Bronisław Geremek, former Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, dies at age 76

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Sunday, July 13, 2008 File:Bronislaw Geremek.jpg

Bronisław Geremek
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Professor Bronisław Geremek, a former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, a member of European Parliament and chairman of the Freedom Union, has died today at the age of 76 in a car crash near Nowy Tomyśl, Poland. The accident occurred about 13:15 Polish time (12:15 UTC) along the way 92 near Lubień in the Greater Poland Voivodeship.

According to the spokeswoman of the Greater Poland Voidodeships's police, Hanna Wachowiak, Geremek died when the Mercedes he was driving collided head-on with a Fiat Ducato on the road from Warsaw to the German border. The reason of Geremek's car crossing to the other side of the road and crashing into the oncoming car is still unknown. "The officers are investigating the reasons of the accident. They have interrogated first witnesses", said Mariusz Sokołowski, the spokesman of the Main Command of Police in an interview with the Polish news channel TVN 24. Bronisław Geremek was the only casualty of the crash; the driver of the Fiat and his passenger as well as the passenger of Geremek's Mercedes have been transported to hospitals in Poznań and Nowy Tomyśl.

The daily Dziennik writes it was not the excessive speed which caused the crash. The newspaper's Internet news service informs that both cars were driving with the speed of 90-100 km/h (56-62 mph). The daily reports it is assumed that Bronisław Germemek might have collapsed when driving; other assumptions include a defect of the car. "It lasted for a split of seconds. I don't even know how it happened. I haven't seen anything wrong happening to professor", told Geremek's passenger the police officers.

Bronisław Geremek was born on March 6, 1932 in Warsaw, Poland. Being a historian by training, he was an associate professor of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Polska Akademia Nauk, PAN), a member of the democratic opposition in the Polish People's Republic, a member of Sejm from 1989 to 2001 and a chairman of the political party Freedom Union. He served as a Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland from October 31, 1997 to June 30, 2000. He was also a member of the European Parliament from July 20, 2004 onwards.

Bronisław Geremek is survived by two sons.

Responses to the death

President Lech Kaczyński, who is currently in France having talks on his stance on the Treaty of Lisbon with president Nicolas Sarkozy, said: "It is a very sad news, I am deeply moved. He was my political opponent, but at the same time a man I met in August [1980], one of the main builders of August, an undoubtedly outstanding politician, who has a great place in our history. We had other beliefs after 1989, but Bronisław Geremek was undoubtedly an extremely intelligent man". Kaczyński is also reported to have asked Sarkozy for one minute's silence in memory of Geremek at a European political summit that took place on Friday.

The French president has commented Bronisław Geremek's death, too. "The President of the Republic has taken with emotion and sadness the note of the tragic death of Mr. Bronisław Geremek. He pays tribute to the memory of this exceptional man, a respected European parliamentarian who through his courage, his humility and his commitment without fail in the service of fundamental rights, embodied the founding values of the European ideal. The President of the Republic wishes to assure his family, relatives and the whole Polish people's of solidarity of the French people in this ordeal", we read in a statement published today on president's official website.

Donald Tusk, the Polish Prime Minister, has published the following statement on his official website: "I have taken with a great regret the note of the tragic death of Bronisław Geremek, an outstanding medievalist and activist of the democratic opposition, co-builder of August 80 and a Minister of Foreign Affairs in the independent Poland. Bronisław Geremek was a man wrapped up in the matters of Poland and Poles. He has been using his knowledge, experience and a huge international authority in Europe and in the world always for the good of Fatherland. I had the honour of working with professor Bronisław Geremek for many years; I will always remember these years. He was a man of agreement and dialogue, and his idea was to connect people, not to part them. Polish sciences and politics have lost a great man, and many of us a great Friend".

"I can't get out of shock, it is a great loss. Died a man of great talents, merits and knowledge, one of the fathers of the Polish democracy. He was a great man and patriot with a great life-sketch. A talk with him was always an adventure, intellectual and political. I have always respected his opinions and uncommon knowledge", said Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president.

José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, has also issued a statement memorising Bronisław Geremek. "He was a European of exceptional stature, a Pole of unwavering convictions. All his life he demonstrated political courage without compromise. I hope future generations remember Bronislaw Geremek as an example of a free spirit and that he stays in our memory as one of the most powerful symbols of liberation against all oppression", he wrote.

Graham Watson, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament, to which belonged Bronisław Geremek, published a statement on the official website of ALDE: "With the tragic departure of Bronislaw Geremek Poland loses one of its heroes, a tireless architect of its independence but also of the national reconciliation. Europe also loses one of its most ardent proponents who by the power of his conviction helped enlargement become a political success. Europe mourns a symbol of its reunification. I am proud to have had such a man among the ranks of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament and among my friends".

Many Czech politicians, including a former Czech president Václav Havel, have commented the news of the Geremek's death, too. "The report on Bronislaw Geremek's sudden death has touched me very much. I appreciated him as a remarkably reasonable and good man, very gentle as understanding. His death is not only a loss for Poland, but for all of us who are striving for the free and decent world", said Havel. The Czech Deputy Prime Minister and the current Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra commented: "Geremek participated in the birth of the Polish Solidarity, he witnessed NATO and EU enlargement... An immense loss. I offer my condolences to Poland". Jiří Dienstbier, the first Czechoslovakian Foreign Affairs Minister, told the reporters that "Geremek was a great personality who knew it very well what Poland should do to get rid of the burdens of the nationalist past and become a leading and active member of the European family and integration".

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has issued a statement as well: "Words do not describe this tremendous loss, for both Poland and the Jewish people. Bronisław Geremek was a statesman and diplomat of the first order, and a beloved son of Poland. He will be sorely missed", said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris.


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