Interview with Mr Hans van Baalen, former Member of the Dutch Parliament, leader of the VVD party (The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) in the European Parliament and President of the European ALDE party.
Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska: Your relation with Poland is very strong. You initiated together with Frans Timmermans in 2004 the process in the Dutch parliament which led to awarding posthumously Polish Gen Sosabowski the highest Dutch award, the Bronze Lion. Why did you initiate this action and how complicated this process was?
As an 8 or 10 year old boy I heard stories told by an uncle from Poland, unforgettable stories about him fighting for free Europe as a soldier of the Polish Army (Armia Krajowa); against Nazi Germany and the Soviets during World War II. Because Armia Krajowa was loyal to the Polish Government-in-Exile he could not get back to occupied by the Soviets Poland after the World War II since he risked being killed by the totalitarian system. I heard about Polish liberators of Breda, Driel, Polish soldiers fighting in Gelderland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Groningen, in such places as: Arnhem, Borger, Buinen, Hoogeveen and Meppel.…I got interested in history and history of Poland, which always fought for its freedom. Poland disappeared from the map in 1795 for 123 years due to the partitions of Poland. Then thanks to Polish bravery it was restored and again attacked in the World War 1 and World War II and finally it was occupied by the Soviets till 1989. So, by the coincidence of having an uncle coming from Poland I was intrigued by and interested in Polish history.
I had a very good relationship with Prince Bernhard, husband of the Dutch Queen Juliana. When he was very ill he called me and said that there was one thing that I should do for him. He said that General Sosabowski and his Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade who fought bravely in September 1944 in Arnhem and liberated Driel should be recognized for their bravery and fighting for the free Netherlands.
General Sosabowski despite his bravery became a scapegoat and blamed for the failure of the Battle of Arnhem by among others the British general and Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. After World War II General Sosabowski could not return to Poland, which was occupied by the Soviet Union. He had no retirement fund, so he was forced to work in the factory till his 75th birthday. This honourable man who loved freedom and fought for our Dutch freedom was humiliated and it was shameful and unacceptable and we cannot accept this, cannot do this to our liberators.
I called my colleagues-politicians Frans Timmermans ( Labour Party) and Mat Herben (The Pim Fortuyn List ) and we contacted Minister of Defence Henk Kamp. We investigated the matter very carefully and wanted to award the Brigade and General Sosabowski posthumously the highest awards. A special advisory committee was installed. It was a very long procedure but we managed. The whole parliament, all members of parliament supported the notion and the advisory committee supported it, too.
It was the most beautiful, emotional and symbolic moment to witness in 2006 in the Binnenhof the recognition of General Sosabowski’s and his brigade bravery. There was this old gentleman, hero from Sosabowski’s Brigade and he witnessed awarding his Brigade the highest military award: the Military Order of William from the hands of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix. The grandchildren of General Sosabowski witnessed posthumously awarding his grandfather the highest award Bronze Lion, award intended for servicemen who have shown extreme bravery and leadership.
As mentioned before in your previous article about the mistakes found by your daughter Alexia in a popular Dutch schoolbook history teaching at school does not help to keep this memory alive. The Polish heroism is often not mentioned at all. And the future cannot be built without recognizing and respecting the past. Therefore I will continue to get committed to respecting and protecting our common past.
You are a leader of the VVD party (The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) in the European Parliament and the president of the European ALDE party: The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) which consists of 60 international parties. The Dutch parties which belong to ALDE are VVD and D66 and Polish parties are Nowoczesna and partia demokratyczna demorkaci.pl. Can you elaborate for our audience what ALDE stands for?
ALDE stands for freedom. Europe should be Europe of freedom and not bureaucracy and red tape. It is about free citizens in a free society with a free economy. And I do not mean here the Wild West, organized rules are important of course. People should be allowed to work in Europe, Polish citizens in the Netherlands, Dutch citizens in Poland, sell their products, cooperate.
We should also defend together our free Europe. Look at Russia and Putin: Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, Georgia, intimidating Baltic states…We should work with Poland since Poland has a border with Russia and knows best about Stalin and totalitarian practices.
You visited in December Warsaw for a very successful ALDE congress. Can you share with us your impressions of this congress ? And I guess this was not your first visit to Warsaw?
The first time when I was in Warsaw I had dinner with a great man, famous Polish politician and professor Bronisław Geremek. We were sitting in the restored old town. I was immensely impressed. Professor Geremek showed me pre 1945 maps of Warsaw. It was amazing that the Polish people were so determined to rebuild this part after the World War II exactly the way it used to be before the war. It was and is now of extreme beauty. The Soviets did not help Polish people in Warsaw who were fighting against the Nazis in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and waited till the Nazis would kill the last Polish fighters. The Germans destroyed 80%-90% of the buildings in Warsaw. A huge part of the cultural heritage was burned, demolished or stolen.
I understood that Polish people never give up and keep on fighting for freedom. Geremek was a wise man, he knew that you cannot remain being enemies, therefore he reached to Germany for cooperation, to create new, free Europe.
Congress in Warsaw in December 2016 was a Congress of Hope. It was about civic society being active, it was about free open society. It is not about anger, hate. I know that Poles can be trusted and we are allies. We know for sure that Poland will always be Poland because of its determination to be free.Poland is and will be a beacon of freedom.
 Binnenhof is a collection of buildings in the Hague consisting of the Office of the Prime Minsiter of the Netherlands, houses of the States General of the Netherlands, as well as the Ministry of General Affairs.
 Bronisław Geremek was involved in forming Solidarity movement in Poland. Between 1987 and 1989 Geremek was the leader of the Commission for Political Reforms of the Civic Committee. This commission prepared proposals for peaceful democratic transformation in Poland. In 1989 he was strongly involved in the debates between the Solidarity movement and communist authorities which ended with free parliamentary elections. He was a minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the European Parliament