Address by the President at the solemn meeting of the Sejm and the Senate of the Republic of Poland and the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania
Address by the President
at the formal sitting of the Assembly of Members of Parliament and Senators
of the Republic of Poland
and the Members of Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania
Honourable Madam Speaker of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland!
Honourable Madam Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania!
Honourable Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland!!
Ladies and Gentlemen of the House!
Honourable Members of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania!
Honourable Prime Minister!
Excellencies! All distinguished guests!
Ladies and Gentlemen attending today’s ceremony either present here in this hall or connected online!
On the day when the historical past meets so tangibly with the present, we listen to the message of our ancestors. This is the testimony of their wisdom, responsibility and patriotism. This is our glorious Polish and Lithuanian heritage.
This is the great monument of history, significant for the development of the European and universal civilization:
In the name of God, one in the Holy Trinity (…) ; for the sake of the public good, for securing our liberty, and maintaining our kingdom and our borders (…) with zeal and firmness, we do solemnly establish the present Constitution.
This is how begins this Act, adopted 230 years ago in Warsaw, by the members and senators of the Crown and Lithuania, who together with the king formed the Sejm of the Commonwealth. Our ancestors wished to consolidate freedom and to defend the country’s imperilled independence. That is why they decided to embark on such a large-scale reform of the political system. The enactment of Europe’s first and the world’s second constitution was a proof that the Commonwealth is fully vital, is prepared to live and develop in line with the pulse of modernity. From a country which was perceived as peripheral, it became a precursor of ground-breaking changes, introducing a new political and social order, corresponding to the spirit of the times and the challenges of history. The Third of May Constitution will forever be remembered as a magnificent model of universal values, as one of the most important achievements of the human mind and an endeavour to build the most perfect political community possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am very happy that we can jointly celebrate together the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the Third of May Constitution in a joint Polish-Lithuanian fold. It is our great pleasure to host in Warsaw the President of the Republic of Lithuania. A symbolic event of great prominence is this formal sitting of the Members and Senators of the Republic of Poland and of the Members of the Republic of Lithuania. My cordial greetings go out to all participants of this ceremony and I convey my best wishes to all the people of Lithuania. And once again. I thank you for this unique historic occasion in a unique historic setting.
Today's meeting is taking place in the difficult circumstances of a global pandemic. For this reason, the group present here cannot be as numerous as we would all like. However, even if not physically, we are here together today. Polish and Lithuanian hearts are gathered here. It could not be otherwise. Together we are expressing our centuries-old closeness and cooperation. Together, Poles and Lithuanians, we take pride in the great achievements of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Together, we share pride in the common and wonderful achievement of the Third of May Constitution.
On behalf of the Polish people, I would like to thank our Lithuanian brothers warmly for the historic road we have travelled, walking side by side. For the alliances in defence of your and our independence, for supporting each other. Today, I would like to recall the outstanding figure of Tadeusz Reytan, a member of the Novogrudok voivodship from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, who protested so passionately against the first partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that he became a symbol of faithful patriotism and disagreement with the invading powers' violence. He is a figure who symbolises the spirit of our Polish-Lithuanian history, our steadfast love of freedom. The First Partition of Poland was a terrible shock, but it also brought about a great patriotic awakening and it fuelled the noblest forces of the nation, understood as a civil community. It was from this movement that the Third of May Constitution grew. As we recall here in Warsaw today the names of the leading authors of the Government Act of 3 May 1791, we must also remember how many of them had Lithuanian roots, or directly represented the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
We are heirs to a great and a virtually unique achievement. Ahead of the French constitution by a few months, our Government Act was a wise combination of the ideas of European Enlightenment and of our own centuries-long republican tradition. It was an expression of a unique political culture which to this day is part of our intangible DNA, of our identity: the culture of civil liberty which was often in short supply in many contemporary states in Western Europe, governed by absolutist monarchs and their bureaucracies.
It was precisely consolidation of this civil liberty, expanded upon citizens of towns, that was the aim of the Constitution, as much as the strengthening of governance and efficacy of the state so as to protect its independence threatened by the neighbouring empires. That is why the executive branch was vested with greater powers, that is why libreum veto was abolished. That is why the way was paved for the development of a modern nation, or more precisely several nations which made up the Commonwealth.
This is evidenced by the act complementing the works of the Consitituion: Mutual Pledge of Two Nations, adopted in October 1791. This is a befitting symbolic name. The mutual pledge is tantamount to reassurance, a guarantee, and at the same time it refers to the act of engagement which is irreversibly associated with proximity, trust and love of two people who have chosen one another forever. In the Mutual Pledge Act which underpinned the political system of the Commonwealth, the Crown and Lithuania equally confirmed their union and offered reciprocal guarantees to one another. The act met the expectations of political elites of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to epitomize equality of Poles and Lithuanians in their reformed state. By doing so the authors of the Constitution demonstrated the ability – much needed even today - to build unity without destroying multiplicity, creating a community based on the foundation of compromise.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
We are celebrating the anniversary of the Third of May Constitution equally for the sake of memory and for the sake of the future. One is directly linked to the other. For memory - proud, faithful, but not precluding the ability to understand and draw conclusions - is a great strength. It gives us a sense of being rooted, the sense of identity and a solid knowledge, grounded in experience, of what is that we want and what is we do not want. Memory serves a prosperous future.
We want to remember that the Third of May Constitution and its historical legacy is a magnificent, inspiring story. Above all, it tells us about vital energy, activism, the ability to self-repair, a sense of responsibility for the common good - all the more valuable because our ancestors knew how to inspire these qualities in themselves at the time of a deep crisis. They did not give up, they did not wring their hands - they opted for the path of action, of courageous renewal, of healing modernisation of the state. It is also a story about the power of community and national concord, so beautifully expressed in the “cheers 'long live the king, long live the Sejm, long live the nation, and long live all the estates. At the same time it is a story about the strength of freedom, the rule of law and democracy, as the May Constitution was guided by the motto it enshrined: ‘All power in civil society should be derived from the will of the people'.
This wonderful message of the Government Act has been carried down through the generations and has become a great treasure of our historical heritage.
That is why the enemies of freedom could not tolerate the Third of May Constitution. That is why imperial Russia waged a war against it. And all tyrants will always fight against the message of the Bright Dawn May with its freedom connotations. It was forbidden by the partitioners and occupiers. We also remember the times when it was forbidden to celebrate the Third of May during the years of Communist rule. The communist police made it compulsory to display national flags on 1 May, and to take them down one day later. However, the desire for freedom cannot be defeated. The values of the Third of May Constitution guided Poles during the Solidarity uprising. They also guided Lithuanians in the Reform Movement of Lithuania: Sajūdis, in their fight for independence. On the strength of these values, we have won. They will always fortify us, and we will always be true to them.
Your Excellency, Honourable President!
Ladies and Gentlemen!
The Third of May Constitution is also a symbol, a masterpiece, a magnum opus, to express the spirit of the regional community of Central and Eastern Europe. For the Commonwealth where the union between Poland and Lithuania was established, was also home to many other nations and cultures. We managed to create as if a prototype of today's European Union in this region. For all its imperfections, it was a rare phenomenon: a multi-national state. It was a state featuring civil liberties, the rule of law, parliamentarianism and tolerance, which stood out so favourably compared to Europe back then.
Today, too, we need this spirit of community, cooperation and solidarity in our region, and we carry out the task to perfection. The Polish-Lithuanian partnership plays a significant role here. What is a great achievement and a great victory for the nations of Central and Eastern Europe - nations which have experienced the hardships of history, when we were in the grip of imperial powers which deprived us of our freedom - is the firm realisation of how important we are to each other. How important our dialogue, trust and cooperation are in the face of today's opportunities, challenges but also threats.
Poland and Lithuania are linked by a friendly, close neighbourhood. A very important bond in our relations is also our common membership of the European Union, where we act together to forge and promote European integration; and also our membership of the North Atlantic Alliance. These two fundamental factors, two great achievements of our most recent history, bring us even closer together. We also jointly recognise that regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe is an important dimension of European integration and the strengthening of stability, security and peace throughout Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area. The Three Seas Initiative, which brings together twelve European Union countries from the region between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas, is a new and important quality. We hope that the 3SI will be able to positively change the picture of Europe, where trade, transport, people and goods were exchanged mainly between the West and the East. Now, the north-south axis may also gain equal importance, as it should.
The alliance of the Polish and Lithuanian arms bears the hallmark of centuries-long historical test. Also today our military cooperation within NATO produces a mutual enhancement of our security and of the independence of our states. This is particularly important in view of the situation that is currently developing the East. An important element of European security and stability is also the cooperation of the countries in our region along the eastern flank of NATO within the framework of the Bucharest Nine. We realise that by working together, in solidarity and determination in the face of threats, we are acting for our common good. We also show solidarity and support for the nations that used to be together with us as part of a Commonwealth of many cultures and traditions - the Ukrainians, who strive to strengthen the independence and integrity of Ukraine, and the Belarusians, who demand respect for the principles of democracy and human rights in Belarus. In today's circumstances, this effort also contributes to the cultivation of the Third of May Constitution: its heritage and accomplishments.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
One of the great European thinkers of the 18th century, the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, called the Third of May Constitution ‘the noblest benefit received by any nation at any time'. We can be rightfully proud and satisfied that we are the depositaries of such a great benefit. It is a source of pride and honour, but also a great obligation. A duty to remember and a duty to ensure that the work of the Third of May Constitution remains a living repository of fundamental values which should guide us in political life and in the international area. May it be a constant inspiration for us, our contemporaries, amidst the challenges of the 21st century. This is how we understand the timeless message of the Third of May Constitution - a constitution of freedom, a constitution of independence, a constitution of solidarity between people and nations.