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What do Minister Arkady Rzegocki, Svetlana Cichonauska and Ambassador Mark Brzeziński have in common? Report from the 5th edition of Our Future Forum

On May 12th of current year, the 5th edition of Our Future Forum took place at The Tides event center in Warsaw. The conference was attended by a record number of over one thousand two hundred participants. The event consisted of ten discussion panels, five masterclasses and three keynote speeches. The conference was a great platform for the exchange of contacts between the most talented Polish youth and world-class experts and leaders.

This year’s conference was opened by Mr. Christian Młynarek – Deputy Head of the Chancellery of the Sejm, who read out a letter from Elżbieta Witek, Marshal of the Sejm. In her appeal to the participants of the event, Mrs. Elżbieta Witek, Marshal of the Sejm, warmly thanked for the invitation and congratulated the organizers of the V Our Future Forum – the largest educational conference in Poland.

Arkady Rzegocki’s speech

This year’s conference was also opened by Minister Arkady Rzegocki – Head of the Foreign Service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He began his speech with the overwhelming story of the widow of the Warsaw Uprising, English Margaret Englert. Until the last days of her life, Mrs. Margaret emphasized that marrying a Pole was the greatest honor for Englishwomen, because in their opinion there were no people in the world more brave and brave than Poles. This story was an introduction to reflection on the fact that together we are a unique, historical community of all citizens – the Republic of Poland, which continues to this day. The Minister thanked all Poles for their great mobilization and readiness to help Ukrainians who came to our country after the outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2022. He encouraged young Poles present at the conference to get involved in the social life of our country and asked to join the Polish diplomatic corps. He also talked about the wide development opportunities offered to our young compatriots by international organizations, in particular EU institutions. He noted that these organizations are a great platform for learning new languages and gaining valuable experience in the field of diplomacy, which can later be used in the service of Poland. He emphasized that the Our Future Foundation carries out a very important mission of promoting Poland in the world through an extensive scholarship program, thanks to which dozens of young Poles are admitted to the best foreign universities every year. The Minister summed up his speech with a reflection that a strong Poland should respect the rights of other nations and be guided by two basic principles of diplomacy – “nothing about us without us” and “free with free, equal with equal”

Swiatłana Cichanouska’s speech

The special guest of the V Our Future Forum was Swiatłana Cichanouska – the leader of the Belarusian opposition, who gave her speech to the participants of the event remotely. Swiatłana Cichanouska expressed her hope that thanks to events such as the V Our Future Forum, cooperation between Poland, Belarus and Ukraine will prosper and develop dynamically in the future. She noted that this year’s conference organized by Our Future Foundation is a great opportunity to increase civic awareness among young people and deepen cultural, historical and social ties between Poland and Belarus.

She referred to the Nobel Prize awarded to Ales Bielacki, who paid for his fight for human rights in Belarus with imprisonment for 10 years by the criminal regime of Alexander Lukashenko. She then pointed out that Ales Bielacki is just one example of enlightened Belarusian minds who paid the highest price for his commitment – the vast majority of activists who took part in the protests in 2020 are in prison today. The leader of the Belarusian opposition also shared her personal story with the conference participants – her husband, Siarhei Cichanouski, was sentenced to 19 years in prison only because he was not afraid to tell the truth and intended to run in the presidential election in 2020. Cichanouska stressed that if it wasn’t for her husband, she would never want to get involved in politics – so far she does not see herself as a politician, more as a representative of a wronged nation.

“In 2020, Belarusians chose freedom over tyranny, light over darkness, future over past, but the regime responded with brutality and terror. Because of this, you don’t see pictures of mass protests right now, but believe me, the same hope and the same desire for freedom is still there.” – said the leader of the Belarusian opposition, then added that the fate of Ukraine and Belarus are interconnected, which is why a decisive victory of the state led by Volodymyr Zelensky is so important.

Due to the repression, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians had to leave their country. Here in Poland they found their safe haven. Even in exile, they continue their fight for change in Belarus because we all want to go home.” Cichanouska continued. The Belarusian politician recalled the story of Andrzej Poczobut – a Polish journalist and oppositionist who rejected the offer to leave Belarus, for which he was imprisoned for 8 years. “Let us be inspired by people like Andrzej Poczobut, who, even after being imprisoned, did not lose hope, and let us believe in a better future even in the darkest times. Your solidarity will be a contribution to a free and democratic Europe, a contribution to our common future, summed up Cichanouska.

Mark Brzeziński’s speech

Another special guest of the V Our Future Forum was the US Ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzeziński, who delivered an inspiring Keynote Speech. The presence of the US ambassador to Poland at the conference organized by our foundation made the V Our Future Forum an international event. We hope that by establishing cooperation with the US Embassy in Poland, we will be able to strengthen the Polish-American dialogue and promote the values on which the transatlantic alliance is based among the young generation in Poland and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. We hope that together we will be able to increase bilateral educational exchange by encouraging young people to participate in initiatives such as: Fulbright, Flex and the Our Future Foundation scholarship program. We believe that V Our Future Forum is the beginning of fruitful cooperation with the US Embassy in Poland, the effects of which will not be long in coming.

Mark Brzeziński appreciated Svetlana Cichanouska’s emotional speech and paid great tribute to the entire Belarusian opposition.  He then referred to the events of the last few months, focusing in particular on the geopolitical situation in Central and Eastern Europe: “Dear students, from the situation in Belarus to the war in Ukraine, there are many reasons for concern in the world around us. But I want you to know that there is hope. You give me this hope. Polish civil society has supported its neighbors in need in an amazing way. I am proud of what the young generation has achieved. You have been able to present your best side to the world in many ways because you have done something greater than yourself. You helped your neighbors in need. On behalf of President Joe Biden, I send you my sincere thanks,” the Ambassador addressed the young people in moving words. “I know that sometimes it is difficult to host a Ukrainian family for 16 months when you expected to do it for 2 months. It’s a difficult job, and it’s expensive, and you continue to do it,” continued Mark Brzeziński. He then noted that Polish-American relations have never been as good as in the times of the current international crisis – “we are better allies, better friends, we have never done as many things together as now. This is truly a turning point in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. We have learned that a joint NATO response to a threat is the most effective response. Poland is safe, Poland is secured,” Brzeziński assured.

The Ambassador also encouraged the participants of the event to apply for scholarships at the best American universities, because, as he noted, it is a great opportunity to broaden one’s horizons and understand the American perspective. A few moments later, referring to his studies abroad, he quoted the famous 19th-century Prime Minister of Great Britain Benjamin Disraeli: “Travel teaches tolerance. There’s nothing better than traveling abroad to learn and grow.” He also recalled the words of the famous writer Franz Kafka – “With each new language you learn, you gain another life that you live.” Therefore, learn new languages, because they are a window to the world, concluded Brzeziński.

In the context of education, Ambassador Brzeziński also shared his personal story with the participants of the event – “I was in the same situation as you. I received a scholarship from the Tadeusz Kościuszko foundation, thanks to which I could come to Krakow for a year. Later, I was able to receive another scholarship, this time from the Fulbright Foundation, which allowed me to continue my education in Poland and write a doctorate on Polish constitutional heritage. These years have prepared me to be an ambassador in Poland and have greatly developed me as a person” – then he mentioned once again about the various scholarship programs available to young people in Poland and the opportunities that are opening up for them.

At the end, Mark Brzeziński listed some advice for the young generation. “First of all, don’t be afraid of failure. Let them inspire you to keep going.” Referring to this advice, he quoted the story of his father Zbigniew Brzeziński, who, after not receiving the title of professor at Harvard, did not break down, started working on Wall Street, gained the necessary contacts and finally became the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter – to this day, he is the only person of Polish descent in history who has had the honor of taking this position. “Secondly, no one is an island. You have to build your own network of contacts.” Referring to these words, he said that events such as the V Our Future Forum are a great opportunity to make new friends and gain valuable contacts. “Third, find your goal and pursue it.” Ambassador Brzezinski mentioned that he always enjoyed meeting new people and solving problems, which is why he first became a lawyer and then a diplomat. He recommended young people to think about what they like to do and then relate it to the profession they would like to do in the future.

Ambassador Brzeziński closed his speech with the words – “I am incredibly excited because I strongly believe in the strength and potential of the young generation of Poles. What you did for your country in 2022-2023, something greater than yourself, reminded the world of your existence again in the greatest possible way. I’m proud to be the American ambassador to Poland, I’m proud to be the American ambassador to you. I look forward to your questions and thank you again for the invitation.”

Source: Our Future Foundation
Photo: Mark Brzezinski; source: Our Future Foundation

Maksymilian Mirecki
I am a journalist and editor in Coopernicus. I study law and international relations at University of Warsaw. I am also a host of the podcast "Maximum Dose of Knowledge".
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Maksymilian Mirecki

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