Address of the President of the Republic of Poland at the 69th Session of the
UN General Assembly 25th September 2014
Mister Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,
First, I extend my congratulations to Minister Sam Kutesa for being elected to the honourable post of Chairman of the Session.
Mister Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,
In the opening sentences of our Charter, we read that the United Nations was set up to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" and "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights (...) in the equal rights (...) of nations large and small". In the year marking the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the second world war, the message of these words holds a particular resonance for us - Poles and Europeans, and all the societies affected by these tragedies. Both world wars took place on Polish land, and the second was started by the aggression of Nazi Germany collaborating with the Soviet Union. Our past compels us to reflect on these words from the Charter and these events from the 20th-century history. This process of reflection accompanies decision-making on a national level, and is similarly binding for the entire international community gathered together in the United Nations.
The first world war bolstered the dream of a world without war. This belief and that general will bore fruit in the League of Nations, the first system of collective security in the history of humanity. It contained all the premises needed to make a positive mark on history, and to maintain peace and security. Its functioning was based on important rules prohibiting war and urging the peaceful settlement of disputes. The league had common organs, disarmament conferences, and an international judiciary.
Nevertheless, despite all these institutions, we could not create the world without wars. The League later became an easy target, if not an object of ridicule. Yet it was not actually the League that failed. It was let down by its members, and primarily the powers that were entrusted with special responsibility for the implementation of its principal task. The powers of the time failed to pass the test in the face of the expansion of left and right totalitarianisms. The first world war had a share in the emergence of communism, national socialism and many militaristic dictatorships. Those systems fed on conflict, as ideological war, war against other nations - war against another man - was a part of their identity.
Those threats could have been held back on time, yet the democratic world failed, opting for the short-sighted policy of appeasement and the satisfaction of dictatorships' appetites at the cost of the weaker states. The price paid for these acts of negligence was the second world war, and all of humanity had to pay a price that earlier would have been unimaginable. It was from the horrible experience of that war, from the experience of the Shoah, that the legal notion of genocide stems. Its originator and the author of the Genocide Convention itself was a Polish lawyer, Rafał Lemkin, who foresaw the criminal nature of both the totalitarianisms even before the second world war.
After the hecatomb of war, the international community decided to build a system of collective security once again. I am glad that next year we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations. There are very few who remember the world without our organisation, and it would be difficult to imagine the world without its activity.
During the nearly seven decades of its existence, the United Nations has shown the track record of beautiful achievements and yet also numerous failures. Today, however, the situation is especially worrying, as the symptoms of the phenomena that once brought about the fall of the League of Nations come to light. We stand nowadays in the face of a renaissance of superpowers , a return to thinking in the categories of geopolitical zones of influence that have already led the international community a into the morass of hatred, confrontation, and conflict. The United Nations should remain vigilant when faced with a return of such stances and should not tolerate any departure from the security and international relations principles agreed in the Charter. Tolerance toward such stances always ends badly and not infrequently leads to catastrophe.
Mister Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
One needs to emphasise with all might that the occupation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine is a violation of standards of international law and runs roughshod over the fundamental values of the United Nations. The ideological background of the conflict is the return to the rhetoric from the first half of the previous century, a return to the logic of zones of influence, the logic of the law of the mightier, and the ruthless imperial domination over weaker neighbours, who are allegedly obliged to be obedient satellites of a power performing a revision of the foundations of the civilised international order.
The Security Council, the organ responsible for peace, proved to be ineffective when faced with conflicts in Ukraine and other regions of the world, partly due to the rules of its operation. We are threatened by further plunging into powerlessness if such rules are not amended. It is good that the General Assembly rose to the challenge in resolution number 68/262 of 27 March, 2014, took the side of the weaker party targeted by an act of imperial aggression.
I feel all the more sad and concerned uttering these words, since we are celebrating the 25th joyful anniversary of the abolishment of communism and the collapse of the Soviet bloc in Poland and other countries of the region. This "spring of nations", the second in the history of Europe, brought freedom to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, and respect for human rights and good governance. At the time, changes for the better took place throughout Europe, and even worldwide. The Iron Curtain fell, and so did the bipolar division of the world. The cold war confrontation, together with its accompanying threats of nuclear conflict, became things of the past. That historical change began in Poland with the establishment of the Solidarity civic movement, a movement of peaceful opposition against totalitarian oppression and violation of nations' rights. The victorious parliamentary elections of 4th June brought about the setting up of the first non-Communist government in our part of Europe since the second world war on 12th September 1989 - the government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
Just two weeks later, on 25th September, precisely 25 years ago, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in that new government, Professor Krzysztof Skubiszewski, addressing the delegates to the session of the United Nations General Assembly from this rostrum, proclaimed that new Poland would not respect the logic of zones of influence. He further revealed that we would respect existing treaties and obligations and that we would respect the security interests of other states, yet none of these should result in any limitations concerning choosing or changing the polity system.