President of Poland

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 4 February 1992

Ladies and gentlemen, I have often heard it said that there is only one Europe. So, I decided to have a look out of the aeroplane’s window. True. There is only one Europe.

This is the kind of impression I still had until quite recently. Today, I regret to say that the vision of one Europe has faded somewhat. And yet it used to be a beautiful and wise one. Strongly immersed in history. Designed with the future in mind.

Reality, however, has had a sneering effect on all those who thought that the overthrow of communism would move the eastern world closer to its western counterpart; that it would come together again as one unity. But now Europe is moving apart. True, the Berlin Wall has disappeared. True, communism has fallen. True, there is no iron curtain any longer. Political divisions have finished. The countries of central and eastern Europe have already joined or are now in the process of joining the community of democratic states. And yet, we still have a long way to go to achieve unity. Europe continues to be divided by the level of economic development of its states. This is becoming very clear and definite. There are rich and poor countries in it. We, citizens of the poorer part of Europe, are getting the impression that the richer and more prosperous part of Europe is closing itself shut against us, that it is becoming a posh club for those who are better off and live in stable conditions. Poland, finding herself in the middle between the west looking intently into and after yourself and the changing Soviet state, is now bound to look forward to a time with no friends. But that does not apply only to Poland. It applies equally to our neighbours, those from the south and those from the east.

Poland has always been in Europe, in terms of its culture and civilisation. Having accomplished its revolution by peaceful means, she has joined Europe politically as well. Through her own experience, she has attracted the other countries of the central and eastern part of our continent. Putting it in a more graphic way – Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union and other countries have translated the script of the Polish way to freedom. They have turned it to their own use. And now they are carrying it into effect as their strength, possibilities and aspirations allow for it. Freedom and democracy have become a thing of everyday life in the states of eastern Europe. They are now a standard over there.

In Poland, we have now a democratically elected parliament. Human rights and the rights of national minorities are being respected. We are establishing ever better contacts with all our neighbours. Poland, the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and Hungary have been linked by the treaty on co-operation. We have proved that we are able to act jointly, to overcome stereotypes and do away with prejudices. We have ratified a bilateral treaty with Germany. We are engaged in negotiating similar treaties with the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Freedom and democracy are beautiful ideas. I am confident that nothing can threaten them in those countries where the traditions of democracy are old and firm enough. And nothing will threaten them. For the Council of Europe keeps watching out. However, the young democracies are not very sure about it. They are worried about their own destiny. They have lived and are now living through too many risks. Those that are internal and external. Years ago, the Council of Europe predicted the course of events in Europe. So, now we continue to rely on its shrewdness, foresight and wisdom.

Prosperity is the foundation of peace and happiness. This truth is older than our old continent. Development has to follow the achievement of democracy. Economic success has to follow it. Only a well-fed and healthy man can feel safe and secure. Free and democratic Poland is now going through a hard and specific economic crisis. We have to build everything from scratch, sometimes in a quite different way. The communist, planned economy, has got to be transformed into a free market one. This may look like turning the river backwards. And this has turned out to be difficult.

We have been relying on the west; on your interest: on big capital flowing in as wide a stream as possible. We have hoped for investment capital to support our enterprises in their production and modernisation efforts. We know what your requirements are. We approve them. Nonetheless, the benefits ought to be shared mutually. It means business for you, growth and development for us. Our country is grateful for the remission of its debts. However, there is still a lot we have to pay. That means that taxes have to be kept at very high levels. This is also an enormous burden on the people of Poland. It causes the mechanisms of development to get stuck in the growth of the economy.

We are now at the outset of the second stage of getting the economy transformed. Our objective is to establish a free market economy. Having kept inflation down and having strengthened the currency, our first priority task now is to fight recession. This calls for enormous sacrifices on the part of the people. This also signifies that state financial resources will have to be appropriated more actively, so that this stage, even more than the first one, needs to be supported by the states of the west.

Europe is leaving the door half open for us. But the threshold is still very high. The bar was raised still higher at Maastricht. For our countries, for the young, newly born democracies, trade with the countries of the rich west is the best way to raise the standard of living. Meanwhile, the west is opening itself to us with caution. It is being jealous in making its markets accessible to our goods. This is wrong. Poland’s market, one of forty million potential customers enlarged by those of our neighbours, remains open to your products. Indeed, we are importing a lot of them now. You are making good money. But is this fair? Is it like being partners? Is this the kind of vision of Europe that it is all about? Bearing in mind our young democracies, is it consistent with the idea of equal opportunities?

We share a common tradition and common European roots. Now is the right time to give evidence that this is so.

We have our own advantages, qualified-staff, well-educated society. We have many pragmatic, hardworking people.

Two years have passed. Let us therefore make an assessment of our co-operation. Foreign capital investments in Poland are still few. The west was supposed to help us in getting organised on new principles. So far, it has limited itself to draining our own market. Polish shops have been inundated by waves of your products. You have made good business on the Polish revolution. We were useful as an instrument to crack the old regime threatening Europe. Now, we have lost your affection.

I think that western Europe should support the countries of our region, also in its own interest. You have to realise that your opening to eastern Europe will help this continent’s economic potential to grow. Why have I taken this opportunity to speak about it at great length here, in the forum of the Council of Europe? It is because I am privileged to be in the heart of democratic Europe, because it is here that I can hope for un understanding of the obvious truth: it is that without prosperity democracy will have a precarious life, and a difficult one too.

Prosperity will strengthen the newly won democracy. Otherwise, the citizens of the eastern states will start wondering why they have ever fought for it. Democracy is not an aim in itself. It is a means to a better, more secure and more prosperous life.

Nowadays, however, our own people are not getting the feeling that they are any better off. The fruits of victory have turned sour. Already, one can hear some people asking why we have ever done it. Democracy is losing its supporters. Some other people say: "All right, let us go back to the authoritarian rule."

We are witnessing events that send a warning signal. The vision of a peaceful Europe is breaking up. Yugoslavia is an example of it. While the west is moving towards integration, the east is breaking apart. Aggressive nationalisms, even chauvinisms, are becoming more and more prominent. Conscious of our own historical experience, we know what we have to fear. We are in the middle and Poland may yet again find itself on the front line. This is what we are afraid of. We want peace. Freedom is not moving hand in hand with the long-awaited prosperity. Conflicts may wreck the young democracies. Well-fed Europe may be taken aback by destabilisation. One has to be aware of this kind of threat.

Some are able to discern it already. Western diplomacy is making efforts to neutralise the nuclear forces of the former Soviet Union. In exchange for food, it is looking forward to a military disarmament. In this way, the countries which have nuclear warheads are able to force the west to provide economic aid by means of a nuclear deterrent. But not all the states of the former Soviet bloc have such arguments at hand. Poland certainly has no such arguments.

Let me just give you a quick reminder. The Polish revolution has reached inside the Kremlin walls. We have cracked communism. We have freed the western world from the threat of Soviet totalitarianism. We have done it smoothly, we have handled it with velvet gloves, without a drop of blood having been shed. And yet, we have risked a great deal. Today, the difficult task of building a new system lies ahead of us.

So, we are working. We are making an enormous effort. But, on our own it is going to be difficult for us. We need your help.

We share common interests. Therefore, let us cooperate. Our own prosperity will support your feeling of the certainty of tomorrow. Our difficulties may turn out to be a disaster for the whole of Europe.

The Council of Europe is a great achievement of our peoples. We regard it as the guardian of democracy, freedom and human rights. Its role is one of being the conscience of the continent. It has always given proof that there is only one truth – one and the same for east and west.

So, let us overcome those limitations that continue to keep us apart. Europe, I am making an appeal to you to use your imagination. Our success will be a guarantee of the certainty of your own tomorrow, of our common tomorrow, for the west and for the east, on behalf of which I am taking the liberty of addressing you here today.

Our difficulties may be a threat to all of us. And this is something for which our sons and daughters will not pardon us.


Thank you very much, Mr President, for your interesting, heart-warming, thought-provoking and worrying speech to our Assembly.

You very kindly agreed to answer questions without notice from members of the Assembly. You might have had second thoughts if you had known that I already have a list of fifteen members who wish to put questions to you.

In view of this large number of questions, there will be no supplementaries and I shall cut questions off after the thirty seconds that is allowed in the rules for putting oral questions. The first question comes from Mr Scovacricchi of Italy.

Mr SCOVACRICCHI (Italy) (translation)

Thank you, Mr President. I endorse the condemnation expressed by President Walesa of Poland and his diagnosis. I have always felt this way because, as we are all aware, Poland has made a substantial contribution to European democracy. We must pay tribute to the sacrifices made by Poland, that Christian and democratic country that has borne the brunt on behalf of everyone else.

There is, however, one point to emerge from your report, Mr President, that gives cause for concern. Having travelled a great deal in the eastern European countries, including Poland, I have encountered widespread concern over this issue: the people are protesting that what they have is not democracy, because democracy goes hand-in-hand with prosperity; they are saying that they were better off when things were worse. I heard the same argument in Italy in 1945.

I would therefore ask you, Mr President, whether this discontent is likely to cause history to be reversed and lead to at least a partial return to communism as the public ideal.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

replied that he did not believe this to be possible. The Polish people had now experienced freedom and pluralism and could not return to a situation where individuals had no freedom of choice.

Mr BUHLER (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, in January you were asked in an interview with Der Spiegel, the German magazine, what you thought of doing about the movement of refugees from the former Soviet Union. You replied – and I quote – “We shall not stop these people, we are not able to do so. We shall form a guard of honour and send them to you.”

May I ask you whether there are not other possible ways of solving this problem? I am thinking of joint efforts of all European countries to provide the people living in the former socialist countries with prospects for the future. Thank you.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that he thought the problem had been misunderstood in the west. For example, Nato seemed to believe that the issue should be dealt with on a military basis. These were not trained armies spilling over the borders, but rather ordinary men and women pushing prams with children, and bearing pathetic parcels of food. There existed a need for western co-operation. This was not merely a question of aid; Poland sought the expertise to make it self-supporting as an economic entity.

Mr SPEED (United Kingdom)

Mr President, I am sure that you would agree with me that it is vital that our fellow countrymen should be able to visit each other easily and quickly. The visa procedures for a British visitor to Poland are bureaucratic, cumbersome and expensive. The same applies for Poles visiting Britain. Indeed, I am sure that the same thing applies in many other countries. Do you agree that it is time that those visa restrictions were scrapped so that it may be much easier for our citizens to see each other in our own countries?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that he agreed that the process should be simplified. Nevertheless, politicians in the east and west needed at this time to concentrate on major policy issues rather than fine detail. Poland needed to be able to manufacture high-quality goods for itself. It needed to overcome the chronic problem of unemployment. At present, the Polish people preferred western imports to Poland’s own goods.

Mr BAUMEL (France) (translation)

Mr President, how do you visualise the security of your independence in the new European order? Do you feel that the CSCE or a possible European federation would be of value to you, or would you prefer to extend the guarantee of a suitably modified Nato?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

replied that Poland had to adapt to new realities. Times were difficult, but the lesson of history was that the development of civilisation was never easy. Cool logic was needed if all the present problems were to be overcome.

Mr NUNEZ (Spain) (interpretation)

asked how long it would be before Poland could approve a new democratic constitution providing for due separation of powers between the executive and the government. He had been concerned at the close relation-ship between the church and political parties during the last election.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that it was naïve to talk about a separation between the Polish church and people. For a thousand years a symbiosis had existed between the two. It was irrelevant to discuss the church and people as if there was a dichotomy. Almost all Poles were members of the church and the church had never been a repressive influence in Poland.

Mr TALAY (Turkey)

Mr President, we know that Poland has been successful in implementing for the past few years a programme of privatisation and a free market economy. As a consequence, important progress has been achieved in the economic development of your country under your skilful leadership. How do you view the implementation of similar measures in the republics of the former Soviet Union, and can Poland be of any help or an example to those republics in that respect?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that the Polish example was one which could be followed. Privatisation should be supported but so should other measures. He complained that the west was limiting the sale of Polish products in western markets.


Mr President, I should like to ask a similar question on privatisation, especially the privatisation of the industrial sector. What is the progress on privatisation, and what do you think is one of the main targets that you have already achieved?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

spoke of the problems posed by the reprivatisation process, particularly difficulties posed by the return of land to private ownership, which could be extremely complex. There needed to be a combination of state control for certain elements in the economy and privatisation, and the process needed to be carefully timetabled.

Mr BONDEVIK (Norway)

Mr President, let me first express my sympathy with your efforts to stabilise democracy and pluralism in Poland. We know that huge economic problems have to be faced as your country endeavours to stabilise its currency, and we in the west tried to support Poland by means of the so-called stabilising fund. I ask you to comment on the way in which the fund has functioned and whether it has fulfilled your expectations. Perhaps you will comment also upon how you see the role of the state in your future economic system, especially when it comes to safeguarding social welfare in Poland.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

replied that Poland had followed the western example and that a fund was available to assist with currency stability. Attempts were being made to curb inflation, but the recession posed problems. He appealed for co-operation in solving the economic problems. Poland had a highly-qualified population comparable to that of the west and a huge potential, but this needed to be utilised properly. He asked the west to make use of Poland’s expertise in industry so that economic growth could be achieved. Industry could be converted to new uses, but the process was difficult to manage.

Mr VALLEIX (France) (translation)

Mr President, you enjoy being provocative and sometimes aggressive. That is conducive to dialogue.

Do you consider that, in the context of your present-day economic revolution, you have made clear choices to develop your industrial economy, and not just your agriculture? Indeed, is your economy still primarily agricultural?

Over and above any support we may be able to provide, are you making a systematic effort towards information and education with which the Council of Europe might be able to offer you some assistance? What kind of assistance would you require in this field?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that training was Poland’s responsibility, but that it was receiving assistance from the west. The effort involved was immense and more help was needed so that all could benefit from new ways of thinking following the revolution. The Council of Europe had to look at the far-reaching effects of reform and to offer encouragement to business and political co-operation. There could be dangers to “short-termism”. On the question of the countryside, Poland was trying to develop as the west had done: Poland would not try to follow a completely different model.

Mr GABBUGGIANI (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, you said several times that central and eastern Europe are going through a complicated transformation process which is affecting stability in the area and, indeed, throughout Europe. We know that Poland, like Hungary and Czechoslovakia, is committed to international relations as a means of achieving stability in your part of Europe.

I should like to know what prospects there are for co-operation with the Baltic states and for relations with Germany, not least in the light of German unification. Thank you.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

replied that the only logical way forward for Poland was to co-operate as widely as possible with its international neighbours. The Baltic states and Germany shared common borders with Poland and co-operation with them was of vital importance. Work was in progress on bilateral agreements with Hungary, with Lithuania, and with the other Baltic states.

Mr FOURRÉ (France) (translation)

Mr President, allow me to revert to the question put by Mr Nunez, concerning the separation of powers between church and state, but on the specific topic of contraception.

According to a recent opinion poll, 74% of the Poles interviewed answered “no” to the following question: “In your opinion, ought the position of the Church, which prohibits the use of contraceptive methods other than natural ones, to be enforced by law?”

What development do you foresee in the family planning sphere in Poland?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that the Church was an important part of the fabric of life in Poland, but nonetheless there was a clear separation between Church and state. The question asked by Mr Fourré was not one which allowed a simple answer. The question had to be examined closely, with a view to a legal solution which would best help people and promote their individual and collective happiness.

Mr COLOMBO (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, I withdraw my question; I should prefer to meditate on President Walesa’s words, for which I thank him.


Meditation is good for the soul... (laughter) I call Mr Koritzinsky.


Mr President, rapid economic growth, for example in agriculture or industry, can in theory go hand in hand with environmental or ecological considerations. In all the countries represented in this Assembly and, I guess, in all countries in the world, there are many examples of rapid growth in investments, production and income damaging nature and undermining the ecological balance. How do Poland’s new economic policies plan to follow up the idea of sustainable development? What laws, regulations, or demands do you have or plan to have to deal with investments and all sorts of production that could damage the environment and the ecological balance, not only in your own country but in a wider geographical area?

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that Poland was fully committed to European standards of protection of the environment and promoting sustainable growth. However, those goals could only be achieved when they could be afforded. Poland had a great deal of catching up to do, but its long-term goal was to develop its economy while safeguarding the future of the planet.

Mr REDDEMANN (Germany) (translation)

Mr President, we are debating in this Assembly a charter for minorities. There are various national minorities in your country, and we so often hear complaints from them.

I should like to ask you, therefore, how the Republic of Poland intends to guarantee minority rights and work within the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe itself, in order to give effect to those rights.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that there were no problems with minorities in Poland. Historically, Poland had welcomed minorities, and this policy continued unchanged. The government was doing its utmost to secure a pluralist society, and its efforts were bearing fruit, as demonstrated by the presence of members of minority groups in the Polish Parliament.

Mr Friedrich PROBST (Austria) (translation)

Mr President, as an Austrian I should like to say, with respect to the gloomy picture you have painted of the economy, that my country has cultivated intensive trade relations with your country for centuries. I am also one of those people who use your good-quality coal for heating. However, about 100 000 Poles living illegally in Vienna are causing us not a little concern.

You have heard that we are carrying on an intensive discussion on minorities here. There is a European standard, to which Poland also feels obliged to adhere. You say that you have no problems. My question to you is: Mr President, what role can you play personally to ensure that minority groups living in your country have schools, newspapers and language tuition and the right to use their mother tongue – which is the standard we demand. For you yourself have said that a favourable policy on minority groups is a factor which has a very stabilising effect on the ethnic situation in Europe.

Mr Wałęsa, President of Poland (interpretation)

said that there were no problems with regard to the education of minorities. The Polish Government was planning for the future to ensure better educational provision for minorities.

He apologised if some of his answers had been imprecise, but he thanked the Assembly for his welcome and looked forward to his return.


Mr President, thank you very much for your answers to questions. They were much appreciated.