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Message by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski
Bartoszewski, Wladyslaw

Message by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski

Address by the Polish Foreign Minister, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, at the ‘Combating Intolerance' Conference

Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to express my very real pleasure and personal satisfaction in being able to represent the Republic of Poland at a conference whose continuation we owe to Eli Wiesel, my friend and fellow inmate at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. I am grateful to Mr Persson, the Prime Minister, for being so ready to accept Eli Wiesel’s proposal. For us, victims and witnesses of horrific crimes committed in the name of an absurd ideology, it is extremely important for younger generations to show an understanding of our fears of ordinary dislike developing into mass crime. This fear is shared by very large numbers of people in Poland. When the suggestion of continuously monitoring all signs of intolerance, xenophobia and anti-Semitism throughout Europe was made in Stockholm a year ago, we did not hesitate for a moment: there is a need for this kind of monitoring, both at the level of individual countries and at that of the entire continent. In the last 60 years, that is to say during the lifetimes of three generations, we have experienced the terrible consequences of fascism, and in Poland those of communism too.

Polish democracy, which has now been developing for more than ten years, has to overcome dangerous and lasting consequences of this period. The drama of the Holocaust, precisely planned by Germans, took place on Polish soil. As well as 3.5 million Polish Jews, another 3 million Poles lost their lives, including almost the entire intellectual elite, which was also eliminated by the Soviets.

One consequence of the communist dictatorship in Poland was the creation of a ‘uniform’ society. In this society there was no recognition of the particular characteristics of national minorities. These minorities, including the thousand-year history of Polish Jews, were banished from history teaching. There was no discussion of actual problems in connection with national tradition, historical truth and social awareness.

We now see our most important task as lying in the construction of a democratic, civil and enlightened society which is open to other religions and cultures. We are tackling this task at many different levels. I would like to mention a few of these.

First of all there is education. Two very important textbooks were recently published. The first, which bears the title "The Others – That Includes Us", is intended for stage I of secondary education. The target group for the second book, "Holocaust", is schoolchildren at stage II of secondary education. Teaching on the Holocaust has been a compulsory topic in the syllabus since September 2000. Special educational programmes on national minorities and their culture and history are offered at several dozen schools. One of these schools has been visited by three thousand Jews from all parts of the world. The prevention of intolerance, xenophobia and racism also forms part of nationwide action plans and numerous citizens’ initiatives.  Also involved in these are non-governmental organisations such as the anti-fascist movement “Nigdy wiecej” (“Never Again”), the “Otwarta  Rzeczpospolita” association ("The Open Republic") and the youth organisation “Pokoj - Pax – Shalom” from Oœwiêcim.

In Poland, we attach huge significance to the attitude of the Catholic Church and the campaigns also taken on its initiative and aiming to develop a culture of mutual understanding and tolerance in the religious and social spheres. The activities of the Commission of the Polish Episcopal Conference in support of dialogue with Judaism have major ramifications. The Catholic Church in Poland has been unique in Europe, apart from the Italian Catholic Church, in regularly organising seminars on Judaism throughout the country over the past four years. Documents published by the Polish Episcopal Conference on the relationship between Christians and Jews and the Holocaust in a spirit of compassion, acknowledgement of sins and understanding have also found great resonance in the population.

The Polish Council of Christians and Jews, with its informative website on the Internet, also plays an important role.

In the highly developed civilisation of today, which is dominated by technology, mercantilism and materialism, it is becoming ever more important to prevent social indifference towards dangerous phenomena such as intolerance and hostility towards foreigners, even if they are only a peripheral manifestation in society. Although there have not been such flagrant examples of xenophobia and physical violence in Poland as have been observed in recent years in France, Germany or Russia for example, the public are often noticeably indifferent to such phenomena. All these examples of positive actions (and I have only mentioned a few) are aimed at arousing individual and social sensibilities from their slumbers.

The public debate recently initiated by the Polish media on a tragic incident from the time of the German Occupation is extremely significant from this point of view. The incident took place in Jedwabne, a small town in central Poland, in 1941. Polish inhabitants murdered almost all their Jewish neighbours. This shocking incident is now the subject of public discussion, with Polish newspapers publishing the opinions of historians, sociologists and psychologists and letters from dismayed readers on this case, which has deeply shaken the public. These expressions of opinion are dominated by demands for all the details of the crime to be clarified and for those responsible to be convicted and shamed. I share this view.

I would like to emphasise all the more strongly that the Institute of National Remembrance, established last year, has already initiated an official investigation into the Jedwabne crime. In July this year murdered Jews are to be commemorated there during official ceremonies attended by representatives of the Polish Government.

We are resolved to employ statutory provisions more effectively in the battle against racism, intolerance and anti-Semitism and to make greater use of the courts and police powers. We are, indeed, doing so: a university lecturer was recently charged with spreading lies about Auschwitz. This man was also boycotted by academic circles and banned from the university where he had previously lectured. People who have chanted fascist slogans and distributed anti-Semitic publications have also been convicted. A provision in the Polish Penal Code on penalties for disseminating printed material on these topics was recently extended.

In the near future we shall start implementing a programme to improve the safety of the Roma people in Poland, with the aim of guaranteeing continuous cooperation between the Roma themselves, the police and local and central government on the basis of partnership. Anyone who is interested in this programme is welcome to contact the Polish delegation.

And finally, it is now beyond doubt that the most important target group for the activities which are also being instigated on the initiative of this conference is, and will continue to be, the younger generation of Europeans. These young people will construct the Europe of the future. In my view, one of the tasks of this conference is to instil a sense of responsibility in these young people for what this Europe will look like.

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