In search for a model of relations 1919-1939 (part 1)

The fact that the Polish state regained independence in 1918 became a prerequisite for regular developments in the area of Polish-Portuguese relations. The official recognition of the restored Polish statehood by the government in Lisbon came on 21st June 1919. Around that time, the political situation in Portugal was far from stable, therefore the Republic of Poland’s envoy, Franciszek Ksawery Orłowski, could present his credentials before the Portuguese president only as late as on 13th May 1922. It is fair to consider the latter the date when bilateral diplomatic relations were actually re-established, i.e. assumed their modern shape. For austerity reasons, though, Poland’s representative resided in Madrid at first, although Portugal started its diplomatic mission in Warsaw early, already in summer 1923.

There had been plans to start an independent Polish legation in Lisbon from1927, they eventually failed, however, due to budgetary issues. August Zaleski, Polish minister of foreign affairs, paid a visit in Portugal’s capital in June 1929. Still in 1929, on 28th December, the two states managed to conclude a trade and navigation convention, subject of bilateral negotiations since 1924, although the talks themselves were discontinued en route several times. The convention granted the state-parties, with some exceptions, the most-favoured-nation clauses. The agreement was ratified in March and April 1931, respectively. A year before, the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Portugal had set up an office in Lisbon. The institution was headed by an engineer Samuel Schwartz, a Polish Jew from the town of Zgierz, a Polish citizen, researcher of Jewish history in Portugal. Trade kept growing in volume, but Warsaw and Lisbon failed to agree on an annex to the convention, in spite of several years of negotiations. A consular convention and an extradition and criminal legal aid agreement were not concluded, either. 

The actual climax of Polish-Portuguese relations in the interbellum came about between December 1930 and March 1931. Then, the Madeira island, the Atlantic’s ‘pearl’ and ‘paradise’, became a leisure destination for Marshal Józef Piłsudski, founding father of the Polish independence and de facto head of state. When Piłsudski was visiting Lisbon’s Belém Palace, the president of the Portuguese Republic, General Óscar Carmona, awarded him the Grand Cross of the Military Order of the Tower and Sword; a rematch occurred four months later when Jan Perłowski, Poland’s envoy, decorated the Portuguese head of state with the Order of the White Eagle. Interestingly, had Marshal Piłsudski stayed ten days longer on Madeira, he would have witnessed a revolt by the republican opposition against the dictatorship, which resulted in it seizing power on the island for almost a month. The Polish leader took away good memories, and later admitted that happy is a country whose Siberia happens to be Madeira.

1933 saw the bilateral diplomatic relations fully-fledged at last, as it was now possible to exercise them without any constraints with an independent diplomatic Legation of Poland with a seat in Lisbon. The contacts had been growing in intensity every single year before World War II broke out. The Polish envoys were following the one-of-a-kind conservative dictatorship of Estado Novo with interest, and reported back to the country on the Portuguese transitions.

Lisbon’s attitude to the Spanish Civil War had been closely watched since 1936. It was a time when Polish intelligence began to be active on the Tagus. In 1937, Karol Dubicz-Penther, a reserve Major and, at the same time, the clandestine head of the ‘Anitra’ intelligence agency of the Second Bureau of the General Staff , became an envoy in Portugal, whose main task was to observe the Spanish conflict. A conversation between the diplomat and prime minister António Salazar resulted in anti-Comintern collaboration, about which, however, not much is known. The Polish intelligence service was also represented in Lisbon by a military attaché. The Polish side tried to sell arms to Portugal, hardly successfully. Interest was shown in also maritime affairs as Poland started to expand its presence on seas and oceans. Honorary consulates played an important role – Portugal established its offices in Warsaw, the Free City of Gdańsk, Łódź and Gdynia, while Poland ran its posts in Lisbon, Oporto, Funchal, Benguela in Angola, and Ponta Delgada in the Azores.


  • Rear Admiral Luís António de Magalhães Correia, Minister of the Portuguese Navy (4th from left), after being awarded the Grand Ribbon of the Order of Polonia Restituta by Jan Perłowski, Polish envoy in Lisbon. Lisbon, 27th January1932. © ANTT
  • Marshal Józef Piłsudski and General Óscar Carmona with attendees at a luncheon given in honour of the Polish guest in front of the National Palace in Belém, Lisbon. 20th December1930. © ANTT
  • Thomaz Ribeiro de Mello, Portuguese envoy in Poland, leaves the Bristol Hotel in Warsaw for the ceremony of depositing credentials before the president of the Republic of Poland. 17th October 1930. © NAC
  • Jan Perłowski, envoy of the Republic of Poland in Portugal, after presenting credentials to the president of the Portuguese Republic. Lisbon, 27th July 1927. © ANTT
  • Jan Perłowski, envoy of the Republic of Poland in Portugal (standing 10th from right) during a tea party given in his honour by the Polish colony in Lisbon, Polish citizens of Jewish nationality. 21st July 1927. © ANTT
  • First Portuguese envoy in Poland Vasco de Quevedo (5th from right, wearing a fur cap) at a representative hunt in Spała attended by Polish president Ignacy Mościcki. January 1927. © NAC