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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 3, 2009
Portugal in Poland
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June 3, 2009   
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Portugal's ambassador to Poland, José Sequeira e Serpa, speaks with Hilary Heuler.

How would you describe current relations between Poland and Portugal?
I would say that relations are better than ever, we are improving our contacts in all fields. Of course, in political terms sometimes we have different perspectives about the same situation, and this is normal. But we have good bilateral cooperation with Poland in a variety of matters and we exchange support.

Our president was here in September. It was a very successful visit, opening new opportunities for dialogue, and we are expecting more bilateral visits soon. We had several discussions with President Lech Kaczyński, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk, with the leaders of the opposition and with Lech Wałęsa. There were also talks between the ministries of culture from both countries, and the ministries of foreign affairs. Then as something special, we had an economic seminar, to which Polish authorities and businessmen were invited, a "diplomatic seminar" gathering Portuguese ambassadors in Central Europe, and an exhibition of what we could call "the new Portugal." It wasn't an exhibition of traditional products, but rather of hi-tech products. Then in Cracow, the university set up a Chair of Portuguese. Part of the visit was dedicated to economic affairs, but culture was also emphasized-there was a concert, which was a great success, I think. President Kaczyński enjoyed it a lot.

Of course, relations could always be better than they are, but they are good and they are always improving.

Historically, have Portugal and Poland had much in common?
Of course, relations are not as close as they are with other neighboring countries. But I can tell you that the first political and economic exchange of visits was as early as the 16th century. It was by someone who came in 1529 and 1531 to Poznań and Cracow to establish commercial relations in Poland. So even if our two countries are not as close as they could be in geographical terms, there has been contact between them for a long time. One very interesting character who is not studied enough is a Polish citizen named Mahmet who arrived in Portugal in 1498 and played a very important role in overseas Portuguese policy at the time. He was from Poznań, and was apparently an expert on trade with India. Of course, his first contact with the Portuguese wasn't very comfortable. But eventually he was integrated, and he was "adopted" by the Portuguese king. He became a sort of councilor for the king and for Vasco da Gama in the field of Indian affairs. Mahmet eventually changed his name to Gaspar da Gama, godson of Vasco da Gama, with whom he was very close. As I said, this hasn't been researched enough, but some people here in Warsaw are studying his biography. It's a very interesting story! It's something we'd like to know more about.

In terms of more recent history, there has been a lot of cultural interest in Portugal here in Poland, and lots of Portuguese writers have been translated into Polish. Also, every year we have writers, poets and cartoonists coming to Warsaw and publishing their books here. It's not a huge movement, but it's continuous.

Portugal is an important investor in Poland. What opportunities do Portuguese investors see here, and what are the investment plans for the future?
Well of course, we have a bit of a crisis now, so investors are very careful. But I can tell you what's been going on over the past two years since I arrived in Poland. Basically, we doubled the number of Portuguese companies operating here. When I arrived there were 50, and now we have about 100 companies. They are very active. I think we have a lot of opportunities to have good economic relations with Poland, which is why our people are investing here.

Right now there are three major investors in Poland, which together create over 30,000 jobs. These are healthy companies, and although they are of course suffering a little bit in the crisis, they aren't suffering too much. There's Millennium Bank, for instance. Biedron¬ka is also Portuguese, and they are increasing their business as well.

Then there are a number of other companies operating in distribution and construction, and there's a huge amount of investment here in wind energy. Our main electricity company is working in this area with Poland. It's an area where we have some expertise and good technology, and we'd love to increase our investments. Apparent¬ly Poland is a particularly good place for wind energy- certainly better than for solar energy, judging from last winter!As for the plans for the future, I can't tell you, because it's the private sector and when they have big plans they tend to keep it secret.

Why would you encourage Poles to visit Portugal?
These days, the newest investment in Poland is a direct flight between Lisbon and Warsaw, which Portuguese Airlines will start operating on June 9. They will fly to Warsaw five times a week, at a very convenient price. As far as I know, there are already thousands of reservations, so I'm guessing this route might be very successful. I hope so, at least! It's good because it means we're getting closer to Poland. Right now, to go from Warsaw to Lisbon, you'll spend at least six or seven hours. But with this connection you can leave Poland and arrive in Lisbon three hours later (thanks to the time difference). It's a morning flight, so you can even leave Poland in the morning, have lunch in Lisbon and come back to sleep in your own bed in the evening. I don't necessarily advise you to do so, but if you want you can do it!

So what can we offer to Polish tourists? I think everything. One thing is good weather, though of course we can't guarantee that-we've had some nasty surprises recently. We've also got great cuisine in Portugal (which can be very dangerous for the figure), and a lot of history-as a nation, we are over 800 years old, after all.

It's a small country with good infrastructure, so even in a short time you can really see a lot. You can get from the north to the south in only a few hours. But I think the most important thing we can give is friendship. We like receiving foreign people. We like having contact with other cultures, and sometimes I think that's a lot more important than nice beaches. Even if you don't speak Portuguese it's not a problem, because people will try to understand you and to help you if you need it. For us, the essential thing is to share experiences and to make new friends. I hope it works, and I hope that this movement of people will be reciprocal.
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