Interview with the Counselor of Poland Embassy - Magdalena Szuber-Zasacka
‘Public diplomacy helps to make our voice heard in international debates.’October 15th, 2021
On the 15th of October Lobke Vermeiren, Emmanouela Gogou, Aikaterini Paraskevi Trihaki had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Counselor in the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, Magdalena Szuber-Zasacka.
As a member of the Embassy’s team, what have been the main challenges and difficulties you have encountered, especially with covid times?
I am a relatively new member of the Embassy’s team, arrived in Berlin only in August. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe, I was still posted in our Embassy in Romania. However, I imagine that the challenges which diplomats faced here were quite the same.
Our job in its definition entails conducting official negotiations and maintaining political, economic and social relations with another country, which is hosting us. Closing ourselves in our homes, limiting socialinteraction to the minimum and moving into digital sphere to “maintain social relations” with our partners is indeed difficult. At the same time, we had to cancel most of public and cultural events we have planned for 2020, and as you know, it is precisely these events that are a large part of our daily assignments. Of course, we tried to organize meetings online and carry out digital campaigns, which meant we needed to quickly transform into a “digital diplomatic corpus”. It has its advantages of course, but it transforms our job into one with much less flare.
One big challenge which I did struggle with in the beginning of the pandemic was managing the evacuation of the Polish citizens to Poland. It was not an easy task, taking all the sanitary risks that were involved and a lot less knowledge we had on the virus itself. Another big challenge was working remotely with children stuck at home and bored to the bones. But I believe I was not the only parent struggling then.
What are the Embassy’s main priorities here in Berlin?
Polish Embassy in Berlin is quite naturally a busy foreign representation of Poland abroad. Poland’s bilateral relations with Germany have always been one of main priorities in our foreign policy.
Our relations are determined by our strong and multifaceted relation as neighboring countries, the size of the Polish diaspora living and working in Germany, our trade relations and the importance of Poland and Germany in the world.
In political sphere, we work on maintaining open forms of dialogue with a range of political players in Berlin. We monitor the internal scene closely and I must say, this year it has become very interesting with the past federal elections and now it remains so, with the ongoing formulation of the new coalition government.
In economic sphere we continue to promote Polish enterprises in Germany, which have been very successful in doing business here. Polish diplomats in Germany are here to answer all the questions of our potential German partners, willing to do business in Poland. Polish and German economies are very much interlinked, there is an increasing number of joint ventures, not only those that involve international cooperation between large corporations, but also between small and medium enterprises.
Concerning the EU agenda which is increasingly shaped by external challenges such as climate change, and geopolitical crises. What are Poland’s main ambitions and how can cooperation with Germany be beneficial to fulfill them?
Poland and Germany are both active members of the EU, we align our positions taken in the EU decision making-bodies regularly, through dialogue and negotiations. Both on expert - and on political levels, both in the capitals and in Brussels through our Permanent Representations or Members to the European Parliament.
Let me explain on one current example. You may have seen photos from foreign visits of members of the Polish government – recently the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki paid a visit to Berlin. One of the main topics of talks between leaders of both governments was the Belarussian border crisis. The means of solving the crisis, which is by all means a geopolitical crisis, were obviously discussed. It was important for us to explain our Polish observations and positions to our German partners. Both leaders discussed also what can be done on multilateral level – meaning, what we as the EU can do to solve the crisis.
As you see, effective bilateral cooperation with Germany (and any other given EU Member State) helps us to later jointly act, as the united Europe in facing challenges – and when you browse through the news, we face many serious ones these days.
Could you please tell us what Cultural and Public Diplomacy mean to you?
In brief – cultural and public diplomacy help to fulfill Polish foreign policy priorities. Our job as diplomats is to promote Polish culture, science, education or youth exchanges in all our foreign missions. In doing this, our net of foreign representations - Polish Institutes, Embassies and Consulates General – make sure that Polish authors, artists, culture managers participate in major cultural events around the world.
What are the key programmes, events and initiatives that the embassy is currently hosting in the sphere of cultural diplomacy?
In these difficult COVID times, as I said, we try to remain active, with all the restrictions that we have. One project is currently ongoing, as we speak, in several schools in Brandenburg – the Polish-German Day. Ever since 2011, the Polish Embassy - with kind support of Land Brandenburg - has been organizing the “Polish-German Day” in the schools of Berlin and Brandenburg. Its current edition is slowly coming to an end, with a number of schools where our Polish partners taught children Polish dances and songs, or played music of the brilliant Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin. I heard the workshops were very popular among the students and I already received applications from schools for next year.
Speaking of Chopin – I am sure many of us closely followed the final stages of the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition, traditionally held in Polish capital, Warsaw. You asked about the Polish public and cultural diplomacy – do you know that this year our deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk joined us in promoting the Competition, sat down at the piano and himself played the Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64 no. 1? I encourage you to watch the video in our social media.
As it is a relatively new concept, have you faced any difficulties in implementing practices and policies related to it?
I would not say it is a relatively new concept. I believe it has been with us ever since we decided to negotiate and sign the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, or even before, „when peoples of all nations from ancient times have recognized the status of diplomatic agents“.
Public diplomacy helps to make our voice heard in international debates. In doing this, Polish Embassy in Berlin cooperates with German and Polish institutions, opinion makers and non-governmental organizations, and with the German and Polish media. Us, diplomats, interact with many groups and people to influence the way these groups think about foreign affairs, react to Polish policies, or affect the policies made in Poland. We present facts, information on real situation in Poland to help our German partners understand the real motives of our actions.
One of serious challenges I see and I face in my current role as the speaker of the Embassy is the stream of information we digest every day. And a big chunk of it is unfortunately false. We are bombarded with fake news on the Internet, very often produced by legions of trolls, who flood social media with false information about Poland. Much of this information is then spread, sometimes unintentionally, by the press.
This is why I very much treasure meetings such as the one we have today, where we can simply discuss things you heard and wonder if they are really true.