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President Ilves lauds the awardee of the Czech and Slovak Transatlantic Award Jan Krzysztof Bielecki at the Globsec Gala dinner in Bratislava, 18 April 2013


I am very honoured and pleased to be here today, because I think that Globsec is doing something that has a deep meaning. We live in a world where we consider all of this that we enjoy today a norm. The kind of 'Fukuyaman' ineluctability of liberty, freedom and security in Eastern Europe – that shows sometimes, really, how far we've come in here. There is this kind of strange teleology of our liberty in Eastern Europe that 'it was all going to happen this way anyway', which is being blind and – in avoiding using any other word – simply nonsense. Because we must recognize – and if no-one else does – we must recognize the freedom fighters, who made the difference, who had the courage to overthrow the regime, to re-introduce liberty. While the Fukuyaman worldview sees this as being inevitable, we know both as in 1991 and looking around in the world, that it was not inevitable. We do not see the ineluctable large forms of liberty and freedom in so many other places in the world, where there have been revolutions in the name of freedom. We don't have to go too far, in fact, to see how many countries have not followed that inevitable path and have chosen to return to a different way of doing things.

And that is why I am humbled and honoured to be here today to speak about Jan Krzysztof Bielecki. He was a figure behind Solidarity in the Gdansk strike in 1981 and, more broadly, behind the fight against Communist totalitarianism. And we have to recall ourselves – and let us not have any illusions – that when Jan Krzysztof Bielecki and Lech Walesa were stirring things up, many countries in the West said, "Don't rock the boat. Don't rock the boat." And this was not even during the time of perestroika, this was pre-perestroika. It was more important to have good relations with the other side than to care about liberty, freedom and human rights.

So when I look at the career of Prime Minister Jan Bielecki – not only was he a figure behind the historic strike in 1981, a key adviser of Solidarność in 1980s, he was of course the Prime Minister of Poland that led Poland out of the Communist malaise, but also a chief delegate of the Polish Parliament to the European Parliament that got Poland off its start to the European Union. And on, a member of the Board of Directors at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and to this day a key figure in Poland's miraculous return to prosperity and liberty.

This battle for freedom more than 20 years ago was one in which we Estonians were engaged side-by-side with the Poles, the Czechs, Slovaks and hundreds of thousands of other Europeans in Berlin, in Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Warsaw and beyond. And this struggle – in words of our Czech friend – lit a thousand magic lanterns of light for those elsewhere still struggling under authoritarian and totalitarian rule. From Estonia to South Africa, the spirit of democracy caught on to light up our lanterns. We have seen that magic light of democracy continue to spread. And it continues to inspire democratic revolutions across the globe, which all take the Solidarność movement that emerged in Gdansk as their touchstone.

For Estonia, to present the Czech and Slovak Transatlantic Award to a Pole is not just about the history of our close neighbours and friends. It is about the hope of all nations that have spent a millennium between the hammer and the anvil, and later the hammer and the sickle, of the aspirations of our friends East and West.

Poland, emerging today as one of the most important economic players of Europe, belongs not only to Europe's East and North, but more and more, thanks to its leadership, it stands as Europe's heart, sharing our historical experience as well as our loyalty to our shared norms and values. Along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who separated peacefully two decades ago, Poland has been a major contributor to building freedom and democracy in Central Europe and beyond, where today Poland plays a key role in helping along those countries to our East that occasionally have stumbled on their path to democracy.

The Transatlantic dimension of the award is based also on solidarity, on the unity of purpose and collective decision-making on both sides of the Atlantic that goes on day to day, and has done so decade to decade.

Today, however, I think there is another dimension that we need to talk about – the need to maintain this Transatlantic relation, when we see the US pivoting. We need to have a strong Transatlantic relation. And I see a particular role here for those countries that liberated themselves 25-20 years ago. Because today, sometimes, I feel that Europe is in a moral vacuum. But we, Central and East Europeans, have been forced to have a moral education. And this moral education that we've had in our childhoods means that today we must be – to paraphrase another person – "well brought-up adults that speak out when necessary." Which is what our role must be: to be well brought-up adults that speak out when necessary and not shut up.

This is what, I think, has created and unbreakable bond between the North America and its European Allies, and this is something which is our special role to play – to keep that going. So today, countries like mine, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia [that have been] within EU and NATO for ten or more years must take this responsibility to keep that Transatlantic link alive. We must recognize that ten years or more after joining those organisations we must not allow ourselves any more to be called "new". We're not "new". We've been in those organisations – and fought in NATO – for all this time, and we've contributed. We no longer are new nations. There no longer are "new" or "old" nations in the Alliance.

So I hope that we keep all of those things in line as we proceed. And in this case, especially when we think of the contribution of Prime Minister Bielecki in rooting out the awful miasme of the Communist rule, the battle continues and we still have a long way to go.

Thank you!