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January 27, 2012, Friday

Where is the Polish ambassador?

It's cold in Warsaw and it is snowing. It seems I have brought the snow from Garmish-Partenkirchen with me. I have always preferred Krakow over Warsaw. I am speaking at the Turkey conference organized by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and the Stefan Batory Foundation. Konstanty Gebert, an acclaimed Polish journalist and columnist, and Dimitar Bechev, senior policy fellow and head of ECFR's office in Sofia, are gracious hosts. Turkey seems to be the flavor of the month as I am running from one conference to another these days.

Poland is doing very well. For the first time since ridding themselves of socialism a government has been reelected. No small achievement in a country where no government would last more than four years. The economy is doing well. Poland seems to be immune from the European economic malaise. Of course Poland is the land of art, culture and bitter history. Across the hotel there is a monument remembering the Poles exiled in Siberia during World War II. Close to 3 million Jews were killed by the Nazis in Poland. We Turks also have our share of history with the Poles.

Jan Sobieski, the Polish monarch who came to the rescue of Vienna in 1683 and who was key in defeating the Ottoman Turks, is a revered figure in the Western European psyche. Another very important feature in our history is of course the refusal of the Ottoman Turks to accept the partition of Poland in 1790. From 1790 until the end of World War I the various Ottoman Sultans never accepted Poland's partition. The Ottoman refusal was manifested in the following way: During the annual reception for foreign ambassadors at the Ottoman Court the court officials would ask loudly “where is the Polish ambassador?” in front of all ambassadors. The reply from Ottoman bureaucrats would be that the Polish ambassador “was on his way but is late because of adverse road conditions.” The exercise was a determined show of refusal to acquiesce to the partition of Poland. The Ottomans continued this practice until Poland was reestablished after World War I. The Poles were very touched by this story and they teach this in their schools to this day. We should too. It would be a prime example of how a great state maintains a consistent state policy.

Then, there is the beautiful Polonezköy, or Adampol as the Poles call it, near İstanbul. Founded in the mid-19th century by Adam Czartoryski it became an attraction for emigrants from the rebellion in November 1830, the Crimean War in 1853 and runaways from Siberia. In recent years it has become a prime location for Turkish-Polish friendship. İstanbul has always been a friendly destination for Polish émigrés. Many Polish revolutionaries could only save their lives by seeking refuge in the shadow of the Ottoman capital. The Russians and Austrians always demanded that the Polish émigrés be handed over to them. The Ottomans always refused. Sultan Abdülmecit (1823-1861) once replied to repeated calls from these two states that “he would be willing to hand over the Ottoman throne but he would not hand over people who had found refuge in the Ottoman state.”  

I remember the days when Poland's NATO membership was discussed in the alliance. Turkey has always supported Polish membership in NATO. Membership paved the way to full membership in the European Union. I am happy to see Poland do well and hope that its future role in the European context will be enhanced. These are days when the Poles are seeking a higher profile in international affairs. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski's speech last November in Berlin was hailed as a sign of those aspirations. I met Sikorski years ago when he was with the American Enterprise Institute. He has great oratory skills and is of course very well connected in the New World. We Turks would be most happy to see Warsaw play a prominent role in European affairs and add a consistent voice in favor of closer Turkish-European relations. 

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