On Monday Last week, Taiwan received a donation of 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from Poland, which touched the hearts of Taiwanese. Anyone who knows Poles would not have been at all surprised by the gesture: They are a naturally warmhearted people. I often tell my students that Poles and Taiwanese share many of the same character traits: Both have a history of courageously standing up to powerful forces, are kind and hospitable, tenacious, hardworking and they firmly believe in the benefits of democracy. No wonder, then, that the friendship between the two nations is deep and lasting.
During the 1990s, having only recently thrown off the shackles of a communist regime, Poland’s economy was in a fragile state.
The government developed the Balcerowicz Plan, more commonly known as “shock therapy,” to rapidly reform the Polish economy and transition from state ownership and central planning to capitalism and a market economy. The plan turned Poland into a model of reform.
Poland is blessed with many advantages, including an excellent geographic location, market potential, a highly skilled workforce, and abundant agricultural and mineral resources. This has made the country a magnet for foreign investment, while it continues to receive large amounts of EU subsidies: It is the largest beneficiary of any EU member state.
From Taiwan’s perspective, Poland is an extremely attractive market and investment opportunity, in addition to being the best gateway into Europe.
One elderly Pole once proudly told me that although Poland was once governed by a communist regime, Poles are libertarian to the core: Even communism could not snuff out the flame of liberty.
The Solidarity trade union, founded in 1980, led a nine-year resistance movement against Poland’s then-communist government. By 1989, Poland had become increasingly ungovernable and the regime finally acquiesced to a round-table meeting with the opposition. Solidarity won a landslide victory at the next legislative election and established the first “decommunization” government in Central and Eastern Europe, in so doing accelerating the democratization process within the region.
In 1990, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa became Poland’s first democratically elected president. Walesa has visited Taiwan five times and has praised the nation for its democratic achievements. During his first visit in 1996, Walesa delivered a speech at the Legislative Yuan in which he said: “I believe that good will prevail.” This is what Taiwan hopes for in terms of its interaction with the outside world.
Two decades ago, there were very few Taiwanese expatriates in Poland, but the two countries have made steady progress toward establishing relations. As early as 1992, Taiwan established the Taipei Representative Office in the Polish capital, Warsaw.
While studying in Poland, I experienced first-hand the difficult situation that Taiwan faces on the international stage, but still Taiwan’s frontline diplomatic staff continued to forge on ahead, striving to obtain opportunities for international cooperation. While in Poland, I received a scholarship from the Polish government — a tangible benefit of the two nations’ close cooperation.
As Poland continues to evolve and progress, it has shown itself to be a standout success of democratic government, both in Europe and the wider world. The close relationship between Taiwan and Poland has been forged through a shared appreciation for democracy, liberty and human rights: Long may it continue.
Emilia Chen is a teacher of Polish at National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.
Translated by Edward Jones
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