Address at state luncheon in Poland

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Prime Minister Marek Belka, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure for me, both as New Zealand Prime Minister and personally, to visit Poland, a nation whose people I have long admired.

The history of Poland and New Zealand could not have been more different. Poland sits at the centre of Europe, and the great ebbs and flows of events on this continent have impacted on Poland in powerful ways. Poland has known the heights of empire and the depths of occupation. But even in the bleakest hours, the spirit of the Polish people has always shone through for independence and freedom.

Our country, far away in the South Pacific, has also fought for freedom and democracy in Europe, and our people lie buried in Poland, as they do in great numbers all over this continent.

Only last year at the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the battle of Cassino in Italy, I was reminded of the role New Zealand and Poland played together in the war against fascism in Europe. There can be no more poignant reminder of our shared history than seeing the Polish cemetery on the upper slopes of Monte Cassino where so many died in that terrible battle, and the Commonwealth War Graves in the fields below where New Zealand and other allied soldiers lie.

The Polish people have contributed to the world in so many other ways, from science, literature and the other creative arts, to exploration of the world’s wild and untamed places.

At this time too, I wish to pay tribute to His Holiness, the late Pope John Paul II, the first Polish Pope, whose contribution to peaceful change, democracy, and freedom in Poland, Europe, and the wider world won our highest respect.

Polish people began coming to New Zealand from the earliest times of European settlement. The most memorable migration was in 1944 when more than 730 Polish refugee children, most of them orphans, and more than 100 guardians came to New Zealand at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Peter Fraser.

These adults and children had endured extraordinary hardship and tragedy, after deportation from their homes to Russia, and after travelling through Central Asia to Iran, before settlement in New Zealand. Their hope was to return to a free Poland at the end of the war, but for most that was not to be.

Last year our Parliament adopted a resolution formally recognising the contribution the Polish refugees and the Polish community overall have made to New Zealand life.
It is our pleasure now to see Poland not only as a free and independent nation, but also as an influential nation at the heart of the European project. These are all factors which have led my government to establish New Zealand’s first embassy in Poland.

The European Union is a vital economic and political partner for New Zealand, and through our embassy here we will have a voice in another key European capital.

Placing the embassy here also reflects our determination to modernise our relationship with Poland. We have a shared history, as I have outlined. Now it’s important to develop a substantial shared present and future as well.

In doing that, there is much to build on. Poland and New Zealand are both democracies with shared values and market economies.

At the international level we find ourselves making common cause on many issues from United Nations reform and support of the Antarctic Treaty, to counter proliferation and collective efforts against terrorism.

Trade between us has been very modest, but Poland’s entry into the EU means that it operates from within a system with which we are very familiar. I am sure it will be possible to stimulate new trade and investment links between us.

New Zealand is also keen to encourage more flows of people between our country and Poland. Our mutual visa waivers for tourists will help, and so will our intention to work on a reciprocal Working Holiday Scheme for young people.

In addition, our Education Minister and an accompanying delegation have been in Poland in the last two years to raise awareness of New Zealand as a place for tertiary education and English language study.

If we can through all these means encourage more contact between our peoples, then we will honour those earlier generations who fought together for freedom in Europe and who, in Poland’s case, settled in New Zealand and contributed to the development of our country.

The opening of our New Zealand Embassy here in Warsaw, and the appointment of a resident Polish Ambassador in Wellington, give us the opportunity to open a new chapter in our relations. I thank all those whose efforts over the years have helped us get to this point.

I now propose a toast to the government and people of Poland and to the enrichment of the relationship between New Zealand and Poland.