In his article for Diplomacy & Trade, historian Tamás Katona, also a former Hungarian ambassador to Poland, looks at Hungarian-Polish cooperation from a historical perspective - from the birth of the two states to their EU presidencies.
Nietzsche once said, that your friend is never the neighbor, but the neighbor of the neighbor. Looking back upon the history of mankind that seems true, but we know, that there are always exceptions regarding academic sentences. Even Hungary is aware of such an exception. We have had a common frontier with Poland for more than nine hundred years, and the two states (and what is more, the two nations, the two societies) are befriended for more than thousand years.
The birth of the two states coincided, as the two nations formed their independent kingdoms around the year 1000, accepting the western type of Christianity (and with that a European way of thinking). We could easily add the kingdom of Bohemia to the aforementioned two: it was also born around 1000. Thus, the “Visegrad quadrangle” cooperation of Poland, Hungary, Czech Lands and Slovakia has deep historical roots, as well. (Present-day Slovakia was part of Hungary before 1918.)
The Visegrad cooperation began in 1335, when the Hungarian king succeeded in persuading his Polish and Czech colleagues to end their hostilities, to conclude peace and work together. In the 14th century, King Louis of Hungary became the ruler of Poland, as well. In the 15th, King W³adys³aw of Poland was the head of state of Hungary simultaneously. In the 16th, the Hungarian ruling Prince of Transylvania, Stephen Bathory was elected by the Polish Diet to serve as king. In these centuries, both countries fought to save Europe from barbaric invasion from south and east: against Turks and Russians.
After the Turkish wars, economic ties were strengthened. One example might be enough. During some periods of the 18th century, more than twelve thousand hectoliters of Tokay wine was sent to Poland. Hungarian foreign trade almost collapsed when Russia, Prussia and Austria ended the sovereignty of Poland and partitioned her territory. During the anti-Russian freedom fight of the Poles in 1830, Hungarian Parliament discussed openly the situation in Poland, and the absolute majority of Hungarian counties solemnly asked King-Emperor Francis to intervene in Saint Petersburg for keeping up the Polish constitution and to grant freedom to the so-called Russian Poland, the part of historical Poland, which fell to Russia, but according to the decisions of the Congress of Vienna, was to be governed in constitutional form.
Both Hungary and Russian Poland were constitutional states, but Russia and Austria were not. King Francis did not intervene, and Russian Poland became a simple Russian province. There is a memorial tablet on the Staszic Palace (the Palace of the Polish Academy of Sciences) in Warsaw to commemorate this Hungarian initiative. During the anti-Austrian freedom fight of Hungary in 1848-1849, more than 4,000 Polish youngsters crossed the heavily guarded passes of the Carpathians, the traditional Polish-Hungarian frontier, joined the Hungarian army, forming an independent Polish Legion, and fought bravely until the last day. The inscription on their flag was “Za wolnosc nasza i wasza” (For freedom, ours and yours).
WWII Polish refugees in Hungary
In 1920, Hungary, losing two thirds of her territory after World War I, beaten and poor, nevertheless, sent over her ammunition reserve to Warsaw to help Poland in her fight against Soviet troops. In 1939, after the German-Soviet occupation of the country, more than 100,000 Polish soldiers and civilians crossed the then still existing common frontier and found refuge in Hungary. For a while, the only Polish secondary school in Europe was that in Balatonboglar (at Lake Balaton), led by the Catholic priest, Bela Varga (who came to be the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament after 1945).
The “Refugee’s Paradise” is still vividly remembered in Poland. We find in Warsaw streets named after Hungarians: Bela Varga, Prime Minister Count Pal Teleki, Minister of Interior Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer and Minister Jozsef Antall. The anti-Soviet demonstrations of 1956 began in June, in Poznan, Poland. In October 1956, the starting point of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight was a pro-Poland solidarity meeting. During and after the fight, we got enormous quantities of human blood from Poland for our blessed. The most important shipment came from the Club of the Friends of Hungary in Tarnow, Southern Poland. The Club was founded in 1956 – and is still working, primarily, in the field of cultural relations.
Ambassador in a friendly country
This reminds us, that the relations of the two countries have to be more than sheer sympathetic nostalgia. The work done in the Visegrad Three (1990), later Four (1993) clearly shows how important cooperation had been on our tiresome way towards the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Today, the Czech Republic, surrounded by Germans and Austrians is somewhat less interested in the Visegrad process as before, but the other three countries on the eastern border of the Union still have very much in common. We have to serve our common interests; we have to create bridges towards our neighbors, who still are outside the European Union: Ukraine, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia. Poland with her size, with her forty million inhabitants, ought to be the leading force of this important work.
When serving in Poland as Ambassador, I always had the feeling that this friendly country is ready and capable of doing it. This can not be considered as showing off and playing the big country. Poland is a big country, an important partner even for countries bigger than her – a fact already understood by Slovakia. We have to do the same – making use of the historical and cultural ties, of the natural feelings of bilateral sympathy, of all the common interests. The situation that after Hungary, Poland takes over the presidency of the Union offers a really good new starting point. The two moderate right-wing governments have not only common interests, but they share common values, as well. Hungarian foreign policy has to realize the importance of Poland and the possibilities – hidden and visible – in our further cooperation. A cooperation based on common interests, common values and the Hungarian-Polish solidarity firmly rooted in the two nations, in the two societies.
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