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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 29, 2008
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Transcending Borders
October 29, 2008   
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The Spanish ambassador to Poland, Francisco Fernandez Fabregas, talks with Hilary Heuler.

You arrived here only a few weeks ago. Can you tell us about your background?
I've been to Poland several times before, but as ambassador I'm new. Before I was a professor at the Madrid Complutense University, and I'm a doctor of law and economics. I've been a director-general in the European Union and a household chief for the royal household in Madrid, with King Juan Carlos. I've also been ambassador to Belgium.

When were you last in Poland, and what are your experiences with the country?
The first time I was in Poland was in 1974, quite a long time ago, and things were slightly different. At the time we were opening the commercial delegation for Spain in Poland, and I came through my work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open offices and an administration system. Since then, I've been here several times with the European Union, and I've been on private trips to Poland-to Cracow, Poznań and Warsaw. I am now learning Polish, and I hope to speak it in about six months.

What changes have you noticed since your first trip here?
There have been changes in Poland, as well as in Spain-at the time we had General Franco's regime, and here there was a communist regime. At that time the European Union had only nine members. It was still very much "old Europe." Now we have a different concept of Europe and of European countries. Except for the Polish people, everything has changed in Poland. But the soul of the Polish people has remained the same. They are always confident about the future, they are respectful, they are wonderful and very clever people. They are very proud of being Polish, exactly the same as they were in 1974. But the rest has changed a lot. The only thing that remains the same, I think, is the Russian embassy and the Palace of Culture.

What's your view of diplomatic relations between Spain and Poland? Are there any common issues the two countries are addressing?
We are both European countries, old European countries and old European partners. And we also both believe that Europe does not end within its borders, but that it does have some limits. It cannot open to everyone. Nor can we think that everything is going to change suddenly just because we are both in the European Union. Both Poland and Spain are border countries of Europe, so there are a lot of similarities. But there are also big differences, not only in terms of climate but also from a historical point of view. Poland and Spain have both been invaded many times, and they have both been enriched by new people coming into the country. Our cultures are products of different cultures visiting or invading us, and that's why diplomatic and social relations between Spain and Poland are so fluid and easy. The only problem we have is language, but in that case the Poles are better prepared than we are because they can pronounce Spanish better than we can pronounce Polish.

What are the big differences between the two countries?
The location of Spain's border and Poland's border are completely different. We neighbor Africa, and Poland neighbors Eastern Europe, so the influences have been different. Poland was in the center of the world in the ninth, 10th and 11th centuries, and we were the center of the world in the 15th and the 16th centuries. Poland was never invaded by the Arabs, while we have had Arabs for eight centuries in Spain, not invading us, but living as Spaniards like us. Poland has been under pressure from the Russians and Austrians, completely different civilizations.

Would you say that Poland and Spain share a lot of common ground in their experiences with the European Union?
It's a very simple and yet a very difficult question. There is the general idea that Poland and Spain share the same position in entering the European Union, but there are big differences. First of all, Spain entered the European Union when the European Union didn't exist-it was the European Community. Secondly, Poland entered the EU after the disappearance of the Eastern Bloc. And third, Poland and Spain came into the EU in different global situations. But there are also a lot of similarities: the same population, the same desire to be considered Europeans. In the past we've both been considered border countries, not really part of Europe, but we are and we want to be recognized as Europeans, as partners in a larger Europe. We have not arrived asking for support and help; both Poland and Spain can actually give a lot of support to Europe.

To what extent do Poland and Spain share a vision of the future and direction of the European Union?
Both Poland and Spain intend to convince the rest of Europe that the former borders of the EU are no longer sustainable. We have to be aware that Europe needs to open to the east, as well as to the south. In the last General Affairs Council, the EU offered special status to Morocco. That's the first move toward recognizing that we are bordering a new situation to the south. Poland is now asking for new consideration of neighboring countries like Ukraine and Russia, because Poland is conscious that Europe needs these countries too. Europe needs to have some limits, but it also needs to understand the countries and people surrounding it. It isn't necessary for all the surrounding countries to become European, but we do need to see them as neighbors, as people with whom we can share ideas, and some ideals as well.

What kinds of opportunities are available in Warsaw for people who want to learn more about Spain and the Spanish language?
We have the biggest Cervantes Institute in the world, and there are more than 9,000 students at the Institute here in Warsaw. Spanish is also becoming the second most popular foreign language for university studies; there are three Iberican sections at Warsaw University, "Iberican" meaning Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American. Spanish is becoming the third European language, and even the third world language after Chinese and English. People in Poland are starting to realize that Spanish is not only the language they speak in Spain, but is also the second language in the United States. It's the language of 400 million people in Latin America. The biggest Spanish-speaking capital is not Madrid, it's Mexico City, with 17 million people. That's why people in Poland are trying to learn the language. After that, they start to discover Spanish culture, and Spanish culture is much more than just the culture of one nation, it's the culture of Latin America as well.

Spain's National Day was on Oct. 12. Can you explain its significance?
The national day of Spain is something very important. It isn't the day of a battle victory or the end of a world war, Oct. 12 is the day Christopher Columbus said, "Tierra a la vista!" ["Land ho!"] and discovered America. It's the day that signifies the opening of a new era. That's why we celebrate Oct. 12, not June 24, the day of the king, as is the case in many European monarchies. We have the day of discovering a new era, charting a new period of life, when Europe was no longer the center of the world but discovered the world. We celebrate this because Latin Americans are a part of us, and we are a part of them. We are all a part of a new, modern world.
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