weak economy will be doomed to lose, as it will slide into a state of constant stagnation, and with time find itself on the periphery. And this is the Polish dilemma.
If one does not have one’s own currency or if one is not going to have it in the future, one needs to have a set of other tools of economic policy, primarily structural tools. They are available but only in an innovative and competitive economy. And this should be the most significant point of reference in the Polish discussion about the need to possibly join the Eurozone.
At the beginning of the new quarter-centennial period of freedom, Poland needs a new growth model. Without effective measures that enhance economic competitiveness we may, indeed, fall into a trap of middle income. In other words, there is the risk of falling into a position of permanent fixation between poorly developed economies based on cheap mass production and well-developed economies founded on innovation, creation, and application of high technology.
The Polish economy must move from competition based on imitation and on the use of simple resources, and especially cheap labor, to competition based on innovation. For competiveness and innovation, further reform of higher education will be crucial, including the difficult process of consolidating the institutions of third level learning with due respect to their autonomy. This also means tackling the challenge of equal treatment by the state of all institutions of higher learning, both public and private.
Third: there is no freedom without a community based on family.
Poland’s demographic crisis is a fact. We cannot reverse what has happened but we can prevent its continued prevalence. It is people who are the foundation of the economy and of society: their knowledge, their skills, and their good health. Human investment and investment into family have laid the foundations for economic growth and improved the standard of living enjoyed by Poles. Theories which suggest that the less of us there are, the richer we all will be, must be consigned to the past. The situation is quite the reverse.
This is why our challenge in coming years is to consistently develop a family-friendly climate. I intend to propose a legislative initiative with the view to providing better support to families – bringing up the future adult citizens of Poland. Raising future adult citizens, the people who will take on the responsibility for themselves and others, is also of great value for the whole of society. This is why I would like to promote tax arrangements which are beneficial to families. Tax relief should be available as a rule. At present such benefits are more accessible to better off families and those with fewer children. This should be replaced by an arrangement which is more accessible for families with more children and for families on smaller incomes, but only for those who actually pay taxes. On this count, I rely on the support, understanding, and cooperation of the government and the whole of Parliament.
Parents, and especially women, are often confronted with a stark choice: work or children. It should not be this way. We all know that when it comes to the availability of crèches and kindergartens much has changed for the better in recent years. This is one of the great achievements of the last twenty five years. But the problem remains, the problem of a difficult choice that life imposes on people; a choice one sometimes has to make, much as one would wish to avoid it.
The role of the state is to help in eliminating the need to make a choice between work and having children, and to make it the least difficult as possible. The point is to facilitate a work-life balance and not to make the two mutually exclusive. This is why I am going to submit to the House a draft law whose object will be to facilitate the reconciliation of working and family life.
Solidarity with families is crucially important. It is expressed by the popularization of the “Big Family Card” in local governments all across the country. I wish to thank wholeheartedly those numerous local government representatives for their fruitful and dedicated effort in so many local governments across the country. We must follow in your footsteps. In particular, I wish to thank the government for their decision to launch an all-Polish card: it will be the crowning glory of the whole system in place, also covering the cards issued by local governments, ushered in by local activists – people of different persuasions and political affiliations. Thus, the all-Polish card will be the crowning element. In my view, this is a harbinger of immense progress to be expected in the achievement of this beautiful project.
Fourth: equality should be guaranteed by a benevolent state and by good law-making
Cooperation in support of families testifies to the success of Polish local government. And it is the active engagement of citizens that is the strength of local government. It is also the best guarantee of the local work carried out by local authorities for the benefit of local communities, individual inhabitants, and local economic operators.
That is why on 30 August 2013, I submitted to Parliament a draft law on cooperation in territorial government to promote local and regional development.
This provides for increased participation of the public through local activity associations and committees. The strength of a democratic law-abiding state depends on its effectiveness and on the trust that its citizens place in it. As we all know, many Poles choose to turn their back on the country, either opting for emigration or sliding into the grey zones of the economy for various reasons.
The quality, transparency, and stability of positive laws are insufficient. In a law-abiding state, overly long drawn-out court proceedings are unacceptable, especially when it relates to prosecutions and convictions of persons who later turn out to be innocent.
One problem which is a challenge to resolve is securing widespread access to pre-trial legal aid for citizens, including for those who are not well-off. What is at stake here is the real ability to provide for oneself in a law-abiding state. At this juncture, I would like to offer my warm thanks to the National Association of Legal Counsels and the National Bar Association for the aid they offer pro bono and for their growing initiative to lend a hand to those who cannot afford professional legal advice from a barrister.
While fully appreciating what we have collectively attained, we must nevertheless ask ourselves why the level of citizen confidence in public institutions is so low. This is not a problem of one party or of one community, or of one government, or of one president. This is the problem of us all.
An alarming sign was the low turnout in the European Parliament elections. Let us not try to seek comfort in stating that it was even lower elsewhere in the EU. These elections revealed the weakness of Polish democracy, and I am saying this as I stand at the heart of Polish democracy, not only because of the low turnout but, first and foremost, because of the gigantic discrepancy between support for European integration, which stands at eighty nine per cent, and the real participation in the process of integration that is implied by going to vote, which reaches merely twenty three per cent.
This means that more than three-quarters of society is pleased with Europe, but less than a quarter has the sense of belonging to it and feels a shared responsibility for it. This is a vast challenge for the immediate future; for us all, including myself. I urge the mass media and each and every politician and citizen to reflect on how we can persuade Polish society to become more engaged in the democratic process of change and decision-making.
I believe that not only will there be need for profound collective reflection on this disconcerting phenomenon, but also joint action on many platforms. At the very least, we must catch up with the European average. Yet today, it seems, we are stuck at the level of half of the European average turnout, and this given eighty nine per cent approval of our membership of the EU.
Fifth: modern patriotism is a source of pride as well as a source of freedom.
Modern, competitive, and sovereign Poland gives us grounds for a feeling of national pride. What is very important is to appreciate the achievements of Poland and of the Polish people, underscoring their rich history, attainments, and position in both Europe and the world. But let us also remember that the core of modern patriotism manifests itself in a patriotism that it expressed through everyday work and everyday respect for the state and the laws enacted by the state. Modern patriotism is also about appreciating the entrepreneurship of the Polish people. And it involves taking interest in one’s immediate environment. Taken together, these new forms of patriotism allow us to engage together in positive action, even on a very small scale, building the economy and developing our villages, towns and counties. Yet it also entails an interest in European affairs.
Integrating Europe must be a Europe which respects the natural need of every nation to maintain its own identity, to function in agreement with its own culture, customs, and national interest. This aspect is increasing in prominence now as we witness the growing attractiveness and growing activities of populists and radicals of different kinds. The threat of extremism, xenophobic extremism reborn, should be curbed. We should also closely monitor the measures which are proposed by the Union to ensure that they do not irritate or instigate a fear of losing identity and traditional values. Each of us must consider this point. Every political party must consider it. For the risk is too great. The threat is still at an early stage. But it is nevertheless worth reflecting on what actually happened in the European Parliament elections in other countries – for example, in France.
The transformation years saw a blooming of social movements and of civil society, both of them underpinning modern patriotism. It is the democratic state governed by the rule of law and the market economy that will open up the greatest opportunities for the development of civil society. Wherever help needs to be offered to other people, the scope for civil society becomes widest; mutual help, in others words, simply put: solidarity. The freedom of association made it possible to set up thousands of associations and thousands of foundations.
Many problems were resolved in Poland due to the civic sense nurtured by those organizations. Further development of civil society is crucial because of its formative nature and its sensitivity to the needs of others. There is, nevertheless, a need to adjust regulations on civil activities to present-day conditions. The law that is binding in this respect comes from the very beginning of Poland’s transformation. This is why I intend to present to the House draft amendments to the law on associations. Without a strong non-governmental sector it will not be possible to build a sufficiently viable national community.
Identifying shortcomings and diagnosing our own weaknesses does not mean that we are not entitled to our national pride. Let us be proud of our own achievements. But let us also bear in mind that each achievement gives rise to even higher aspirations and expectations; having national pride is also a commitment to making things better. Let us act today thinking about the next twenty five years. Let us act in such a way so as to translate the twenty fifth anniversary of freedom not only in terms of celebration and festivities but also in terms of a commitment to further work.
I wish to thank all who engaged themselves in Freedom Day in various ways. I wish to thank you for the excellent and interesting initiatives you have taken. I encourage you to persist in these activities but, first and foremost, I encourage you towards further effort and renewed work.
On many occasions in Poland’s history, after national disasters, we have had to focus our attention on reconstruction. After every war, every uprising, every national decline, every historical disaster, things would turn that way. Today, for the very first time in so very many years, the new generation will not have to build from scratch. They will not have to build on the rubble. We may, just as in many prosperous stabilized countries of the West, be able to count on something that is most needed: that the work of successive generations of Poles will accumulate.
Let us keep thinking about the next generation: what I call the “Second Polish Freedom Generation”. That is why I devote so much attention to families: so that by linking Poland’s future with the welfare of families, we can engage families in work for the well-being of Poland. And, conversely, in taking care of Poland’s welfare, we can resolve the problems of the Polish nation.