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Poland as Ukraine's Gateway to the West

Paula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Remarks at the Heritage Foundation
Washington, DC
January 18, 2007

Thank you, Ariel, for that introduction. I thank Ariel, Helle, Sally McNamara, and all of their colleagues who have helped organize this important event. I am delighted to be here again at the Heritage Foundation, and especially to address a topic as significant as Poland's role as Ukraine's gateway to the West.

Poland has a long history of supporting other nations along their paths to democracy and independence. Indeed, help from Poland was substantial in the birth of the United States as a free, independent republic. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish military officer, arrived in America shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and became a key figure in our Revolution. Thomas Jefferson called him "as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known." Through his skill as a military engineer, and his encouragement of our Founding Fathers and the principles to which they and he dedicated their lives, he both literally and figuratively strengthened our pursuit of independence. He subsequently returned to Poland to become one of its great freedom fighters, and just as he is honored with monuments throughout Poland, a statue of him stands here in Washington in Lafayette Square.

Poland has helped others both by direct assistance and by example. The election of Pope John Paul II, the rise of Solidarity, and the perseverance of the Polish people during the imposition of martial law, catalyzed resistance to Soviet rule throughout Central and Eastern Europe that contributed to the revolutions of the late 1980s.

In recent decades, Poland has been a leader in helping countries find their way to democracy, stability, and integration into their region and the international system. It has played a vital role, in the past and present, with respect to Ukraine, and has done so across a range of areas: political, economic, regional, and cultural.

Politically, Solidarity's experience served as an inspiration for the Orange Revolution of November 2004 to January 2005 in Ukraine. It demonstrated how nonviolent protest can seize the moral high ground and force authority to abide by democratic principles.

Lech Walesa, Solidarity's original leader and the former President of Poland, was one of the first foreign dignitaries to visit Ukraine and meet with Viktor Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution. When Walesa arrived in Kyiv's Independence Square to speak to the hundreds of thousands of protesters, they were braving not only the cold but also the uncertainty of their fate. Victory was far from assured. Walesa's presence sent a powerful reminder that courage and steadfastness in the cause of freedom can yield great results.

Then-Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski played a central role in brokering an agreement between the feuding factions. He, with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Secretary General of the Council of the EU Javier Solana, coordinated three roundtable negotiations with Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych that paved the way for the December 8, 2004, compromise between Ukrainian authorities and the opposition. President Kwasniewski, President Adamkus, and Secretary General Solana received thanks and praise from President Bush, among others, for their crucial contribution in brokering a compromise to resolve Ukraine's political crisis. When I attended President Yushchenko's inauguration in January 2005, I witnessed first-hand the extent to which the Ukrainian people genuinely appreciated Poland's efforts; President Kwasniewski received resounding applause in the Rada.

Poland played a critical role in a dramatic story. An electoral process that began with voter intimidation, physical assaults and the torching of ballot boxes ended with balloting that was widely acknowledged as free and fair.

Even before the Orange Revolution, Poland had provided crucial support for developing and encouraging democracy in Ukraine, and its efforts since then have been sustained, impressive, and invaluable. Poland's assistance budget now includes funding to bolster civil society and its institutions in Ukraine, support public administration, disseminate lessons learned in advancing local government, and share its experience of European integration.

In addition, the existence since 1998 of the joint Polish-Ukrainian Battalion, and its operations in Kosovo since 2000, have provided meaningful opportunity for Ukrainian cooperation with NATO.

Poland has served as Ukraine's gateway to the West both politically and economically. Poland is optimally positioned to assist with Ukraine's long process of Euro-Atlantic integration by encouraging Ukraine's reform effort. Both the United States and the EU have recognized that Ukraine has a market economy, and Ukraine is on its way to WTO membership, which will further anchor it in a rules-based system.

Ukraine is under consideration for membership in the EU. Poland has been Ukraine's most forceful advocate on that score. Poland has indicated that it will propose an EU membership action plan for Ukraine when it holds the EU presidency in 2011. It is helping to keep the door open to Ukrainian membership, which is important for encouraging positive change in Ukraine, and between now and 2011, it can work with Ukraine in implementing necessary reforms.

On energy, Poland and Ukraine share common cause. The two governments should continue to cooperate in pushing for greater transparency and diversification of supply.

Poland and the United States have worked closely to foster democracy and free markets in Ukraine. In 1999, they helped initiate a unique trilateral program aimed at sharing with Ukraine best practices of Poland's successful transition from a centrally-planned economy to a liberal, market-oriented democracy.

The goal of its successor organization, the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation, is to build the capacity of Ukraine to integrate more closely with the EU and NATO through the application of Polish and European experience. It facilitates extensive cross-border dissemination of knowledge and experience in key areas that impact human capital and civil society.
In 1990, USAID gave a $240 million grant to an enterprise fund to be used as venture capital for fledgling businesses in Poland. Thanks to the entrepreneurship of the Polish people, the Polish enterprise fund was a great success. In fact, it was able to not only return the investment, but to earmark $120 million of the recovered loans to endow the Polish-American Freedom Foundation. The Freedom Foundation now finances Polish NGOs working in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Poland has also expanded its ties with Ukraine and helped integrate Ukraine with the West through educational and cultural initiatives. For example, the Freedom Foundation funds scholarships and study tours to Poland for students, young professionals, and leaders from Ukraine and other countries of Eastern and Central Europe. And Poland has coordinated with Ukraine to exchange artifacts that belong to each nation but have ended up within the border of the other.

Poland has been a leader in promoting integration with the West not just for Ukraine, but indeed, for the region. Poland served as a model when it entered NATO and the EU, and it has provided a vital bridge between Western and Eastern Europe, including through such institutions as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, based in Warsaw.

In 1989, there were some skeptics who did not believe that democracy could succeed in Poland and other Central European states. With the confidence that comes from having exceeded expectations, and living up to its heritage of support for democracy and independence in the region and, indeed, the world, Poland is well-positioned to help Ukraine weather its current political challenges.

As an advisor to President Reagan on Central and Eastern Europe during the 1980s, I was privileged to witness Poland's courageous resistance against outside domination, and today, I am honored to work with my Polish friends in helping countries in Europe and throughout the world reach their full, democratic potential.

Released on January 23, 2007

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