Between dictatorship and democracy.

From the postwar freezing of relations, through the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, to the collapse of communism in Poland (1945-1974-1989)

After World War II had come to an end, Portugal did not recognise the Soviet-imposed communist rule in Warsaw. By 1958, there had been an unofficial mission of the Polish government in exile, headed consecutively be former diplomats Gustaw Potworowski and Jan Tomaszewski, mother of the latter being Portuguese. Moreover, by the mid-1960s, Portugal had housed a Polish Honorary Consulate with a British Colonel Martin Leslie in command. However, these outposts were provided no official recognition on the part of the Portuguese MFA. No permission was granted by prime minister Salazar to the establishment of a free Polish publishing house in Portugal either, despite the efforts by General Władysław Anders. Yet, the prime minister came favourably upfront another request of the general, i.e. for him to be authorised to settle in Portugal for a while. The authorisation was, however, never redeemed. This coincided in time with the most refugee departures from the country. Some 200 people stayed, notwithstanding, the group made up by the staff of pre-war Polish institutions, as well as diplomats and intelligence officers. In was not infrequent in the Cold War period that these people would be joining the ranks of the Radio Free Europe.

Back then, few Polish artists and scientists chose to settle in Portugal; on the other hand, if it were for the Portuguese to emigrate towards the East, it must have been due to their mixed marriages. In 1973, Maria Danilewicz, a literary critic, bibliographer, writer, long-time manager of the Polish Library in London, settled in Feijó near Lisbon. She married a publisher and journalist Dr Adam Zieliński, author of studies on episodes from the history of Polish-Portuguese relations. Their home, Quinta das Romãzeiras, became one of the most important centres of Polishness in Portugal until the writer’s death in 2003.

In the so-called Polish People’s Republic (PRL), the press would be full of rather critical accounts of Estado Novo, while it presented a clearly positive attitude vis-à-vis the Portuguese opposition. And by the same token, the Portuguese newspapers would take a similar stance to the Warsaw regime and Poles fighting the communism, respectively. There were hardly any trade relations in between two countries. In 1956, The National Bank of Poland and the Bank of Portugal signed an agreement which enabled a non-intermediated trade activities. In 1972, trade turnover with Portugal accounted for less than 1% of the PRL’s annual trade with capitalist countries. From 1961, Warsaw backed the struggle for independence in Portuguese colonies in Africa, whereby it voiced its support for a change in favour of ‘non-capitalist’ and ‘progressive’ regimes. From 1972 onwards, secret supplies of arms and military equipment were sent there as part of the division of tasks in the Soviet bloc, although they were not significant in comparison with provisions from countries in the camp.

There was a U-turn in bilateral relations following the so-called Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974. ‘The revolution process’ was by and large welcomed in the PRL. The new Portuguese authorities could rely on its ideological backing, and, to a rather humble degree, support in other domains. It is the result of ‘consultations with Soviet comrades’ that the Political Bureau of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) decided to go for a re-opening of diplomatic relations with Portugal. The decision took shape on 11th July 1974 in Lisbon after an exchange of diplomatic notes. Respective embassies assumed their duties, and in 1975 Edward Gierek, first secretary of the Central Committee of the PZPR, took on official trip to Lisbon. He was the first head of a communist state to have ever been received in the Portuguese capital. A return visit of Portuguese president General Francisco da Costa Gomes took place in autumn, 1975. Among other things, it resulted in an agreement on cultural and scientific cooperation.

Another launch of bilateral relations became a fact. However, they could develop well only as long as Portugal was governed by cabinets with the Armed Forces Movement and the Council of the Revolution nominees at the steer. There were incoming and outgoing state and party visits between two countries. PRL’s authorities nurtured tight bonds with the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), whose secretary-general Álvaro Cunhal was received in Poland on several occasions. When the anchor of democracy had rested firmly at Europe’s Atlantic coast, with subsequent constitutional governments recruited mostly from the members of the Socialist Party, whom the PRL considered an accomplice to NATO in ‘meddling in Portugal’s internal affairs’, the bilateral relations cooled.

An actual breach came into being when the rule in Portugal was taken over by the centre right in 1980; the party placed now greater focus on the PRL’s misconduct in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms. On its end, Warsaw launched diplomatic endeavours against any form of support for the Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement by the General Union of Workers (UGT). E.g., it tried to block a visit of Lech Wałęsa in Lisbon. The Portuguese government condemned the martial law in Poland (1981-1983), as well as the use of force by the regime to suppress protests which resulted in ca. 100 deaths. According to the PRL Embassy, it took a ‘more drastic’ stance than NATO, since it levied harsh sanctions. John Paul II’s visit to Portugal in 1982 was of great importance, too: the Polish pontiff received the warmest reception of all the European countries visited, except his own.

The period 1974-1989 was very much about establishing ties in the fields of culture and science. There were book publications on Portugal in Poland and on Poland in Portugal, there were translations of fiction, as well as scholarship exchanges, however the commitment was far greater on the part of researchers and students from Poland than of the Portuguese ones. There were departments of Portuguese Studies marking their presence on Polish universities, with the first one at the University of Warsaw in 1978. The year after, the University of Lisbon set up a course in the Polish language and culture. Portugal began to send to the PRL teachers of the Institute of Portuguese Culture and Language (from 1992 – Instituto Camões). 

The incompatible economic systems of two countries could by no means find any drive for economic cooperation; further impediments in the area were the advancing crisis in the PRL from 1976 onwards, and the political instability in Portugal. There was barely any cooperation neither in shipbuilding nor in mechanical engineering. In 1976, the PZPR, at the request of the fraternal PCP, organised a management course for ‘economic activists’ involved in ‘revolutionary’ processes in enterprises ‘under workers’ control’. Trade increased. Tourism was also initiated, but turnover in this area was rather miniscule.


  • First secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party Edward Gierek and Portuguese prime minister Vasco Gonçalves during the farewell to the Polish delegation at Lisbon airport. 17th January 1975. © PAP
  • President of Portugal and chairman of the Council of the Revolution, General Francisco da Costa Gomes, and Edward Gierek, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, sign a declaration on the development of friendly relations and cooperation, 30th September 1975. © PAP (J. Morek)
  • Polish-Portuguese plenary talks at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Warsaw during the visit to the Polish People’s Republic of minister Ernesto Melo Antunes. March 1976. © PAP (S. Dąbrowiecki).
  • Portugal’s minister of foreign affairs Ernesto Melo Antunes paying an official visit to the Polish People’s Republic, and chairman of the Council of State of the Polish People’s Republic Professor Henryk Jabłoński during a meeting at the Belvedere Palace in Warsaw. March 1976. © PAP (S. Dąbrowiecki)
  • General Wojciech Jaruzelski, chairman of the Military Council for National Salvation, the extra-constitutional junta administering the Polish People’s Republic during martial law, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, and Álvaro Cunhal, secretary-general of the Portuguese Communist Party, during a meeting under martial law. Warsaw, April 1982. © PAP (D. Kwiatkowski)
  • Major General Władysław Anders, commander of the Second Polish Corps, victor from Monte Cassino. London, 4th April 1945. © NAC (Cz. Datka)