Warsaw, 28 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Friday (June 25) that the lesson of Kosovo should speed up integration of Central and Eastern Europe with the European Union.
Kwasniewski made the comment in Warsaw to the opening session of the fifth International Bertelsman Forum. The forum's theme this year is "Central and Eastern Europe on the Way to the EU".
Kwasniewski said that nationalism has not been eradicated and still sparks conflicts on the continent:
"What has happened in selected areas of the Balkans, and recently in Kosovo, is a sinister reminder that not everything which had marked the history of Europe in the 20th Century with a tragic seal has been overcome and irrevocably left behind. The Polish people are particularly sensitive to violations of human and minority rights. We are victims of the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin, we live in the land which saw the Holocaust and massive deportations of populations."
Kwasniewski said that aggression and xenophobia must be opposed with what he called "maximum determination." He went on to characterize the Kosovo crisis as a challenge to international peace:
"The Kosovo crisis offers a lesson -- that the path to durable peace, stability and prosperity in the whole of Europe lies in integration. Integration must be seen as a real opportunity -- so that it promotes the adoption of Europe-wide standards."
This is the first time the International Bertelsman Forum is being held outside Germany, perhaps underlining Poland's significance in the process of pan-European integration.
Attending the forum are some 70 leading politicians and economists, including Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former German president Richard von Weizsaecker.
All participants were seated at a large round table -- a historic piece of furniture at which Poland's Solidarity movement and communist officials reached an agreement 10 years ago to implement political and economic reforms. The June 1989 Polish round table is widely considered to have initiated the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.
Von Weizsaecker told the group that Poland has a key rule to fulfill as a former communist country succeeding in implementing basic political and economic reforms. He called Poland "the driving force shaping the future of Eastern and Central Europe."
In his opening remarks, Kwasniewski also spoke out against the creation of border barriers in the EU integration process. He warned that what he described as "a new iron curtain" at Poland's eastern border would harm millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe. He said that for them, the possibility of visiting a neighboring country is a measure of their normality, trust and good-will in relations among states.
Most of the discussion at the two-day forum is being held behind closed doors, with no journalists present.