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Poland - a growing European powerhouse
February 1, 2014, 1:17 pm
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Much of the diplomatic career of His Excellency Grzegorz Olszak, Ambassador of Poland to Kuwait, has centered around the Arab World — at his country's embassies in the region and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of Africa and Middle East in Warsaw. But this was only to be expected of a dynamic and articulate diplomat whose love of the Arab world at a very young age prompted him to pursue a Masters from Warsaw University in Arabic Language and Culture, and to follow this up with a scholarship in Egypt at Cairo University's Faculty of Literature.

During the course of an exclusive interview with The Times, it was evident that Ambassador Olszak represented the young, outward-looking Poland; a country focused on a future-oriented developmental path and ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of a global economy. The diplomat noted how in 2001, after graduating from the State School of Public Administration,  he joined the Ministry of Environment, and served there for four years in various positions, including that of Deputy Director of the Department of Foreign Relations and Director of Minister’s Office. But, with a second Masters from Warsaw University in International Political and Economic Relations, as well as his proficiency in multiple languages, including English Russian and Arabic, he decided to shift to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2005.

"My first diplomatic assignment abroad came in 2005 with a posting first as Deputy Head of Mission and then for a year as Charge d’ Affaires at our Embassy in Egypt. Spending over four years in Egypt, I had the unique opportunity to further hone my Arabic language skills. In 2009, I returned to headquarters in Warsaw and until early 2012 was the Head of the Division of Arab States and Iran at the Department of Africa and the Middle East," added the envoy.

"In February 2012, I returned to the Middle-East for a five-month stint in Syria, amid the ongoing conflict there. As the United States did not have diplomatic representation in Syria, I was appointed in a special role as Head of the U.S. Interests Section at our embassy in Damascus. Returning to Warsaw in July of that year, I was reassigned to the Department of Africa and the Middle-East, but this time as Counselor-Minister. Then, in April 2013, I arrived in Kuwait and presented my credentials to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah as Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the State of Kuwait."  

Speaking about Polish – Kuwait  relations, the ambassador said, "We have enjoyed excellent political and diplomatic relations since 1963, when Poland became one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent Kuwait. Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our close and friendly relations with Kuwait. Another milestone in our relations was the strong speech made by our Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly in 1990. Despite having good trade relations with Iraq at that time, he condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Poland fully implemented all the UN Resolutions passed against Iraq. Our Foreign Minister stressed in his speech that ideals like freedom, liberty and human values were priceless. The minister stated, 'Certain national and international values cannot be assessed in terms of calculable prices…'"

"The other important moment in our relations came in 1991 when Polish troops participated in the Coalition Force formed to drive out the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait. Our bilateral relations continue to be boosted through visits by high-level Polish dignitaries and ministers, including the President and the Prime Minister, on more than one occasion. Another important element in bilateral relations is the strong ties between our two parliaments; with Kuwait – Polish Parliamentary Friendship Groups functioning effectively in both parliaments. In fact, a Kuwait Parliamentary Group is scheduled to visit Poland in a few months time," revealed the diplomat.

Elaborating on economic relations between the two countries, Ambassador Olszak said that though the current volume of trade was only around US$ 60 million, there were plenty of areas where bilateral economic cooperation could be enhanced. "In particular I would like to point out that currently there are hardly any Polish food outlets or even Polish food available in the local market. This is something that I am addressing by initiating contacts between food companies in both countries. I am pleased to say that recently two leading  Kuwaiti food company representatives visited the Food Fair in Poland and came back highly impressed by the quality and variety of food products available."

With more than two million private farms  and over 10,000 lakes dotting the country, Poland has great agricultural potential and is often considered the future 'bread-basket' of the European Union. Besides being the largest producers in the world of sugar beet, Poland is also the  leading producer in Europe of potatoes, rye and apples. Last year Poland had a record apple production of over two million metric tons, and it became the world's largest exporter of apples.

Pointing to another area where the two countries have similar interests, the envoy noted that for more than forty years, Poland has been hosting an annual event dedicated to showcasing and auction of Polish Purebred Arabian Horses. The Arabian Horse Days, organized by the Polish State Studs, honors the Polish Arabian Horse breeding program. The event is unique in many respects, including its tradition that dates back to the 17th century and the fact that it is the only enterprise of its kind in the world.

Regarding the level of bilateral investments, the ambassador said that while there were no direct investments, there were indirect investments to the tune of $400 - $500 million, made mostly by financial institutions in the Polish real-estate sector. "Many Kuwaitis have stakes in residential apartments and villas, as well as in commercial properties in Poland. However,  I would like to see Kuwaiti investments spread to other areas of the economy, especially considering that Poland's high-income economy is currently one of the fastest growing within the European Union."  With a large domestic market, low private debt, flexible currency, and not being dependent on a single export sector, Poland is the only European economy to have avoided the 2008 global recession that crippled many world economies. And, with the implementation of ongoing structural reforms, Poland is poised for entry into the Euro-zone in the near future.

Tourism is another area of the economy that could entice foreign investments. Recently, Poland was ranked among the top-twenty most visited countries in the world by foreign tourists and the sector also contributes extensively to the Polish economy. "Tourism has been rising significantly year-on-year, and while the main tourist attractions center around sight-seeing, a relatively new trend that has emerged is health and well-being spa tourism that caters to a growing clientele. Poland has many specialized medical centers, including one of leading centers for the research and treatment of cancer. Another rather unique concept gaining ground in Poland are the newly conceived 'Beauty-farms' where people check-in for a week or two to enjoy a completely rejuvenating experience of both mind and body."

Noting that cultural ties between countries help strengthen relations on the popular level, the envoy continued, "Visiting Polish artists performing in Kuwait, under the aegis of the Dar al Athar al Islamiyya and the Radisson Blu Kuwait, as well as Polish musicians and music-instructors residing in Kuwait, have been doing great work in promoting Poland.  There are many young Kuwaiti musicians who have joined Polish music academies to pursue their interests further. On another cultural front, the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw (PCMA), with its regional center in Cairo, has been organizing and coordinating archaeological research in the Middle-East area. In Kuwait, PCMA is represented by the Kuwait Polish Archaeological Mission (KPAM) and they, in association with Kuwait's National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL), have been conducting extensive excavations at selected sites in Kuwait since 2007."

Another venue for closer cooperation between Poland and Kuwait is in the field of education. In 2012 Poland's educational system was ranked among the top-ten in the world in an assessment made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in coordination with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). With over 500 institutions of higher education, one of the largest numbers in Europe, the country has very high educational standards. "After holding productive discussions with concerned authorities in Poland and Kuwait, I hope to soon see students from this country, including medical and archaeological students, continue their higher education in Poland. Many of the world-class Polish educational establishments offer education in English medium and the quality of education rendered is comparable to the best in the world," added the envoy.

In conclusion, Ambassador Olszak expressed his happiness to be in Kuwait and said that during his relatively short time in the country he had enjoyed the full support and cooperation of the leadership and government, as well as the warm hospitality of its people. "During my stay in the country, I definitely look forward to finding time to brush up on my Arabic language skills," said the ambassador in parting.

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