The Warsaw Institute Review and the Warsaw Institute were represented in Canberra, Australia, by their Advisor, Alexander Wielgos, over the course of a two-day trip on July 22 and 23, 2019. This visit entailed a series of Strategy Duologues meetings which were all dedicated to supporting Polish and Australian relations and foreign policies from a down-up approach.
Australia and Poland have amiable relations, and it is an assembly of quite an array of stories, both in history and ongoing engagements between the two countries. In context of these stories from history and the present, the meetings in Canberra last week were but a small effort to play a small part in furthering these significant historical developments, provide some continuity; here from the think-tank level to various levels – Embassy, local, think tank, and Government – and paved the way to make some positive, tangible impacts in the future.
An earliest record pertaining to this assembly of stories suggests that in December 1696, from 3 Dutch expedition ships, 10 citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth disembarked onto Australia for the first time. Later, in 1803, the first Polish settler in Australia would become Joseph Potaski. Albeit not too much can be confirmed about Potaski, the general understanding is that after fighting in Kościuszko’s army he departed a Poland being partitioned and ended up being sent to Tasmania from England.
Later in 1839, after having travelled various continents, Sir Paul Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer and geologist, eventually ended up in Australia. Almost immediately, he set out with a small and diverse team exploring by foot and horse thoroughly the gorgeous and very unique Australian landscape, during which, in 1840, he named Australia’s highest peak ‘Mt. Kosciuszko’, ensuring a legacy of the contributions of Poles living in Australia. Other interesting feats include Gracius Joseph Broinowski, who studied Australia’s natural history and documented it.
Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Canberra
With these beginnings in mind, the first meeting of WIR and WI representative in Canberra was a Strategy Duologue on Geopolitics at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Canberra. Opening the visit, Meeting nr 1 makes it the first ever Strategy Duologue to take place outside of Warsaw, and fittingly it was with an Embassy of Poland. It began on the afternoon of Monday, July 22, 2019 Australian Capital Territory (ACT) time. Alexander Wielgos met with Deputy Head of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Agata Utnicka and First Counsellor Rafał Jarosz.
Naturally following up on the Strategy Duologue at the Residence of the Australian Ambassador to Warsaw H.E. Paul Wojciechowski (see more), the meeting analyzed prospects of Poland and Australia maneuvering the geopolitical chessboards in their respective regions, as well as the exchange of experiences of Poland and Australia in regard to troublesome activities of some actors in the regional vicinity.
‘Strategy Duologues on Geopolitics’ is an initiative of the Warsaw Institute Review quarterly aimed at developing bilateral relations between Poland and other countries by arranging meetings with Embassies, bringing together representatives of diplomatic circles, experts with Polish institutions and civil society. Elite-natured and of an expertise character, these are to develop geopolitical knowledge and enable strategic decision making, leading to new initiatives, projects, etc. with, most importantly, tangible results.
It is worth noting that besides the Polish individuals remembered who settled in Australia, accompanied them a steadily increasing number of Poles settling in Australia. What became the first Polish community was manifested mostly the Seven Hills area in South Australia. Being able to maintain the Polish language and elements of Polish culture, was important in context of Polish romanticism, as various able bodied and educated Poles were forced to emigrate after partitions. Additionally to this, having eventual place after seeking refuge – albeit distant – during Poland’s uprisings against its oppressing, occupying neighbors was important. At the time of WW2, there were about 6000 Poles settled in Australia. From 1947 to 1954, in the early days of the Cold War, however, over 50,000 Polish veterans and Displaced Persons (DPs) were accepted in an Australia seeking to increase their working populace.
Australian Institute for Polish Affairs
This part of the history was also discussed in brief at Meeting nr 2 in Canberra, on the evening of July 22, 2019, which was with leading representatives of the Polish Diaspora in the ACT; President of the Australian Institute for Polish Affairs (AIPA), Aleksander Gancarz, and Vice President of the Friends of Chopin Association Inc., Wanda Horky, at the White Eagle Club, a Polish restaurant and place for coordinating Polish Diaspora (i.e. Polonia) activities. Aside from AIPA and Friends of Chopin Association, there are 11 other functioning Polish organizations in the ACT alone, each varying from size and area on focus.
AIPA is one of the most well known in Australia, formed in 1990 and formalized in 1991. It aims to promote Poland and Australia, organizing conferences, lectures, events and inviting notable persons to Australia, namely several former Prime Ministers. AIPA has not shied away from feats which are less straight forward, including enabling dialogue between Polish and Jewish communities in Australia via slow, steady trust building. AIPA cooperates with various other institutions, also namely with several universities across Australia.
Evidence examined by the Friends of Chopin Association indicates that Chopin’s music sheets were even sold in Sydney around 1843. After pooling ideas for leaving a lasting impact of the bicentenary in Australia (since 1810), the Friends of Chopin Association organizes Chopin-themed piano concerts and competitions in Australia, the first being in 2011, then in 2014, in 2017, and hope to anticipate another next year, in 2020. This does mean that alongside this, also next year, AIPA will be celebrating 30 years of functionality. Upon initiating the piano themed concept, the Polish Embassy reached out to the Australian National University (ANU) School of Music for collaboration. The intent, successfully managed, is that these concert-competitions maintain the highest professional know-how as well as a strong Polish connection e.g. with Polish judges coming from Warsaw.
Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA)
The next morning, on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, Alexander Wielgos met with the National Executive Director of Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA), Dr. Bryce Wakefield, at the Stephen House in Canberra. Opening the second day of the visit, two went over the geopolitical dynamics which are pertinent to both Poland and Australia on a global scale, their approaches to international actors which have positive and questionable effects in their respective regions.
Interestingly enough, during the Battle of Crete in 1941, an Australian soldier, Sir Walter Edward Smith, was captured by the German forces. Having subsequently escaped two POW camps, he was sheltered by the Polish Underground and the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa). Then, upon the onset of the Warsaw Uprising 01.08.1944, Signalman Sir Walter Edward Smith was among the first foreigners to fight alongside the Poles in the historic operation. He returned to Australia after WW2, and much later on 15.10.1995 became the very first foreigner to be awarded the Uprising Cross, delivered personally in Sydney by then Ambassador of the Republic of Poland Dr. Agnieszka Morawińska. Accompanying this story, elsewhere in WW2, Australian and Polish soldiers also fought vehemently side by side. Most notable of these is the Italian Campaign, and particularly throughout the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of the Australian Government
Finally, the trip culminated with Meeting nr 4, in the afternoon of Tuesday, July 23, 2019, where Alexander Wielgos met with members of the North and Central Europe Section and others in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of the Australian Government in the DFAT Main Building. This meeting explored possibilities of cooperation.
Of note, President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda visited Australia for the first time on 17.08.2018 for a visit. Australia is currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU. Round 4 of the negotiations took place 01-05.07.2019 in Brussels. Additionally, Australia is a strong partner of NATO, with regular consultations and cooperation. Both Poland and Australia are steadfast and important allies of the US and maintain close ties.
The side of WI and WIR maintains that Poland, playing an increasingly leadership role in the Central Eastern European region, and Australia, playing a leadership role in the Oceania and Asia Pacific region, makes the bilateral relations of the two countries pertinent to connecting these two parts of the globe, and have potential to increase the important roles they play in regional security.
There are many more elements of history in the relations of Poland and Australia, which have more than enough potential to keep expanding. In all, these meetings underlined the potential for growth in exploring possibilities for cooperation with the geopolitical think tank and quarterly on various levels and through various platforms – Embassy, local, think tank, and Government –attest to the developing ties of Australia and Poland, and have a positive and tangible impact in the future.
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