Looking to the future. From 1989 to the present day (part 2)
In economic terms, a real highlight in the history of Polish-Portuguese relations was a series of Portuguese investments on the Polish market, which is considered of strategic importance in the whole Central and Eastern Europe region. A few most recognisable brands managed to secure themselves a special position: Jerónimo Martins Group, owner of Biedronka discount shops, the largest retail chain in Poland, and additionally the largest private employer in Poland; Bank Millennium bcp, which includes Bank Millennium (until 2003 Bank Gdański), the seventh largest in Poland, as well as the renewable energy company EDP Renováveis and the construction company Mota-Engil. An important stakeholder is the Polish-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, established in 2008, which now bands together as many as around 200 entities and happens to be the fourth largest Portuguese economic chamber worldwide, and the sixth such organisation in terms of size in Poland; it is also active in other Portuguese-speaking countries.
At the end of 2020, Portuguese capital invested in Poland amounted to €820 million, down from 2018, when it amounted to €1.63 billion. Polish investments in Portugal, on the other hand, amounted to €64 million in this period – the most prominent companies include Asseco from the IT sector and Inglot, a cosmetics manufacturer. Bilateral trade has been growing on an ongoing basis (in 2021 it reached a record high of more than €2.6 billion), although its percentage share in the exports and imports of both countries does not exceed 2%. For years, Poland has recorded a positive balance in this trade, which mainly concerns products of the electromechanical industry. The country is now vigorously catching up, leaving behind the period of losses and development gaps in 1939-1989. As a result, Poland is making a slow leap towards Portugal’s economic level. Notably, the difference in the economic strengths as measured by GDP per capita at the beginning of the transformation was twice as high in favour of the latter.
A comprehensive development of bilateral relations in a number of fields must have triggered a greater mutual interest in the very topic of contacts between two countries in history. The most important scholarly study of Polish-Portuguese ties is a monograph on cultural and literary, as well as historical, relations from the 16th to the 19th century, published in 1991 by Elżbieta Milewska, PhD, of the University of Warsaw, who died in 2019. There have been dozens of important cultural and scientific events with focus on Polish-Portuguese contacts and ties. These were commemorated by, among others, the exhibition ‘Portugal in the Collection of the Gdańsk Library’ (2000), the unveiling of a bust of Marshal Józef Piłsudski in Funchal, Madeira (2009), the tombstone of November insurgent and Portuguese army general Józef Chełmicki in Tavira and the plaque commemorating Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s stay at the Hotel Palácio in Estoril in 1940, exhibition in Estoril and Warsaw dedicated to Polish refugees in Portugal during World War II (2011), unveiling of a bust of Frederic Chopin in Lisbon (2012), exhibition ‘(In)continuity. Portugal in the twentieth century from the fall of the monarchy to the Carnation Revolution’ at the History Meeting House in Warsaw (2014), celebrations in the Polish capital dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Portugal’s reception of Polish civilian and military refugees during World War II (2015), the Lusitanian Congress ‘Around the world in 40 years. Encounters and Returns in Portuguese’, organised by the Institute of Iberian and Ibero-American Studies at the University of Warsaw on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Portuguese Studies (2018), the exhibition ‘When Portugal Reigned on the Seas. The Golden Age of Polish History’ at the Assembly of the Republic in Lisbon (2019), gala concerts in both capitals to mark the 100th anniversary of the re-establishment of Poland-Portugal relations (2022). There have also been hundreds of conferences, exhibitions, concerts and musical recitals, competitions, cultural days, theatre and film screenings, initiated by state institutions, including the Embassy of Portugal in Warsaw and the Embassy of Poland in Lisbon, the Camões Institute, and non-governmental organisations. In both countries, the literature of the partner country is increasingly well known, which is not least due to the Nobel prizes in literature awarded to Polish and Portuguese authors, as well as thanks to the contribution by many Polish-Portuguese translators.
It seems both the Portuguese Republic and the Republic of Poland have now jumped on the bandwagon as they keep fostering their friendly relations. Both co-shape the European Union and NATO. The states are democratic and independent, which is a sine qua non to be able to unleash the potential of regular, normal relations embracing all the areas of life. Raising awareness around ever closer bilateral ties should go hand in hand with a reflection back in time on the history of centuries-old bonds between our two nations and states.
- President of the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic Maria da Assunção Esteves speaks at the Polish Parliament (Sejm) in Warsaw during the summit of heads of parliaments of the European Union. 20th April 2012. © PAP (L. Szymański)
- President of the Republic of Poland Bronisław Komorowski and mayor of Lisbon António Costa unveil a bust of Frederic Chopin. Second from left, Anna Kalewska, Professor of the University of Warsaw, scholar of the Portuguese studies and translator. 19th April 2012. © PAP (J. Turczyk)
- Jagiellonian University Rector Professor Wojciech Nowak awards the medal ‘Pro Ratio Quam Vis’ (‘More means reason than strength’) to the president of the European Commission and former prime minister of Portugal José Manuel Barroso during a meeting of the Jagiellonian University Senate on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of the oldest Polish university. Cracow, 10th May 2014 © PAP (S. Rozpędzik).
- Portuguese prime minister António Costa and Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki during a meeting at the Chancellery of Prime Minister in Warsaw. 20th May 2022 © PAP (M. Obara).
- President of the Portuguese Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and president of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda at the Belém National Palace in Lisbon during the working visit of the Polish head of state. 27th April 2016. © AHPR (M. Figueiredo Lopes).
- President of the Portuguese Republic Aníbal Cavaco Silva inscribes himself in the book of condolences at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Lisbon after the crash of a Polish government plane in which Polish president Lech Kaczyński and his delegation died. 11th April 2010. © AHPR (L.F. Catarino)