Co-Authors: Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova & Dr Zuzana Palovic
The Voices of the East: Perspectives in a Divided Europe? Series Part #5
Interview with His Excellency Dr Arkady Rzegocki
Today’s Poland, a Western ally fully integrated into the EU and NATO, was born out of a very troubled history. The strategic importance of the vast Polish territory, stretching from the core of Europe all the way to the Northern Sea, has made it the bone of contention for many. The division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Kingdom of Prussia, Austria and Russia is one painful reminder of this past. Then of course, came the lethal game between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, whose rivalry unfolded at great cost to the country. But the long history of foreign threats also had a positive effect. It helped to sow a bottomless love for freedom in the Polish nation.
It is only natural that Poland continues to stretch its support to Ukrainians struggling for their freedom, just across the border. Firmly grounded in the historic, political and economic contexts of Central Europe, Poland is also keen to cement its cooperation with its neighbours under the auspices of the Visegrad Four platform.
As Dr Rzegocki unveils the struggles and successes of Poland and Central Eastern Europe, he advocates a clear and strong message: the Polish love of freedom does not know compromises.
Every anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the past
Soon, 100 years will have passed since the end of the First World War offering a wonderful opportunity to look back at the path we have taken since. However, it is important to remember that the world has changed dramatically since. The situation and geopolitical conditions of today are very different to those of the early 20th century.
The seeds of many of our current problems were sown in the late 18th century
The partitioning of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the great powers of Europe meant that a great Christian state disappeared from the map of Europe setting a precedent for the future. The late Edmund Burke, a British philosopher and politician, foresaw the ramifications of this manoeuvre. He forewarned that the partitioning of the two nations, would bring huge problems and terrible consequences to Europe and the international order.
Without understanding this event, it is hard to gain clarity on the recent developments in Ukraine
The separation of the past did not only effect Poland, but also Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. The unjust partitioning of the 18th century was the beginning of future problems of Europe and internal divides within the region.
Because of Poland’s painful history, we think that freedom is the most fundamental virtue
This is why we sympathise with the Ukrainians. After all, Poland and parts of Ukraine once formed a single state of the Commonwealth. Together, we share centuries of mutual history, for good and for worse. Today, Poles and Ukrainians are neighbours and we find many similarities in our languages and cultures.
All Ukrainians wanted was a freer state with better institutions and without corruption
I remember when the Orange Revolution started in 2003. A wave of huge support arose among the Polish for the Ukrainian effort. After that came Euromaidan, which was also met with sympathy in Poland. We have great respect for Ukraine’s fight for freedom.
You can hear Ukrainian often on the streets of any major Polish city
We opened our doors to Ukrainians in search for better and safer life. In last 2 to 3 years alone we received around 1 million Ukrainians. Some as refugees, others as economic migrants.
The aggression of Russia is a great threat to us
We are worried about Russia’s activities because they mean a change in the borders of Europe. What happened in Ukraine was and still is against international law. It is a danger not only to our continent’s future, but global peace as well.
International order is based on trust
When one country decides to attack the sovereignty and integrity of another state, this is a cause for concern. Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine mirrors its aggression in Georgia. In fact, the 2008 incident in Georgia was the first such incident since the end of the Cold War.
It is critical that Europe agreed to condemn the aggression of Russia and support the sanctions
We believe that they should last for as long as it is necessary for Russia to change its attitude. Until then, we need reinforcement troops along the Union’s Eastern border, from the Baltics down to Bulgaria. Our partners from our fellow NATO countries recognise that the situation with Russia is very serious.
The Visegrad-Four is an important group within the European Union, not against it
Our aim is to make the European Union stronger, simply because we do not want the Union to fail. To achieve that, Poland and its Visegrad partners share the opinion that the EU needs to be reformed. Which is why we cooperate on issues that are of common interest. For instance, we work together on infrastructure projects to improve road connection across the four countries. It is also in this way that we strengthen our relations.
The world does not know about us.
The V4 platform is an opportunity for all of us to make our part of Europe more visible. Because of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, most people in the West know very little about central Europe. Many of the problems we are facing as a region today, including the negative reputation in the wake of the migrant crisis, stem from our low visibility. It all goes down to not knowing us and therefore not understanding us. To illustrate this point, Poland received around 100,000 Chechen refugees as a result of the civil war in Russia about 10 years ago. Nobody knows about our history of accepting refugees.
It is unlikely that any Polish government will agree to relocate refugees from the Middle East
But, the reason is much more practical then the West would like to acknowledge. We cannot force them to travel to Poland and keep them in our country by force, because we believe in freedom. Most of these refugees do not want to come to Poland or Central Europe. Their goal is to go further West.
Poland had the first European constitution in Europe
The 3rd of May is our National Day when we also commemorate our very first Constitution dating back to 1791. Few know that it was Europe’s very first constitution. Central Europe has a very strong parliamentary heritage ing general. Our region has a long history of limiting the power of kings and encouraging citizen activity, even before the liberalisation of the 90s. This is also why we have such a resistance to totalitarian regimes.
Our countries achieved remarkable success after 1989, we have a lot to share with the world
After 1989, we had to start from scratch and built our economies from zero. Now all V4 countries have stable economies and some are doing very well. The Polish GDP has been growing continuously since 1992. I am very proud of our exceptional growth and success.
His Excellency Dr Arkady Rzegocki
Dr Rzegocki arrived in London with extensive knowledge of political thought. His passion for politics drew his academic exploration to some of the world’s most renowned institutions, including University College Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge.
Some time ago, Mr Rzegocki made it his personal mission to promote Poland both from within, but also from outside the country. Arkady served as the Councillor of Krakow and became the engine behind the Polish University Abroad, as well as the Jagellonian University - Polish Research Centre in London. As the Polish ambassador, he is fully committed to raising awareness of Poland in the UK.