Looking to the future. From 1989 to the present day (part 1)
It is only after the collapse of communism in the Central and Eastern Europe that regular, fully-fledged bilateral relations between Poland and Portugal could begin to establish themselves. Nonetheless, we must not fail to appreciate the 1974-1989 revival in bilateral exchange, especially in the areas of culture and science. Poland won its sovereignty back; also, the country underwent democratic and socio-economic transition, whose catalyst was the parliamentary elections of 1989, and an overwhelming victory of the ‘Solidarity’ movement’s opposition. As Warsaw has managed to shake off Moscow’s supervision, it was finally in a position to arrange its international affairs without any interference. And so it decided to pursue a path of integration with the European Communities (EC) and NATO. The bilateral relations were indeed relaunched and developed on a fast track, yet the potential here was fully in sync with the capacities on both sides. It is under the Portuguese presidency in the EC of 1992 that the trade-related part of Poland’s association agreement took effect; the said agreement chapter was signed in December 1991. Poland would take a vivid interest in Portuguese free market experiences.
In 1993, the president of the Republic of Poland, Lech Wałęsa, paid an official visit to Portugal; the following year he was revisited by the president of the Portuguese Republic, Mário Soares. Afterwards, bilateral contacts on various levels intensified, which enabled cooperation in a number of fields. In the end, Portugal ensured Poland a friendly and active support on its path of the EU integration, despite some concerns it had displayed in the beginning with regard to the potential loss of cohesion funds. Portugal treated Poland as the partner in the Central and Eastern Europe, and backed its NATO integration as well. Soon the Portuguese investments with a focus on Poland started, and likewise cooperation between respective regions and municipalities; trade exchange also grew steadily. Importantly, both states entered into some new bilateral agreements; they concerned: promotion and mutual protection of investments; abolition of visa requirements (1993); avoidance of double taxation (1995); cooperation in the field of tourism (2003), and science and technology (2005). It has become a symbol of cooperation and good relations that representatives of two countries generally sit next to each other at various international forums because the sitting order is usually alphabetical.
It is no wonder the development of Polish-Portuguese bilateral relations sped up considerably after Poland’s integration into NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. The intensification, unprecedented in history and seen to this day, was only just beginning. Political dialogue between Poland and Portugal has since been conducted at the highest level, with remarkable dynamism being the leading feature of mutual contacts. Cooperation in many areas is now very good, political and economic interests that both countries put forward tend to overlap; furthermore, both governments are willing to cooperate for the sake of overcoming crises in Europe. Crucially, academic contacts and the promotion of the Portuguese language and culture are developing within the Camões Institute (IC) and the Portuguese Studies departments in Warsaw, Lublin (with the only IC Portuguese Language Centre in Poland), Cracow (with the Vergílio Ferreira IC Chair), Poznań, Wrocław and Gdańsk. On another end, the University of Lisbon usually offers courses in the Polish language, literature and culture. There were new honorary consulates opened in both countries – a Portuguese one in Poznań and Polish ones in Oporto and Albufeira.
The mutual contacts would not have been furthered if it had not been for an important yet hardly noticed role of expats: there are now more and more Polish residents in Portugal and the Portuguese in Poland, however the latter group is less numerous. The number of Poles in Portugal has kept increasing ever since they were entitled to work legally in their host country in 2006. Interestingly, to move to Portugal has become somewhat of a vogue recently. Another thing to factor in for the rapprochement between two countries has been the Erasmus Programme with its student exchanges. Equally, the tourist traffic has been booming. It became apparent with the launch of first direct flights between Poland and Portugal by TAP Portugal in 2009, other airlines have since followed suit. Strikingly, Poland premiered in 2017 among the top ten countries from which tourists most often choose to visit Portugal. The country has risen to a ‘trendy’ destination, with Poles exploring the delights of Lisbon, Oporto, and the Algarve region; pilgrimages to the Fatima shrine must not escape our notice either. According to the 2019 figures, around 30,000 Portuguese travelled to Poland annually, and ten times as many Poles to Portugal.
- President of the Republic of Poland Lech Wałęsa with president of Portugal Mário Soares at the Castle of St. George in Lisbon. 13th May 1993. © PAP (J. Mazur).
- President of the Portuguese Republic Jorge Sampaio and president of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski review the company of honour in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. 14th September 1998. © AHPR (J. Brilhante)
- President of the Portuguese Republic Jorge Sampaio, and president of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, at the Belém National Palace in Lisbon before an official dinner with their spouses. 1st June 1998. © AHPR (O. Teixeira)
- President of the Portuguese Republic Aníbal Cavaco Silva and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk during a meeting at the Belvedere Palace in Warsaw. 3rd September 2008. © PAP (R. Pietruszka)
- Prime Minister of Portugal António Guterres and prime minister of the Republic of Poland Jerzy Buzek during a welcome in front of the St. Benedict Palace in Lisbon as part of an official visit of the Pole. 20th January 2000. © PAP/EPA (A. Cotrim)
- Audience of Polish foreign minister Bronisław Geremek with Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio at the Belém National Palace in Lisbon. 4th January 1999. © AHPR (J. Brilhante)