Op 26 mei 2015 is Wim Kok onderscheiden met het Commandeurskruis met ster van de Orde van Verdienste van de Republiek Polen. Daarmee is onder meer de dank van de Poolse regering tot uitdrukking gebracht voor zijn werk als FNV-voorzitter ter ondersteuning van Solidarnosc
Wim Kok met Poolse onderscheiding
De ceremonie vond op 26 mei 2015 plaats op de Poolse ambassade in Den Haag. De onderscheiding, die door de president van Polen wordt toegekend voor uitmuntende verdiensten in de ontwikkeling van de Pools-Nederlandse samenwerking en steun voor de democratische veranderingen in Polen, werd uitgereikt door de Poolse ambassadeur in Den Haag, dr. Jan Borkowski. Wim Kok steunde in de jaren tachtig van de vorige eeuw de activiteiten van de vakbond NSZZ „Solidarno??”. Dankzij zijn hulp kon het bureau „Solidarno?c” in Nederland een kantoor in Amsterdam betrekken. Als premier in de jaren 1994-2000 steunde Wim Kok de toetreding van Polen tot de NAVO en de Europese Unie.
In zijn dankwoord ging Kok in op zijn contacten met Solidarnosc lang voor de val van de Duitse muur en op de ontwikkeling van Polen en Europa sindsdien. Ook schetste hij de uitdaging waar Europa op dit moment voor staat.
First of all I want to thank you, Mr Ambassador Borkowski, for your nice words. I feel honoured by the decision of the President of the Republic of Poland for awarding this high distinction to me. This honourable decoration is very meaningful to me for a number of reasons. One of them is closely related to my trade union past before I went into politics.
My first visit to Poland took place in the early eighties, in December 1981 to be more precise. I had been president of the Dutch Confederation of Trade Unions (FNV) and of the European Confederation of Trade Unions (ETUC) as well at the time when Solidarnosc, the first non-communist and independent labour union in Central and Eastern Europe, started its activities in Poland.
Actually, the goals and ideas of Solidarnosc were much broader and went much further than those of a trade union only: Solidarnosc wanted to win back freedom for the Polish population. It was a movement struggling for democracy and liberty.
All this occurred already almost a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism. We, as free and democratic trade unions in Western Europe including the Netherlands, were deeply impressed by the strong convictions and the perseverence shown by Lech Walesa and thousands of his fellow mates.
All kinds of spontaneous initiatives were taken throughout the Netherlands in support of our Polish friends. We noticed a surging wave of sympathy amongst our own rank and file for the Polish workers and their leadership.
I will not easily forget how I travelled to Gdansk in December 1981 with the double purpose of attending a crucially important congress of Solidarnosc and expressing our solidarity with the Polish workers and offering our modest financial and technical support to them.
Tensions in the country were tangible by then, both inside and outside the meeting hall. I keep in mind a somewhat ominous atmosphere around me, listening and talking to Lech Walesa, Bronislaw Geremek, Jerzy Buzek, Adam Michnik and many other heroes I met there for the first time.
On my way back to Warsaw after the first day of the congress I noticed large numbers of military vehicles on the road, but unfortunately the car driver could or would not give me any explanation for this. Only upon my arrival at Amsterdam Airport the following morning I learnt what had happened in Poland meanwhile: martial law had been declared and leaders of Solidarnsc had been arrested. General Jaruzelski took power and all activities of Solidarnocs were declared illegal. Reforms were stopped and reversed.
That was December 1981. In my capacity as Minister of State I was invited in June last year to represent the Dutch government at the official celebration of 25 years of freedom and democracy in Poland. For obvious reasons I gladly accepted that invitation: this provided an excellent oportunity to me to take part in the festivities and to look back with our Polish hosts to what had been achieved during the past quarter of a century with both pride and great satisfaction.
We sometimes tend to forget in our part of the world that Poland organised its first free elections already before the Berlin Wall fell in the autumn of 1989 and that this was a direct result of the massive support the Polish people continued to provide to the struggle of Solidarnosc during the eighties: a wave of support that finally proved to be unstoppable.The victory of the fighters for freedom and democracy in Poland and the collapse of communist dictatorship and suppression in the whole of Central and Eastern Europe finally opened the door for re-uniting the people on the European continent after half a century of enforced division.
The euphoria throughout Europe in the early nineties about the overthrow of communism was about much more than people regaining their well deserved freedom. It also encompassed our firm will to start building a collective European House for all of us, including Poland, keeping strongly in mind how brave Poles had fought for regaining our freedom in Western Europe in 1944/45, while the freedom of their own country could not be regained until 1989. We should never forget the major contributions General Maczek and General Sosabowski and their forces made to the liberation of our country.
After so many years of artificial division in Europe the countries and people on our continent had to be given the opportunity to be reunited, to join a common family. Because European integration is about more than prosperity and material progress only, important though this is. Remember the founding fathers of European integration who were inspired by the idea that uniting former enemies under one and the same political roof was fundamental for a common future without further bloodshed within Europe’s borders.
After the dissolution of the so called Eastern Bloc, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe were enabled to create for themselves the room in which they could freely express their wish to join Western European countries in the endeavour of unifying a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Europe. I know by experience that this has not been an easy process, to put it mildly, because many obstacles had to be removed. Accession negotiations were tough and sometimes complicated.
And -paradoxically enough- the longer it took until the ten new member states were ready to join the European Union in May 2004, the less euphoric public opinion proved to be around this historic accession round, at least in most Western European countries, to my regret including my own country.
Negative sentiments regarding Polish workers entering our domestic labour market during the first years of Poland’s EU membership were only understandable and justified in my opinion to the extent that they were based on serious concerns about their exposure to massive exploitation by contractors or subcontractors who simply ignored and undermined labour legislation and collective agreements. It gives me great satisfaction that throughout the years since its entrance Poland has taken important benefits from European integration. It has worked hard to rebuild its economy and revitalise its society. Recent statistics illustrate that Poland has now one of the fastest growing economies within the European Union. But Europe benefits from Poland’s strong contributions as well. Poland, in the heart of Europe, has rapidly developed into being a strong and solid pillar of the European Union. It has learned quickly what it requires to be a responsible and trusted member, being prepared not to look at national interests only but with an open eye for serving the greater European interests as well or sometimes even above all.
Redefining and serving the greater European interests is one of the key responsibilities of Poland’s former Prime Minister Donald Tusk in his role as President of the European Council at a time where Europe faces important internal and external challenges. Externally, we are currently strongly reminded of the need for greater European unity and resolve vis a vis growing tensions and crises at the Eastern borders of the Union, in particular in Ukraine, obviously in close alliance with our North-American parters. Next to that growing tensions and instability in other regions of the world force us to play a more active role in the field of global peace and security.
Internally, we are challenged by
Sometimes one gets the impression that too many people tend to forget learning lessons from the past, are inclined to take the benefits from European integration simply for granted. In a rapidly changing international environment we Europeans need to work closely together, in some areas even more closely than we did until now, simply because none of us is strong enough to do the job on his own. In an interdependent world we need each other more than ever before.
Mr. Ambassador, let me conclude by saying that I feel most fortunate having been able –in various roles- to play my part in supporting the Poles during their struggle for freedom and to contribute to Poland’s accession to the European Union and to NATO. By doing so I have made a modest contribution towards strengthening solidarity and freedom in Europe. This is the time where current generations of politicians and persons in other leadership positions will have to make clear to people what is needed to keep European solidarity alive and what is at stake if Europe would start eroding instead of growing further into a stable, solid and robust player on the world stage.
I feel great pride to wear as of today the Commander’s Cross wit Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
Wim Kok, May 26, 2015