Address at the Westerplatte Commemoration Ceremony
Here at this place, on the Westerplatte peninsula, on September 1, 1939, a gun salvo fired from the battleship Schleswig-Holstein announced the beginning of World War II. The outbreak of war was preceded by and was made possible due to cooperation of the two totalitarian systems: Hitler’s and Stalin’s. This cooperation is symbolized by the agreement which was signed in August 1939, in Poland known under the name of Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and in the world termed the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
Here, on Westerplatte, the Polish solider put up a fight which he continued, arm-in-arm with the Allied forces, until the very end of warfare: in the West, in the East and in Africa, from 1939 to May 1945. Therefore, standing in this place, I wish to pay tribute to all of them who fought against the Nazi aggression, to all forces of anti-Nazi coalition who contributed to the victory of May 1945. I also wish to commemorate all victims of the atrocious war, no matter on which side of the barricade they lost their lives.
The place where we are now featured prominently in the history of 20th century’ Europe on two occasions. For the first time, as a symbol of Europe’s greatest tragedy, and subsequently, as a symbol of the continent’ longstanding division. On the second occasion, Gdansk went down the annals of history in quite a different manner: by means of a peaceful revolution led by “Solidarity”, which was born right here, the revolution which shook post-Yalta order all across Europe.
We are meeting on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the most horrible war of all. The war which made our civilization crumble. The war which utterly shook our belief in human ability to be guided by Kant’s “moral law.”
Out of the traumatic war experience, marked by the crematories of Auschwitz, the smouldering ruins of Warsaw, Oradour, Lidice, the graves of Babi Yar and hundreds of other sites where cruel contempt of man was so manifestly expressed, particular lessons are to be drawn by all of us. The lessons which should constitute an essential element in the collective consciousness of Europeans.
Seventy years ago, whole Europe was celebrating the cessation of military operations.
But not for all people in Europe, the day of the end of war would mean any tangible participation in the victory. Not for all the end of war opened a beginning of the era of freedom. But for all the war came as an immense shock. That is why Western Europe, after decades of consolidating its national egoisms, turned in the direction of the common element which brings European nations together, and not divides them, in the direction of common values.
In the West of the continent, this process started to yield results soon: in the form of security founded on universal welfare and cooperation with neighbours. “A united Europe was not achieved and we had war,” as the Founding Fathers of European Communities were writing as early as five years after the end of World War II. That is why consistently and perseveringly they laboured to lay down European institutions, striving to expand and to deepen the scope of integration.
That is why consistently and perseveringly they strived to bring about reconciliation of nations going beyond painful and bad past, seeking to repair relations between antagonized neighbours. They understood very well that only a united Europe may be the Europe without wars. That only in a united Europe the war would be, as they put it, “physically impossible”.
We, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, then dealt out to be on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, could only follow this processes from the distance, looking at how good conclusions are drawn from the evil war experience. As we experienced first-hand, Stalin drew entirely different conclusions from World War II and its outcomes. For him and for the superpower he led, the most important thing was to preserve the geopolitical spoils of the military victory in World War II. The Soviet empire and its subordinate countries featured mass violations of human rights and of rights of the nations.
In that totalitarian system which was so aptly described by Orwell, the power remained in the hands of a few, and those thinking differently could only find a place for themselves in a labour camp or in a prison. Inefficient and founded on unreasonable premises economy was constantly struggling with the so called ‘interim difficulties’. At the same time that empire was never short of money for surveillance of its citizens, for spreading falsified ideology and for organization of military parades. The demonstration of force was meant to provoke fear and submission, to mould a submissive attitude to power holders.
But the unceasing desire of freedom, the desire to be part of the European family of free nations has prevailed over ‘the evil empire’. The force of tanks and missiles was of no avail when confronted with ‘the power of the powerless’, which Vaclav Havel described. ‘The power of the powerless’ arising out of belief in fundamental values, in inborn and inalienable human dignity, in the name of which workers and intellectuals of Gdansk, Warsaw, East Berlin, Prague, Budapest and many many other cities stood up against totalitarian yoke over and over again. More than once the streets of those cities saw bloodshed, were trampled with police boots, and filled with tear gas.
After 1989, thanks to further development of European integration, we were able to jointly build a greater, better united Europe. The Europe which is not only a safe and prosperous house for all nations that make it up but also the one which can share its achievements with others, its ability to show solidarity and to arrive at a constructive compromise. It continues along the same lines also nowadays, even if it is itself not free from internal tension and crises which affect various domains of our European life.
The European Union continues to be attractive, as proved by at least some of our Eastern neighbours who desire to live by the same rules that we uphold. Freedom has always been and will always be a catching example. It is worth remembering that it was from here, from Gdansk, from the session of the first Solidarity convention in 1981, that the Message to the Workers of Eastern Europe was sent. This power could not be stifled by the martial law imposed a few months after nor with the smear campaign instituted by the media loyal to regime in other countries of the so called Eastern Bloc.
The Eastern Partnership of the EU, created with participation of Poland as a member state of the Union, is an answer to European aspirations of nations, the “Eastern lung of Europe’ to quote from John Paul II. Also this most contemporary, present-day aspiration cannot be stifled with any force.
The place of Ukraine and other states of Eastern Europe, provided they want it and are prepared for it, is in our common European house.
The ongoing war in Ukraine does not allow us to forget, however, about the presence in Europe of the forces which bring back memories of the darkest chapters of the 20th century European history: the ones which continue to think through the prism of spheres of influence, which strive to maintain their neighbourhood in the condition of vassal’s dependency, which do not respect civilized principles of law and of relations among nations. Before our very eyes, while one nation manifested its desire to be united with Europe, seeking a normal worthy life for itself, under conditions of greater freedom, the stronger neighbour responded with use of force and with coerced change of borders.
Never since 1945 would such practices be adopted in Europe. That is why it is so difficult for us to joyfully celebrate the end of World War II in Europe seventy years ago.
The experience of the last seventy years but also the experience of the years preceding the gunfire here in Westerplatte, proves beyond any doubt that such practices cannot be condoned and that one cannot recede when confronted with such practices in Europe.
Those anachronic attitudes, detrimental to lasting peace, are hampering nations’ pursuits of self-determination also nowadays.
New generations of tanks and missiles shall not stop them. The ones who adopted such attitudes must encounter our decisive objection. And we owe our solidarity and our support to those who are victims, the ones who pursue the world were one neighbour shall not fear another.
This is also one of the lessons learnt from the last seventy years. This is the lesson which should come to all of ours, gathered in the special place, as a permanent obligation. An obligation undertaken at the site where once World War II broke out.