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Monday, 31 December 2001

New Year address by the President of the Republic of Poland

On December 31, 2001 Mr. Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of the Republic of Poland, made a New Year address to the nation. Good evening, I am honored to be your guest this special evening for the seventh time. Only a few hours remain to the beginning of 2002. The year that opened the new century and the new millennium that is about to end is soon to become history. We greeted it with hope, believing that it would be a year when our dreams would come true and a a year in which the world would be relieved of many of its problems. Today with the difficult twelve months behind us, we can be satisfied that we have managed to accomplish so much of what we planned. Although so much has happened, some expectations have not been met. Yet, the spirit of the New Year`s Eve brings back optimism and strengthens our faith in a better tomorrow. When we received the President of the United States, George W. Bush, in Warsaw in June and discussed new prospects for the world, no one knew back then how much the world would change. The terrorist attacks of September 11 were a shock not only to America. That unprecedented act of violence against democracy and freedom and against thousands of human lives moved millions regardless of the color of their skin, religion, or political views. On that Black Tuesday, we were all "New Yorkers". Today, we need to continue to be united in fighting evil, hatred, violence, and lack of respect for human life. Poland and the Polish people bear testimony to this need: We understood America, its pain, its distress, and its anger from the very beginning. Our compatriots were also buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center. As a member of NATO, Poland has been active in the coalition against terrorism. We are prepared to participate in the military operations of the allies. On my initiative, Warsaw hosted a conference of seventeen countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the representatives of which adopted a program of specific measures against terrorism. Our efforts, the efforts of our allies, and the efforts of all the people of good will are bringing positive results. I am convinced that we will see a greater sense of global security and unity in 2002. We are a nation that has been particularly tried by history. We keep in mind the message of John Paul II from his urbi et orbi Christmas address about the need for "sustained efforts aimed at greater justice and solidarity of coexistence". This passing year, Poland`s political life has been greatly affected by the parliamentary elections. As a result, we witnessed a substantial change in the distribution of power on the Polish political scene. The parties in power were severely judged by the voters and replaced by new political forces. The new coalition assumed responsibility for Poland for the coming four years. The government formed by Prime Minister Leszek Miller is facing a formidable challenge, one of the most difficult challenges of the last twelve years. The government will have to grapple with longstanding problems: collapsing public finances, unemployment, poverty of individuals, as well as poverty of entire communities and regions. This will require vision and brave and creative projects, but also unpopular and sometimes painful decisions. We will have to put in place a program of overhaul of the state, ensure discipline and thrift in spending public money, and finalize negotiations with the European Union. One of our greatest challenges of today is to stop the rise in unemployment. Unemployment adversely affects the economy, wastes human energy and talents, and constitutes a serious social problem leading to deep frustration. Therefore, we must create more new jobs. We must be more determined to support business leaders and the unemployed. And, in particular, we must pay special attention to the young first-job seekers. We are deeply concerned about the situation in the rural areas and in agriculture. Instead of all-round development, the reality is often poverty and bitterness. The rural areas in Poland need to be supported and need to be offered vision, as Poland will not develop successfully and will not prosper without prosperous rural areas. In this difficult period, we will all have to show social solidarity. Each of us is facing problems although their gravity is not always equal. The idea is to protect the weakest most in order to prevent unemployment and poverty from spreading. We must also help the handicapped and the sick. No one should feel hungry or deserted in a free Poland. I would like to extend my thanks to the Roman Catholic Church, the other churches, the charitable organizations and foundations, and all the people of good will that help those in need on a daily basis. Thanks to you, we are better and Poland is a better country. This passing year, we have pondered our past. We were especially moved by two anniversaries that aroused widespread discussion: One was the sixtieth anniversary of the tragedy in Jedwabne and the other was the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of martial law in Poland. We paid our respects to the victims of the tragedy in Jedwabne and assessed the rationale behind the introduction of martial law, drawing strength and wisdom from the historic debate that accompanied the two anniversaries. We accepted the fact that only truth can lead to catharsis and reconciliation. We also realized that hatred, lack of tolerance, and hostility (also in politics) can be a potent damaging force. I am convinced that this painful chapter in the history of Poland is now closed and that it will never come back again. Among the many difficult moments of the passing year, there were also moments of joy, when we all shared great emotions. Adam Małysz`s masterly ski jumps, qualification of Poland`s football team for the World Football Championships, and the successes of Polish sportsmen and sportswomen gave us a sense of satisfaction and national pride. Polish artists have been successful on international stages and at festivals worldwide. We celebrated the Paderewski Year and the 100th anniversary of the National Philarmony in Warsaw with numerous artistic events. I was honored to unveil the statue of Juliusz Słowacki. Those and other events showed us that, despite its financial weakness, Polish culture has a great deal to offer. And for this, I would like to thank the Polish artists and all the people of culture. Words of praise are also due to the scientists. Today, I only mention a few of them: the winners of the Polish "Nobel Prizes": Professors Maciej Gliwicz, Michał Kleiber, Ludomir Newelski, and Stefan Świeżawski, who represent the very best of Polish science. The 21st century will be the age of science, knowledge, and intellect. Poland can progress if it recognizes the importance of intellectual capital. It will progress if it manages to reform its educational system and benefit from the potential represented by the young generation. The road to Poland`s success and a better life leads through education. Therefore, concern for its development should be recognized as Poland`s and our common "raison d`etat". We are past long months of painstaking accession negotiations with the European Union, with the last straight ahead of us. The decision of the leaders of the "15" at the Laeken summit leaves the door wide open for Poland. We must do whatever it takes to cross the threshold in 2002. The stakes are high. As an EU member, Poland can count on support of our infrastructure, scientific research, agriculture, business, education, and environmental protection. We intend to join the Union to ensure that Poland is among the democratic, stable, and prosperous countries. We want the Polish language to be spoken in the European Parliament. We want the Polish farmer and the Polish businessman and businesswoman to enjoy equal opportunities of development and competition with their European partners. Not everyone appreciates these opportunities. Our ever closer relationship with the European Union still arouses a great deal of fear, concern, and prejudice. We should debate these issues more than ever before because EU membership is an opportunity for the country, but also for each of us, for our children, and for the generations to come. This opportunity is recognized and supported by the Roman Catholic Church in Poland. The Primate of Poland, Cardinal Józef Glemp, has recently said that "if we are part of Europe culturally and militarily, we should also integrate economically and politically (...) We will not lose our identity, and we can benefit a great deal economically". Thank you, Cardinal, for those extremely important words and your support. I am well aware that in this passing year many of my compatriots have lost optimism, hope, and faith in tomorrow. The floods left thousands destitute. I understand your pain and bitterness. But the Polish people are brave. Both our history and the recent years of great political and economic changes bear witness to that. We are a nation that is relentless and ready to act. We know how to be hardworking, entrepreneurial, and ingenious. The "Polish way" no longer has negative connotations in Europe. Today, the EU countries fear the competition of well-educated, ambitious, and hardworking Poles. I have faith in the strength of our young generation, our specialists, and experts in new technologies, science, medicine, and management. To lift our spirits, I would like to say that we should not be misled by opinions about our alleged economic failures. First, even a 1% growth is growth, not decline. Second, if we look back at the road we have taken, it is clear that we have not wasted time. Since 1989, Poland`s GDP rose by nearly 30%, compared with a dozen or less than a dozen percentage points elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. In the same period, as much as 40% of all foreign investments in the region have been located in this country. Poland is a genuine leader. I am not quoting these figures to mask the current problems, but in order to make sure that we do not overlook our achievements, which are impressive. We are all wondering today what the New Year will bring. I am convinced that the sacrifice we are making today will not be wasted, as it is not merely a price we are paying for the mistakes of the past. To a greater extent, it is an investment for the future. I trust that the government`s program to revive the Polish economy will enable Poland to go back on track toward fast growth. As President, I will take every effort to ensure that Poland takes advantage of its historic opportunity. I will take every effort to ensure that no one feels deserted, unwanted, or disappointed. I will take every effort to ensure that everyone has a share in the benefits of the Polish transformations and development. This special evening, I would like to extend my best wishes to all the Polish people both in Poland and abroad. I wish each of you and each Polish family many good days and many positive developments in the New Year. May your homes be filled with love, peace, and hope. My heart goes out especially to those that are filled with grief: the sick, the suffering, and the lonely. I wish you with all my heart that the New Year turns out to be better and happier than the one that is about to end. I wish our Motherland success in further development and in overcoming all the difficulties. May Poland continue to enjoy respect and esteem of the international community. May the New Year be the time of overcoming adversities, the time of prosperity, and the time of peace for each of you, for Europe, and for the world. May it be a good New Year. May it be a better year.
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