Speakers leave Council of Europe conference during Russian address

The speakers of both houses of the Polish parliament walked out of the Conference of Speakers of the European Union Parliaments in protest over a representative of the Russian Federation being given the floor.

The Poles were joined in their protest by the Lithuanian and Latvian delegations, who were also angered when Valentina Matviyenko, the Chairwoman of Russia's Federation Council, spoke about democracy.

"One of the main addresses was given by the Russian representative," said Elżbieta Witek, speaker of the Sejm, the lower house. "As a sign of protest against that, I simply left. I asked Speaker (Tomasz - PAP) Grodzki if he would come with me - he said yes, so we left.

"It couldn't have been otherwise since Russia, despite being a member of the Council of Europe, at every step breaks human rights and the rights and freedoms of citizens," she continued.

"We all see it, we all criticise it, and here at the meeting - at the Conference of Speakers of the European Union Parliaments - one of the main addresses was by a Russian woman. There could be no other action on my part, Tomasz Grodzki joined along."

The Polish Senate, the upper house, said in a statement that Speaker Grodzki leaving the chamber was an act of solidarity with countries whose territories are occupied by Russia.

Grodzki, who belongs to Civic Coalition, the main opposition grouping in Poland, told state-owned broadcaster TVP Info that there are "limits to tolerance."

"If Russia is to teach us about democracy, it is a bit beyond our limits," he said. "However much we differ in the country, we were entirely in agreement here with Speaker Elzbieta Witek."

The conference of speakers, which started on Thursday, will discuss experiences and challenges facing democratic countries in the context of the public health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of parliamentarians in ensuring the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, and the common future of Europe's citizens.