In Sweden December 13th is equivalent to Santa Lucia. The candles, the songs, the buns, the ginger bread. We celebrated that yesterday also here in Warsaw at a huge reception. Fantastic experience, not least thanks to the Swedish studying students from two Universities in Warsaw.
At the same time December 13th for Poland is the day when the introduction of martial law 1981 is remembered. It is thus a day closely related to the struggle for freedom and democracy – finally achieved 23 years ago. I touched upon that in my speech yesterday:
“Welcome to the traditional Swedish Santa Lucia celebration. My short speech will be held partly in Polish, partly in English, and will touch upon a couple of issues related to this day.
The Santa Lucia tradition has a complicated history and combines elements from different countries and cultures. Santa Lucia has its origin in Italy but over the centuries it was adapted to Swedish circumstances.
What does this tradition mean today? First and foremost it is a celebration that spreads light among all of us in dark winter times. It is also a foretaste of Christmas.
The Lucia tradition reminds us of the influence of different cultures in our societies and how important that influence actually is. Additionally it is a celebration that reminds us about the rights of children and young people, those who form the Lucia procession. Today we give them a voice. That should be the case throughout the year – and not only this year, the year of Janusz Korszak, but always.
This tradition is an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves about the importance of strong and brave women in the history of our societies. Santa Lucia definitely was that kind of woman.
I am very happy that in Poland the interest for Swedish experiences in the area of equality between men and women is growing, and the embassy has seen a particular increase in the interest for experiences in how to combine paid work and family life, including child care.
I am convinced that the key to success in this area is a higher engagement of men, especially in the care for children, also through the use of paternal leave.
We all gain from that. Children, parents – and the economy as well. A higher participation of men in family life would increase the participation of women in the labour market. The Swedish Embassy will continue to work with that theme in the coming year.
I would also like to invite you all to the exhibition here that describes the deeds by the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest during the end of the second world war.
This year 2012, 100 years have passed since he was born. Wallenberg was fighting the terrible crimes of one totalitarian system and eventually became a victim of the other – disappearing in Soviet captivity early 1945. Through his self-sacrifice and courage he showed a whole world that the acts of every single individual matter, that one person can make a difference.
Keeping the memory of people like Raoul Wallenberg alive is a way of preventing and resisting new cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity. It is also a way of constantly reminding ourselves of our duty to protect human rights – and to protect all those brave individuals who protect human rights.
This is worth remembering not least at this time of the year. Three days ago the International Human Rights Day was celebrated. And not least today, 31 years after the declaration of martial law in Poland 1981. Luckily we can now meet under totally different circumstances – that would have been regarded as an unimaginable dream in the 80’s, today being the every-day life of a modern, stable, successful European democracy.
It is truly a lesson for dictators all over the world. They should not, cannot, will not last forever. And Poland with its remarkable achievements during 23 years of freedom constitutes the living proof of that lesson.”
I am happy that we managed to get also another event in the calendar before Christmas: the Inauguration of our upgraded Honorary Consulate General in Gdańsk. Our Consul Tadeusz Iwanowski and his wife Magdalena Pramfelt had made an excellent job organising this at Grand Hotel in Sopot, a remarkable place in itself. Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia are clearly important cities for Sweden, that is evident not least from the fact that their twin cities – Kalmar, Karlshamn and Karlskrona – all were represented. We are close to each other and the cooperation continues. The Baltic Sea unites us for sure.