Ex-First Lady of Georgia Awarded Polish Commander’s Cross

Eleventh March saw the presentation of the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland to Mrs Sandra Elisabeth Roelofs at the Official Residence of the Ambassador of Poland to Georgia, Mr. Andrzej Cieszkowski. The Commander’s Cross, created in 1974, is a Polish Order awarded to those who have rendered great service to the Polish nation. It is granted to foreigners or Poles resident abroad and as such is a traditional ‘diplomatic order.’

The event was opened by Ambassador Cieszkowski who thanked the ex-First Lady of Georgia for her contribution to the Polish-Georgian friendship. Mrs Roelofs made the following heart-felt response: “Dear Excellencies, honored guests, media representatives! It is a great honor to be awarded the Commander’s Cross of Merit by the Republic of Poland, an exemplary European country very close to my heart. Close because it shares a common past with Georgia which gives mutual understanding and fruitful cooperation links and close because I have made many friends in that country that I have often visited and still visit on a regular basis. Lech and Maria Kaczynski [the late Polish president Lech Kaczynski and First Lady Maria Kaczynska] visited Georgia several times and were delighted. Together with Maria, I organized a skating competition to music of Chopin in Kutaisi, Zugdidi and Batumi. I named the oncological screening center in Didube after her; her portrait is still hanging at the entrance. I even started to learn Polish a while ago and am intrigued by the language. April 10, 2010 was a most tragic day in history that paradoxically brought our nations even closer together when we grieved together with the Polish nation for the loss of close to 100 heroes who had taken the courage to fly to Russia for a memorial service near Smolensk. Their plane never landed but crashed and investigations are still on-going. Yet here in Georgia we all too well understand what happened and why. President Lech and First Lady Maria Kaczynska perished in that crash, an incredible loss for their families, the whole nation and even the whole world, especially those who understood what this brave man and his government stood for; how they not only stood as a symbol for Poland’s freedom and democracy but also for the Baltics, and countries like Ukraine and Georgia who were and are still on the path towards European integration. To honor the memory of the 96 victims, my husband came all the way from New York and I by car from Brussels, traveling through volcanic ash to Krakow where the presidential funeral was to take place. It was for me one of the saddest and personally most painful moments of 10 years being a presidential spouse. Back in Georgia I organized a memorial evening, had my book translated into Polish in dedication to Maria, and gave to the Georgian Conservatoire students the chance to study a few years at the Krakow Music Academy with a Maria Kaczynska scholarship- two of whom have even stayed there and are now teaching Georgian and helping the organization Most do Gruzija to further promote Georgian culture.

Poland has made its mark on my life, on Georgia, on Europe and continues to follow the path of democracy and prosperity inspired by strong Catholic values like solidarity, forgiveness and inclusiveness. My colleagues and guests from the Netherlands recently visited the rehabilitation center ‘Don Camillo’ in Temka, where they met Polish volunteers who dedicate months and sometimes years to serving the most vulnerable in Georgia. I’m therefore most obliged and deeply touched by the high decoration that I’m receiving from the Polish nation and am grateful to Ambassador Cieszkowski and his spouse Dorota for their respect and friendship in these times which are not the easiest for our family. Dziekujebardzo!”

Later, Ambassador Cieszkowski told GEORGIA TODAY: “It’s a very special event for the Embassy of Poland here in Tbilisi because we awarded on behalf of the President of Poland Mrs. Sandra Roelofs who was not only the first lady of Georgia but also was and is a great friend of Poland. She was very actively engaged in matching the institutions of Poland and Georgia, scholarships, associations, Polish people who wanted to assist Georgian people in need, etc. We are very grateful for her as a bridge between Poland and Georgia.”

The ceremony was followed by a reception and was attended by representatives of Georgian authorities, ambassadors and official guests.

Maka Lomadze

17 March 2016 19:21