28 (123) 2017
Download PDF-version


Raising awareness about Poland – my main priority

Header ambasador arkady rzegocki poland  3   002


Michael Dembinski talks to Arkady Rzegocki, Poland’s ambassador to the UK

You have an outstanding knowledge of the post-war Polish diaspora in the UK and its contribution to British society. Do you think Poles living in Poland know enough about the Polish ex-servicemen and their families who made their home in Britain after the war? What can be done to broaden that knowledge?

The activity of the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Polish Armed Forces in the West, as well as the social and cultural achievements and heritage of the Polish émigré community in London, are still not a fully discovered part of our nation’s history. Even after facing forced migration in the wake of the German and Soviet aggression on Poland in 1939, exiled Poles did not lose hope to return one day to and help rebuild their homeland. Unfortunately, they had to wait 50 years for their dream to come true. For five long decades, the government-in-exile along with political, military, cultural, and scientific elites were forced to operate outside of Poland, fighting for the recognition of Poland’s cause amongst the western authorities and societies, and organise support for their fellow countrymen as well as the Polish diaspora spread across the world.

Because of communist propaganda, Poles back home knew very little about the activities of the London-based government, or the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Nevertheless, we know that the contribution and sacrifice of the Polish military in the Allied victory was significant, and the political elites in London maintained close links with the anti-communist opposition after the war. Their continued efforts secured important support for the Polish independence movement, but their greatest achievement was the preservation of the symbolical and institutional continuity of sovereign Republic of Poland. They created a 'Poland outside Poland' that ended in 1990 when the last president-in-exile, Ryszard ‪Kaczorowski, returned to ‪Warsaw after the fall of communism, and handed over the presidential insignia to the democratically elected Lech ‪Wałęsa.

To celebrate this heritage, Polish Embassy in London launched a promotional and educational project under the title Republic in Exile. The project, which includes a short documentary series and an online archive, covers the activity of the exiled Polish authorities and the wider Polish émigré community in Britain during the Second World War and in the post-war period up until the political breakthrough of 1989-1991. We invite the Polish and British public to explore this inspiring story, and appeal to all those who have access to previously unpublished photographs or documents connected to the Polish Government-in-Exile or the life in emigration to support our project.

As a founder of the Jagiellonian University Polish Research Centre in London, have you observed an increased interest from the British public about Poland’s history and culture? Have students’ perceptions of Poland changed; do they understand the complexity of Polish history and society?

I believe that interest in Poland is steadily growing in the UK.  Of course, to large extent it can be seen as a result of the significant scale of inflow of Polish citizens to the British Isles after 2004. However, I do notice that this initial interest is already growing to a more mature form of comprehensive academic studies about Poland and Polish culture as well as more widely seen interest in Poland’s history, especially its common Polish-British chapters. I see it as one of my top priorities to make knowledge on Poland more and more common and widely accessible to the British public, and I will use all available means to push this forward.

After many years of double-digit growth in Polish exports to the UK, 2016 saw a marked slow-down in the tempo. Czechia has overtaken the UK as Poland's second-largest export market. What can be done – by the BPCC, by the Polish government, by the Polish Embassy in London, to boost exports?

The Polish Development Fund (PDF) will be the key instrument for boosting Polish export in the coming years. It was established based on the existing development institutions (part of the functions of BGK, Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, Polish Investments for Development, Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency, Industrial Development Agency and Export Credit Insurance Corporation). The Fund integrates and organises the tools offered by those institutions and will propose new ones. As a result, their effectiveness will increase. The support will cover numerous areas, like investment, export and promotion of innovation. The structure of the PDF will include a professional division for export support. It will support foreign expansion of companies and promote Polish export and Polish products. It will closely cooperate with local and regional authorities across Poland.

The Polish inward investment agency, PAIiIZ, has had a shake-up, with new name (PAIH) and new president, Tomasz Pisula. How will this effect the work of the Polish Embassy in London in terms of supporting Polish exporters looking to enter the UK market? Will you still be focusing on trade fairs and exhibitions?

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Economic Development are carrying out a reform of Poland’s economic diplomacy. Existing Trade and Investment Promotion Sections in embassies and consulates around the world will be replaced by trade offices. The Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, which soon will be transformed into Polish Agency for Investment and Trade, has already opened Foreign Trade Office in Singapore, San Francisco, Ho Chi Minh, Shanghai, Teheran and Nairobi. In 2017 offices in Budapest, Frankfurt, Dubai and Mexico will be opened. The range of services offered by trade offices will be similar to those provided by existing economic diplomacy institutions and will include – finding potential partners in the UK for Polish manufacturers/exporters, organising seminars and tailor-made presentations about business opportunities in the UK, assisting in the organisation of business trips and study tours for Polish entrepreneurs interested in selling goods or services to the UK, assistance in initiating first contacts between interested British importers, distributors or wholesalers and Polish manufacturers or service providers and, extensive information on trade shows and exhibitions organised in the UK.

More and more Polish companies are internationalising, heeding their government's call to 'go global'. The UK – even after Brexit – will remain an outstanding location for striking out to markets in North America, the Middle East and the Far East. How will the Polish Embassy be helping Polish firms setting up in Britain? Do you think that for innovative Polish start-ups, opening UK operations can be more advantageous than trying to go global from Poland?

The Embassy of Poland in the UK actively supports bilateral Polish-British economic relations. It also assists, through various activities of the Trade and Investment Promotion Section, the Economic Section and the Consular Section of the Embassy, Polish entrepreneurs conducting business in the UK. All sections of the Embassy closely cooperate with various organisations and associations of Polish entrepreneurs in the UK, such as the PB Link, United Poles, the Association of Polish Technicians in the UK or the Polish City Club.

The planned replacement of the Trade and Investment Promotion Sections of Polish Embassies by Foreign Trade Offices of PAIH is aimed at strengthening and intensifying the help given to Polish businesses in their internationalisation, particularly small- and medium-sized companies. In my opinion, the UK is with no doubt the European leader in innovation. Poland’s start-ups can follow British examples and learn from the best, whereas Polish entrepreneurs can benefit from governmental support programmes aimed at companies introducing innovations to their businesses. Innovation, the development and commercialisation of products, processes, and services that are new to the market – represents a challenge and an opportunity for Poland and Polish entrepreneurs. The government in Poland has started different programmes to make Poland attractive to innovative start-ups, but I am convinced that Polish start-ups in the UK will continue to develop and to benefit from a very competitive and advantageous position of the UK in this sector.  

Poland continues to attract investment in more higher-value activities such as R&D, knowledge-based outsourcing and advanced manufacturing. What is the Polish Embassy doing to ensure UK investors are made aware of the opportunities that Poland can offer them?

We are here in London to help British and Polish companies to establish fruitful business relations by providing information on Poland and the Polish economy, and the market and business opportunities there. One of the main tasks of the Trade and Investment Section in London is to assist British businesses looking to import goods and services from Poland or to locate their activity in our country. The new PAIH Trade Offices to be introduced soon are meant to be even more effective in attracting foreign investors to Poland. They’ll be supported by the group of institutions aggregated in the Polish Development Fund, which I mentioned before. As a stable and dynamic economic growth, sensible business decisions and wise management of public finances has become strongly associated with our country Poland is seen as a trustworthy and reliable partner for international business. Through our contacts with central and local governmental institutions, financial and industrial organisations, universities and media the Embassy shall assist our Trade and Investment Promotion Section and then PAIH Trade Office to popularise this knowledge in the UK. Organisation of seminars and conferences as well as tailor-made presentations of Poland as an attractive place to invest will be undoubtedly the most common way of doing it.

British-Polish relations are facing some challenges at the moment - since the referendum, there has been increased hostility towards Poles living and working in the UK; Brexit-related uncertainty haunts trade and investment decisions - how do you assess the scale of these challenges, and what should both governments be doing to improve relations?

I have a different opinion on the status of Polish-British relations. Of course, right after the outcome of the referendum, Poland voiced clearly that it would have preferred the UK to remain in the EU. The UK’s departure from the union means that we lose one of our closest and trusted partners within this club.

The deplorable attacks on Poles who live in the UK were the tragic aftermath of the referendum, and the Polish government, together with the British one, were very firm in stating that any hostility towards EU nationals living in the UK cannot and will not be accepted or justified. The cooperation between our respective authorities on this is very effective. And just as we are united in combating such hostile attitudes, these incidents do not shape the wide-ranging spectrum of Polish-British relations. They are rather incidents which we tackle together.

Both Poland and the UK see the value in further enhancement of our bilateral ties, which is manifested by establishing the framework of annual Inter-Governmental Consultations headed by the prime ministers of our two countries. I would add to this the very intensive collaboration in foreign and security policy, defence, business and academic spheres. I’m convinced that the partnership between Poland and the UK will be cemented and developed further by our two nations.

Finally - in your opinion - will it be hard or soft Brexit?

Hopefully, it will be a sensible one, without emotions taking over. The democratic decision taken by the British people should not be used either to demonise the EU or to make the UK suffer. Such short-sightedness on both sides can only harm the bonds between the EU and the UK and undermine the principles on which such relationship shall be based, namely mutual respect, the significance of democratic decisions, recognition of the common challenges that we face, and the scale of political and economic opportunities that close cooperation brings. We should not reject all this for the sake of temporary and low satisfaction of any side.

More in Interviews:

Effecting introductions and presenting market insights – the BPCC in Britain

Michael Dembinski talks to Michael Clay, the BPCC's vice-chairman UK, about the development of the British-Polish trading relationship since Poland's EU accession –  as seen from the UK.

Market needs, market niches

Michael Dembinski talks to one of the most successful of the new wave of Polish entrepreneurs in the UK, Paweł Mes, founder and owner of money transfer company OneMoneyMail, which trades as Sami Swoi.