Calendars \ Calendar 2014 \ Testimony by Wojciech Ponikiewski


Nowadays, being the Polish Ambassador in Italy is simply a matter of luck. It seems banal to state the becoming ambassador in Italy can be enough to make you happy. But there are a whole series of things to back up the theory that this is a really special circumstance. I’ll try to explain briefly.

Historical relations between Poland and Italy date back to the early years of the formation of the state of Poland and particularly to the period in which the kingdom of Poland was recognised by the Vatican. However, initially they were probably not very close, although Polish students came to study in Padua and Bologna from as early as the Middle Ages and Italian missionaries also travelled to Poland.

Everything accelerated considerably during the renaissance, when Italian influences reached their peak and were to have a strong and unprecedented impact in culture, literature, architecture, music and Polish education system.

In our historic memory a leading role was played by the Italian princess Bona Sforza, who married King Sigismund the Elder. Her temperament and her Italian court were the driving force for great changes in our lifestyle and the development of buildings and they even inspired linguistic innovations. The word “włoszczyzna” for example, the translation of “Italianness”, which means “vegetables”, or Polish versions of Italian names of single vegetables. In the 16th and 17th centuries, practically the most well-known representatives of the Polish intellectual world, from Copernicus to Kochanowski, all studied in Italy. Now all you have to do is visit Poland to understand just how extraordinarily Italian architects have influenced the appearance of our cities. In practically every big Polish city the most important buildings were designed by Italian architects, or at least by imitators of the Italian style. This “overdose” of “Italianness” and its influence on Polish culture and literature were to lead to the contesting by certain Polish intellectuals of what was known as “maccaronism”, i.e.: the excessive influence of the Italian language, particularly on Polish language and literature.

When, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as happened in other European countries, Polish culture eased its way out from under the Italian influence and embraced the French influence instead, Poland and Italy were joined by ideals that regarded other spheres of life: politics and the fight for freedom.

In 1797 in Reggio Emilia, not only was the Italian flag born, the Polish national anthem was composed too. The chorus of the song of the Polish legionnaires who formed their units in Italy to fight for the republican ideals and then travel to the homeland to free it, repeats: “Forward march, Dąbrowski, from the Italian land to Poland under your guide we will join the nation”. In 1927 the song officially became the country’s national anthem.

The Song of the Italians by Goffredo Mameli, composed in 1847, which remembers “the blood of Italy and the Polish blood” drawn by the shared enemy of our countries, was officially recognised as the Italian national anthem in 1946 and is an explanation of the very special links that were created between Polish and Italian patriots at that time.

In 1863, Francesco Nullo from Bergamo, leader of a military unit of the Expedition of the Thousand, took part in the Polish uprising that was supposed to free Poland from Russian rule. Nullo lost his life and the uprising failed but the Italian became a hero in Poland.

The 20th century placed more than one obstacle in the way of development of bilateral relations between Poland and Italy, even though the unified Italy and newly reborn Poland established diplomatic relations in 1919.

Unfortunately, in 1939 we were on opposite sides. After the War, Poland became part of the communist block while Italy was lucky enough to become a democracy. Everything changed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two countries became closer again. On the basis of an Italian idea, the Pentagonale (an organisation whose members also included Poland, now known as the Central European Initiative), was created. Later we found ourselves working side by side in NATO and in the EU. However, only during recent years has Italy’s interest in Poland grown considerably, both in the political and economic spheres.

Intergovernmental summits are held, Italian investments in Poland occupy one of the top positions among foreign investments and most of Italy’s major companies are well settled in Poland, employing qualified labour, the professional skills of our engineers and the vast domestic market. The volume of commercial exchanges between Poland and Italy exceeds 15 billion euros but Italian exports to Poland are higher than its imports. Nevertheless, Polish companies too are concentrating more determinedly on the Italian market and Polish food products are becoming more popular with Italian consumers. Cultural exchanges are flourishing. I would just like to remind you that the works of Catelan and Guercino will be exhibited this year in Poland. Last year, a big exhibition of masterpieces by the Veneto masters from the collection of the Carrara Academy in Bergamo, was held in Poznan.

Polish contemporary art and Polish films are greatly appreciated in Italy. Just last year, over 30 Polish literary works were translated into Italian. Polish language and literature courses are held in no fewer than 13 Italian universities and are very popular among Italian students. Lastly, if we add that, as regards the main issues on the international agenda, Poland and Italy adopt the same stance, tell me if you think there could possibly be a better job for an ambassador. The answer is definitely NO, which is unfortunate, because sooner or later I shall have to leave this country and will probably never have the chance of working (and living) with more pleasure and satisfaction than in the Italian capital.

Wojciech Ponikiewski
Wojciech Ponikiewski

Wojciech Ponikiewski

   clp © 2013 Di Meo Vini ad Arte