His Excellency Grzegorz Olszak, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Kuwait, in an exclusive interview early this year, noted that the firm and friendly relations which bind Poland and Kuwait are based on democratic values of personal and political freedom, equality and justice. “Poland and Kuwait have enjoyed excellent political and diplomatic relations since 1963, when Poland became one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent Kuwait. In 2013, our two countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of close bilateral relations.”
Ambassador Olszak, who has a special fondness for the Arab world and is proficient in Arabic language — having earned a Masters in Arabic Language and Culture from Warsaw University and honed it with a scholarship in Egypt at Cairo University’s Faculty of Literature — was for many years the Head of the Division of Arab States and Iran at the Department of Africa and the Middle East in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2005 he was appointed as the Deputy Head of Mission and then as the Charge d’Affaires at the Embassy of Poland in Egypt. He returned to the Middle East in 2012, when he was deputed as Head of the U.S. Interests Section at the Polish Embassy in Syria. In April 2013, he was assigned as Ambassador to the State of Kuwait.
On the occasion of the National Day of Poland, which commemorates the adoption of the Constitution of 3 May, 1791, we look at Poland’s long standing democratic traditions and how this has impacted the country’s relations with the rest of the world.
Despite its many hardships in the past, today, Poland is a country focused on a future-oriented developmental path and ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of a global economy, while still remaining committed to the principles of democracy and freedom for all. Ambassador Olszak is fine young representative of this outward-looking Poland.
It was our adherence to democratic values that led us to speak out against the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, said the ambassador. “In 1990, our Foreign Minister spoke out strongly in the United Nations against the violation of Kuwait’s sovereignty. Despite having good trade relations with Iraq at that time, he condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait unequivocally, and fully supported all UN Resolutions passed against Iraq. In his speech at the UN our Foreign Minister stressed 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…’”
“But it was not just through words that we supported Kuwait. In 1991, Polish troops were part of the Coalition Force that was formed to drive out the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait. Since then, visits by high-level Polish dignitaries and ministers, including the President and the Prime Minister, on more than one occasion, have helped cement bilateral relations between our two countries,” added the ambassador.
“Another important element that highlights the strong democratic values cherished by both countries is the firm ties that bind our two parliaments. Kuwait – Polish Parliamentary Friendship Groups function effectively in both parliaments, and mutual visits by these groups strengthen our relations and further enhance democratic parliamentary traditions in both countries.”
Looking back for a moment in history, we find that Poland has given much to the world in terms of democracy. Historically, the most famous Polish legal act was the Constitution of 3 May, 1791, which was adopted by the parliament of then Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a dualistic state comprising of Poland and Lithuania under a common monarch.
The Constitution, which has been described as the first of its kind in Europe, was designed to redress long-standing political defects of the Commonwealth and its Golden Liberty, which had conferred disproportionate rights on the nobility, and which had over time corrupted political life in the Commonwealth. The Constitution not only brought about political equality between people and the nobility, it also placed peasants under the protection of the government, thus lessening the worst abuses of slavery, which was prevalent in many parts of the country.
Unfortunately, the liberal Constitution of 1791, which sought to introduce a more egalitarian and democratic society, was considered a serious threat by Poland’s then more autocratic neighbors, including Prussia, Austria and Russia. The neighbors then collaborated to weaken and eventually destroy the Polish state. Despite this, the universal values enshrined in the Constitution of 1791 continued to influence many later democratic movements across the globe.
Besides the Constitution, much of what we today call ‘Human Rights’ can also be traced back to early Polish states. For instance, the Warsaw Confederation of 1573 confirmed religious freedom for everyone in Poland, which was extremely important given the multiethnic makeup of Polish society in those days. Slavery was banned across Poland as early as 1588, corporal punishment was prohibited since 1783 and universal women’s suffrage was introduced in 1918.
Today, Poland is one of the most stable and peaceful countries in the world, and was ranked in 2013 as among the top 40 countries globally in terms of Human Development Index and Corruption Perceptions Index. The country is also ranked 19th in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders. On the economic side, Poland with its strong domestic market, low private debt and flexible currency is a high-income economy and is considered one of the fastest growing economies within the European Union.
Poland is also the only European economy to have avoided the global recession that started in 2008. 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 became the world’s largest exporter of apples with a record apple production of over two million metric tons.
Elaborating on economic relations between Poland and Kuwait, 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. “I would like to point out 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,” said the ambassador.
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.”
Pointing to another area where the two countries have similar interests, the envoy noted that for more than forty years, the city of Janow Podlaski in Poland has been hosting an annual event dedicated to showcasing and auction of Polish Purebred Arabian Horses, at which Kuwaitis are regular guests. 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.
Tourism is another sector 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. Poland has many specialized medical centers, including one of leading centers for the research and treatment of cancer.
Noting that cultural ties between countries help strengthen relations on the popular level, the envoy continued, “Visiting Polish artists performing in Kuwait, as well as Polish musicians and music-instructors residing in the country, have played a great role in promoting Poland’s cultural and artistic diversity. Also, 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 for many decades.
The Kuwait Polish Archaeological Mission (KPAM), a branch of PCMA, 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.”
Expressing his happiness to be in the country, Ambassador Olszak thanked the leadership and government of Kuwait for their full support and cooperation, and the people of Kuwait for their warm hospitality and generosity.