It’s not every day one has the opportunity to mark a six hundredth anniversary of anything – my Oxford college managed its five hundredth five years ago – especially if a country has had a history as difficult as Poland’s. However, Poland and Turkey are this year marking 600 years of diplomatic relations in commemoration of which the prime minister of Turkey has announced in Warsaw that visa requirements for Poles to visit Turkey will be removed.
“Every modern inhabitant of Lehistan, meaning Poland, will be able to visit Istanbul without any barriers or difficulties,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu while at the National Opera here. The Turkish prime minister Davutoglu also said that he hoped Poland would assist Turkey in securing visa-free travel for Turks throughout the Schengen zone. For her part, the Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz commented that not only was this good news for Polish tourists but also for Turkey as Polish tourists spend their money in Turkey. “We will always be a good ambassador in the European Union for Turkey” Kopacz said and “I hope that in future we will be able to co-operate as fellow members of the EU.”
The 600 years of diplomatic relations date back to a Polish embassy sent to the Ottoman Empire in 1414. Prime minister Kopacz noted that “it is rare that two countries can jointly celebrate 600 years of diplomatic relations.” The Ottoman Empire was one of the few states that did not officially recognize the Partitions of Poland which lead to the country’s disappearance from the map for over a century and Poland was one of the first countries to recognize the Republic of Turkey after it was proclaimed in 1923.
Of course, welcome as this gesture no doubt is, when it comes to gaining visa free travel, Poland looks westwards rather than eastwards. The refusal of the Unites Stated to include Poland in the visa waiver programme, which programme does include the Baltic Republics, Czech, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, remain an irritation, and not without good reason you might think.
Poland has been a staunch ally of the USA – unguarded comments of former foreign minister Radek Sikorski notwithstanding (please see Shattered Reputations) – be it supporting the allied efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, buying (no doubt expensively) US F-16 military fighters, and rather less wisely, it is alleged, allowing the CIA to carry out the delightfully euphemistically named water boarding of an Al Qaeda suspect at a military facility at Stare Kiejkuty, near the Szczytno-Szymany airport, around 2003. Leszek Miller, who was prime minister of Poland at the time, has consistently denied the existence of a ‘black site’ torture facility in recent years and Poland is conducting an investigation into the allegations, although it been criticised for repeatedly delaying publication of the report.
Be that as it may, US President Barack Obama called Ewa Kopacz prior to the publication of a US Senate report on alleged secret CIA prisons worldwide. This report may well name Poland as a host of an alleged black site for terrorist suspects, although some commentators have forecast that no specific country will be mentioned.
During the call, Obama and Kopacz also discussed their commitment to NATO’s Newport Summit, with Obama confirming that US troops will remain stationed in Poland for “as long as is required.” The Ukraine was discussed and Obama pointed to the need for further consultation with Poland, which in this respect has taken on a leading role in the European Union. While President Obama thanked Kopacz for Poland’s continued involvement in Afghanistan, she expressed her support for the coalition against the so called Islamic State, and confirmed that “Poland is ready to continue to provide humanitarian aid, and also to allow for other forms of support to the Iraqi authorities.”
There was no suggestion that the vexed visa question was discussed but then again, why would it have been. The US already has more or les what it wants from the relationship and gratitude has never been a feature of foreign relations. Kopacz could do worse than study the history of the US – British relations and conclude that a friend in need is not so much a friend indeed, as the saying goes, but an opportunity. Of course, the best foreign policy is as stated by Viscount Palmerston, the UK’s greatest Foreign Secretary: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”