Polish-Georgian kinship: Defining a vicennial
The relationship between Poland and Georgia has been growing ever closer. A common history of struggles has been highlighted with the commemoration of the Georgian officers who served in the Polish Army.
History has not remembered the noteworthy connections between such geographically distant and ethnically contrasting peoples as the Georgians and Poles. Adam Mickiewicz believed this could be explained by the Caucasian origins of the Polish nobility, while Stefan Żeromski, the “conscience of Polish literature,” always used to depict a captured Pole next to a Georgian in Siberian exile. Over 500 years, from perpetual struggle for independence to a present-day polarised electorate and COVID-19, this relationship is moving towards progress. This article presents key events between these two nations within the last 20 years.
Since the opening of the Polish embassy in Georgia in 1997, the states have unveiled new paths towards cooperation and European integration. Relationships between governments are important, but relationships between people are the real foundation of proximity. Accordingly, it was promptly followed by the revitalisation of cultural-scientific activities. For example, Tbilisi State University started to provide Polish language and history classes, while massive student exchange programs started to take place between Ilia State University and Silesian University.
In 2004, the Georgian embassy in Warsaw officially started to operate, while the Development Aid Program of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched in Georgia. Over the course of 16 years, “Polish Aid” covered areas such as effective governance, regional development and social welfare. Regarding aid, Tbilisi also received humanitarian aid during the middle stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During World War II, 108 Georgians fought in the ranks of the Polish Army. Some of them commanded fortified Cracow and others guarded the northern front of the Polish capital. During the 1944 uprising, several of them, including a 16-year-old girl, lost their lives. They all came from the same combat campaign, led by Armia Krajowa. Notably, the deceased president Lech Kaczyński was deeply aware of the names and heroic deeds during the upheaval, since his father and close friend of Georgian servicemen, Rajmond Kaczyński, happened to be an officer of the Armia Krajowa. Relationships between governments are important, but relationships between people are the real foundation of proximity. Forasmuch as shared endeavors during the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, in 2007, a memorial was erected in honor of Georgian officers at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
2009 marked another major occasion for the two nations, which was regarded by some people as modern Prometheism, a political project that was initiated by Polish statesman Jozef Piłsudski during the early years of Bolshevism and which aimed to back the Eastern European states pressured by Russia. In 2009, Warsaw (along with Stockholm) came to one of the most decisive decisions in the history of the EU. This decision aimed to strengthen and deepen the relationship between Brussels and post-Soviet countries, vital for the ultimate goal – EU integration. Throughout the 11 years, the framework has ensured support for the active engagement of Georgian civil society in political life, gender equality, good governance and other crucial metrics to becoming a member of the European Union. Thanks to the Eastern Partnership, thousands of Georgian students were granted the opportunity to continue their education in leading European universities. This specific goal, set by Poland, has greatly contributed to the strengthened will and support of Georgians for European integration, while the initiative is a central point in Georgian foreign policy priorities. Simultaneously, in the same year, the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation started to operate.
As president Kennedy once stated, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” On the 90th anniversary of the arrival of Georgian cadets to Piłsudski’s army, Warsaw hosted the opening of the Museum of Georgian officers in the Polish Army. Although Paris became popular for political refugees, these servicemen found a new home in Poland. The 2011 museum turned into the second Leuville for the Georgian people. At the same time, the Caucasian region witnessed unprecedented joint military drills, which gathered NATO member states along with its Eastern partners. Since then, Georgian-Polish military cooperation significantly increased in scope as “Agile Spirit” became an effective mechanism to exercise the response to crisis situations with a heavy military apparatus.
In April 2015, Polish minister of Foreign Affairs Grzegorz Schetyna flew to Georgia with his Swedish and Danish colleagues to sign the “Tbilisi Conference” declaration, an interagency document that provides Polish knowledge and assistance along the path to Georgian European integration. The meeting takes place annually in Tbilisi between ministry representatives and stands as one of the most effective mechanisms for sharing Polish practice towards the EU.
Yet another important demonstration of historic ties lies in the joint parliamentary assembly, founded in 2018, which also happens to be one of the biggest assemblies in the Sejm. The legislative unit implies the institutionalisation of relations and aims to further strengthen parliamentary cooperation by developing common positions on topics of mutual interest. During the last 20 years, Warsaw and Tbilisi signed more than fifteen international agreements regulating cooperation between the countries in the fields of defense, economy, tourism, regional development, culture, education, healthcare and others.
2018 also marked the 100 year anniversary since the two countries restored their independence and declared their republics. During the occurrence, Tbilisi hosted the opening of the Polish Institute, which aims to promote the comprehensive development of Polish-Georgian relations in the fields of public and cultural diplomacy. Since then, the institute has supported the best Georgian artists and awards the Sigmund Valiszevsky prize, along with several thousand euros. The Polish Institute also provides free language and history courses, which stand as unique opportunities for Georgian people who are willing to study Poland or deepen their literacy about the two nations’ bond. 2018 was a significantly productive year for Polish-Georgian cultural diplomacy, as milestones in the spheres of politico-military cooperation also took place. Specifically, the Polish embassy started to operate as a NATO-Georgian contact point until the end of 2020. This is part of the initiative that was launched by the alliance in the early 1990s, which aims to support the Euro-Atlantic integration of post-Soviet states. For two years, the embassy has served as a main channel for raising awareness of NATO’s role in Georgia.
A year later, another new momentous chapter was written in the shared history. Wroclaw became the first city across Poland where a Georgian consulate was established. It is noteworthy that the official opening ceremony coincided with the 26 year anniversary of the fall of the Abkhazian Region. The consulate effectively assists immigration and conducts proper documentation for Georgian citizens, and intends to deepen the relationship between the countries, as well as cities. According to the city mayor, the goal of Wroclaw is to become a bridge between Poland and Georgia. With that in mind, 2 months before the official opening of the consulate, the city signed a partnership agreement with Batumi to develop cultural-scientific relations. The agreement is an expansion of cooperation which has bound the regions of Adjara and Lower Silesia since 2016. Shortly after, the “Georgian officers of the Polish Army” roundabout opened. It is located 15 minutes away from the old town and stands as one of the symbols of the kinship.
The common European aspirations of Poland and Georgia were revitalised after regaining independence in the 1990s, but the vigorous kinship has been developing for six centuries. Since the collapse of the USSR, the countries have developed a series of spheres of cooperation which have given people an opportunity to be freed from and defend their common past for a conventional future. The success of kinship relies on a historical commitment to serving each other, and the two nations, perhaps, should get credit for preserving their historic bond come hell or high water.
Bacho Chubinidze is a Georgian diplomat based in Poland. He holds an MA in European Interdisciplinary Studies from College of Europe and is fluent in Polish, Russian and English. During the studies, he sought to extend the reach of diplomacy and had accepted as an intern at the Embassy of Georgia to the Republic of Poland. Currently, he is living in Kraków and actively engaged in the embassy activities, while publishes articles about the history and international affairs.
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