Central European presidents condemn extremism

GNIEZNO, Poland, Mar 13, 2000 -- (Reuters) Five central European presidents urged the continent's nations to fight extreme nationalism and racism on Sunday at a meeting in Poland's historic capital.

Poland's Aleksander Kwasniewski, Germany's Johannes Rau, Hungary's Arpad Goencz, Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus and Slovakia's Rudolf Schuster celebrated the 1000th anniversary of Poland's statehood in Gniezno, the mediaeval seat of Polish kings.

"We appeal to the nations of oppose all manifastations of hatred, xenophobia, racism, aggressive nationalism and extremism," the presidents said in a joint declaration read by Kwasniewski to some 3,000 residents of Gniezno, western Poland.

Poland and other eastern European countries are worried that recent inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria's government may hamper their efforts to join the European Union.

"What happened in Austria can happen elsewhere," Hungary's Goencz said during a televised debate.

Austrian Freedom Party's former leader Joerg Haider has been know for remarks playing down crimes of the Nazi Germany and strong anti-immigrant views.

The presidents sent condolences to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuczma, who cancelled his trip to Poland to join his nation in mourn the 80 miners killed in a cave-in on Saturday.

Czech President Vaclav Havel did not attend the meeting for reasonsof health.

The presidents also called for preventing the old Iron Curtain, which had divided Western Europe and the Communist East before 1989, from becoming a wall separating the rich from the poor.

Goencz blamed European Union leaders for making EU enlargement conditional on strict economic criteria rather than pursuing political vision of a continent united around shared cultural and moral values.

"We have lost illusions that we are awaited with open arms," Goencz said in a televised debate. "We can observe less enthusiasm (towards enlargement) on the part of the West," added Kwasniewski.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, the former Soviet bloc's leaders in economic reforms, started EU entry talks last year and hope to join around 2003, although many Brussels officials say that target is much too ambitious.

Germany's Rau assured that the EU would expand, but added the process should be accompanied by the reduction of differences in economic wealth between the West and East.

"We need a united Europe and I think we are on the right road heading in that direction... I hope that in a few years' time we will have more equal economic levels and similar social security measures," he said.

The presidents earlier attended an ecumenical mass celebrated by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardianal Angelo Sodano in the cathedral where two years ago Polish-born Pope John Paul prayed for peace and prosperity in Europe.

The Gniezno summit commemorated the symbolic visit of German emperor Otto III and a Vatican envoy exactly 1000 years ago to Gniezno, during which Poland was effectively recognised as a sovreign state.

Original article