World

Poland-Indonesia relations:
Not just about red and
white

Separated by geographical distance, Poland and Indonesia have much in common. The two nations use identical colors of red and white for their flags, and their respective histories are full of wars for independence and maintaining national unity.

Without much fanfare, relations between the two countries have survived world and regime changes, since they were first established in the late 1950s.

The fight against climate change has bound them even closer. Indonesia and Poland, as well as Denmark, are playing a pivotal role in creating a new international commitment to reducing global emissions.

Poland will host the UN conference on climate change in December, which is expected to result in an action plan to implement the Bali road map agreed to in last year's conference in Indonesia.

"We have enjoyed sound and vibrant relations so far," says Maciej Orzechowski of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Polish Parliament (Sejm).

However, nothing special has really happened with regard to bilateral ties, except for formalities, following the fall of Indonesia's founding president Sukarno in the mid-1960s until after Poland broke away from the communist bloc in 1990.

That the European and Asian nations have kept their friendship, if not intimacy, intact until today is because of great contributions from the likes of former Polish ambassador to Indonesia Andrezeja Nusantara Wawrzyniaka.

Since leaving his post in Jakarta in the early 1970s, he has maintained contact with numerous Indonesian figures, ranging from government officials to artists, and persistently promoted Indonesian and Asian cultures. The Indonesian government, through former president Soeharto, conferred upon him a medal in recognition of his efforts to help preserve bilateral relations.

Indeed, an Indonesian atmosphere pervades his house-museum in Warsaw. Paintings by noted Indonesian artists the late Affandi, Srihadi, Popo Iskandar, Nyoman Gunarsa, and souvenirs adorn the building.

"I don't know why I fell in love with Indonesia. It's not something I can explain," he says, recalling his close encounter with diverse Indonesian cultures during his posting to the country more than three decades ago.

His middle name, given by president Sukarno, speaks volumes of his Indonesian connection. There is a kind of personal link between him and Indonesia, and the country remains one his regular destinations when going overseas.

Warsaw also saw a three-month exhibition of the Papuan Asmat tribe's art, which closed late last month. The event, according to one of its guides Piotr Cichocki, drew a considerable number of people. particularly school children, almost every day.

"It's a spectacular exhibition for the public and they want to know more about the exotic culture of the Asmat," Cichocki said recently.

Indonesian Ambassador to Poland Hazairin Pohan says the fall of communism in Poland provided Indonesia with "fertile ground" for further cooperation.

"Poland has changed and joined the democratic club along with Indonesia. Both countries have signed cooperation agreements, and it's the people and business sectors that should take advantage of the facilities," Hazairin said.

Cultural exchange is a work in progress, as is trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

Bilateral trade in 2006 was valued at US$600 million, with Indonesia enjoying a $220 million surplus. Indonesia's imports from Poland are mostly military equipment, while exports include CPO, textiles, wood products and electronic goods.

Hazairin said the trade volume was expected to increase by up to 40 percent next year.

Signs of strengthening economic ties are visible with two Polish companies seeking $2 billion in investment in coal mining, not to mention rising interest in power-plant construction projects.

"Industry players in Poland are considering investment in Indonesia as a strategic decision," Hazairin says.

A delegation of Polish state company executives is scheduled to visit Indonesia in January to further boost economic relations between the two countries.

Sejm member Orzechowski admits the need to explore people-to-people contact is lacking in the bilateral ties Poland and Indonesia have built.

He said the Polish parliament had proposed the government initiate student exchange programs and provide scholarships to Indonesian nationals to study in Polish universities.

"Not only is the student exchange program important, but it will help us maintain long-lasting cooperation. The students will be our ambassadors of friendship," Orzechowski said.

He said Poland, home to Nobel laureate Marie Curie, was a suitable place for Indonesian and Asian students to study technology.

"We have no other suggestion of choices but technology," he says.

Hazairin said both governments were working on broader cooperation in education, which would include joint research, transfer of technology and student exchanges.

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