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Kirkhope: Speech to mark anniversary of Solidarity in Poland

Speech by Timothy Kirkhope MEP to the European Parliament in Strasbourg marking the 25th anniversary of the formation of Solidarity, Poland's first free trade union.

"Mr President, the fact that the left has just been voted out of office in Poland lends added poignancy to this debate. I congratulate Mr Saryusz-Wolski and the Civic Platform, as well as the Law and Justice Party, on their victory in yesterday's general election, and I am sure Poland has a great future under new leadership.

Lech Walesa is the most prominent personification of Solidarity and its success. He was in Brussels recently to receive the acclaim of this House on this important anniversary. He has won many honours from countries and organisations around the world in recognition of his courage and vision, perhaps the greatest honour being his election as Poland's President after Communism crumbled.

Britain has always felt a special affinity with Poland, and this was evidenced in the early 1980s when Poland was going through very difficult times. It was a British Conservative Minister for Foreign Affairs, Malcolm Rifkind, who went to Warsaw and became the first western politician to meet with representatives of Solidarity, an act that infuriated the Communist régime. This meeting was symbolic of the deep bond between Britain and Poland. All through those grim years we in Britain never forgot Poland, nor did we ever lose our conviction that democracy and freedom would ultimately prevail and that Poland would once again take its honoured place in the European family.

It is easy to forget the speed with which Europe has moved on from those dark days and what life was like for those under the yoke of Communist tyranny. That is why it is so important that we never forget, and with Poland rightly taking its place in the European Union last year we can be sure that those who suffered and those who inflicted the suffering will not be forgotten. Solidarity symbolised then, as it does now, hope in the future, the determination of people to build better lives for themselves and their families and an unshakeable belief in the power of the human spirit. Political systems can subjugate wills and extinguish individuality but they can never quench the desire to be free. We would all do well to learn the lessons that Solidarity's history teaches us."

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