French Poles greet Polish president in Arras

28th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

ARRAS, France, Feb 28 (AFP) - Several hundred people turned out early Monday to welcome President Jacques Chirac and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski in this northern town which is home to a large Polish community.

ARRAS, France, Feb 28 (AFP) - Several hundred people turned out early Monday to welcome President Jacques Chirac and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski in this northern town which is home to a large Polish community.

Chirac and Kwasniewski arrived in Arras for a first ever Franco-Polish summit, aimed at refreshing ties strained by the Iraq war and other issues.

For the estimated half a million people of Polish origin living in the region, the summit was a chance to see their two homelands brought closer together and to say "Witamy", welcome in Polish, to their two presidents.

"This is the first visit by a Polish president since our community arrived here in the 1920s," said Bernard Klopocki, conductor of the Kalina folkloric choir, which turned out in traditional costume for the heads of state.

For this grandson of a Polish immigrant, wearing a felt hat with a peacock feather, "it is a powerful symbol to see both our presidents together."

Several hundred people gathered in the town's main square in chilly but sunny weather to hear the French and Polish national anthems and back in the pomp and ceremony of the occasion.

"Our parents worked for France, they learnt to blend in and brought us up to respect our host country," recalled Honoree Sliwa, calling Kwasniewski's visit an "exceptional event".

In a traditional gesture of welcome, the members of the Polskartois association presented both leaders with a gift of bread and salt.

Chirac thanked them in Polish, with the word "Dzienkuje", and greeted the crowd before both leaders headed to meet a group of schoolchildren.

Local teacher Mylene Duhaut said that many of her pupils had Polish roots, although she noted that, as the older generation passes away, the community is losing many of its links to Polish culture.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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