Relations Between Lebanon and Poland

The Department of the Middle East and North Africa in the University of Łódź invited the Ambassador of Lebanon Mr. Massoud Maalouf to participate in the opening of the 7th Conference on Arabic Culture and Civilization on 10 may 2005. Ambassador Maalouf made a presentation during this Conference on the relations between Poland and Lebanon.

Address of
Ambassador Massoud Maalouf
At 7th Conference on Arab Civilization and Culture
Lodz, 10 May 2005

Doctor Marek Dziekan
Distinguished Friends

It is a great honor for me to be invited today to this prestigious University of Lodz to participate in the Seventh Conference on the Arab Civilization and Culture. I particularly want to thank Professor Dziekan and all his staff for organizing this conference which will bring Poland and the Arab world even closer to each other.

The University of Lodz is already very well known in most of the Arab countries, and especially in Lebanon. The thousands of Arab and Lebanese students who have come over the years to study in Poland have all started in this important university where they learned the Polish language before joining the various universities where they followed their different studies. And now the University of Lodz is inaugurating and developing its Center for Arabic Studies within the Department of the Middle East and North Africa, thus becoming one of the major pillars of the cultural relations between Poland and the Arab World. The University deserves our congratulations for this remarkable endeavor.

Due to the great number of speakers in this opening ceremony and the constraints of time, I will make my presentation short and in English instead of Arabic in order to avoid the loss of time that would occur if we had to use simultaneous translation. Being the Ambassador of Lebanon, I think it is befitting on this occasion to speak briefly about the relations between Lebanon and Poland.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our countries have had relations since a very long time. I will speak first about the ancient relations and then give you a quick overview of the current state of the bilateral relations.

Since the Middle Ages, Polish travelers and pilgrims visited Lebanon on their way to the Holy Land. The famous Polish writer Stanislaw Koscialowski published a book in 1953 about the relations between Polish people and Lebanon. The preface of the book was written by a famous Lebanese poet and writer, Mr. Michel Chiha. The book, written in French, is titled: “Les Polonais et leurs relations avec le Liban a travers les siecles “. Koscialowski describes in detail how Polish princes traveled along the coast or through Mount Lebanon to participate in the Crusades and how Polish pilgrims continued to visit the Holy Land in the 13th and 14th centuries. He speaks about Prince Mikolai Radziwill who wrote a detailed diary of his travel to the Holy Land via Tripoli in North Lebanon where he arrived on the 9th of June 1583. The Polish prince visited the Cedars and crossed the mountains of Lebanon, still covered with snow at that time of the year. He tells how he was well received by the population of Lebanon.

Koscialowski also speaks in his book about the visit of the famous Polish poet Julisz Slowacki to Lebanon and how he stayed in the convent of Ghazir where today there is still a plaque commemorating his visit. From Ghazir, Slowacki wrote letters to his mother describing the beauty of Lebanon and what he calls the “convent over the clouds” in which he was staying. While in this convent, Slowacki met a Polish Jesuit, Father Maksymillan Ryllo who was sent by the Vatican three times to Lebanon to head up the Jesuit mission there. Father Ryllo, this Polish Jesuit, established in Beirut the “Collegium Asiaticum” in 1841 that later became the Saint Joseph Jesuit University. I am proud to say that I am a graduate of this University that was founded initially by a Polish priest.

In 1860, a devastating war between Christians and Druze took place in Lebanon, which was then occupied by the Ottomans. The agreement that put an end to this war under European intervention stipulated that the governor of Mount Lebanon to be designated by the Ottomans should be a Christian from outside Lebanon. One of the governors who was appointed in 1902 in accordance with the clauses of this agreement was Aleksander Stanislaw Czajkowski, a Polish who took the Turkish name of Muzaffar Pacha.

More recently in 1939 at the start of the Second World War when Poland was occupied, the Soviet army deported hundreds of thousands of Polish people to Siberia. The survivors of these deportation camps, who were released when the Soviet Union joined the Allies, were led by the Free Polish Army to many countries including Lebanon. Those who reached Lebanon were soon integrated into the Lebanese society. Many of them achieved prominent posts in the Lebanese administration. Today, there is an active and integrated Polish community in Lebanon and it constitutes an excellent bridge between our two countries.

This is only a sample of the kind of relations that have existed in the past between Lebanon and Poland. I would like now to speak to you briefly about the state of our current relations.

Official relations between the two governments started in 1933 when Poland opened a “Consular Agency of the Polish Republic”. This agency became in 1944 the “Polish Delegation for Lebanon and Syria” which subsequently became the Polish Embassy in Beirut in 1946. Lebanon opened its resident embassy in Warsaw in 1994.

Another aspect of the official relations between our two countries is the participation of Poland in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL. When Israel invaded South Lebanon in March 1978, the United Nations Security Council adopted a Resolution Number 425 calling on Israel to immediately withdraw from Lebanon and created an international force to supervise the withdrawal. Now is neither the time nor the appropriate context to talk about the resolution and how Israel refused to implement it during 22 years, but I only want to mention here that Poland has participated in UNIFIL all along and it still has a contingent of about 250 troops in Southern Lebanon. We do thank Poland for this participation.

Archeology represents another field of cooperation between Poland and Lebanon. Within the framework of an agreement concluded between the University of Warsaw and the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, the University provides assistance to Lebanon in excavating some archeological sites in Lebanon. A team of scholars and students has worked seriously in Lebanon during the last few years under the leadership of Professor Tomasz Waliszewski. Lately, the Government of Lebanon officially recognized the achievements of the Polish team and the President of the Republic of Lebanon bestowed upon Professor Waliszewski a high level decoration.

Since we are speaking about cultural relations between our two countries, let me mention that Lebanon submitted to Poland a draft agreement on cooperation in cultural matters. This draft agreement is now under consideration by the concerned Polish departments and we hope that once this agreement is concluded, our cultural relations will strengthen even more, and the University of Lodz and this department in particular can benefit from the clauses of this agreement.

A draft agreement on the cooperation in the field of Tourism has also been submitted by Lebanon and is now under consideration by the Polish authorities. Speaking of tourism, I would like to mention here that about one thousand Lebanese tourists are planning to come to Poland this summer on a pilgrimage trip to Czestochowa and Krakow. The Czarna Madonna is very popular among many Lebanese Christians and Czestochowa is slowly becoming a pilgrimage destination for an increasing number of Lebanese tourists.

There has also been an exchange of official visits between officials of both countries at the highest level. In fact, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament visited Poland in 1999 and the Speaker of the Polish Senate, Professor Longin Pastusiak was in Lebanon in early 2004. H.E. President Aleksander Kwasniewski visited Lebanon in December 2002 and the Lebanese President General Emile Lahoud was on an official visit in Warsaw in July 2004. All these visits aim at strengthening the relations between our two countries.

But although the relations between Lebanon and Poland are excellent on the political, cultural and social levels, there is much work to be done in the economic and commercial areas. Hopefully, both Poland and Lebanon can take advantage of the European Union structures to increase exchanges in these areas, since Poland is a member of the EU and Lebanon has signed an Association Agreement with the EU in June 2002.

Finally, I would like to mention that there is a Polish-Lebanese association in Poland. It is now chaired by former Polish ambassador to Lebanon Mr. Tadeusz Strulac and it includes Polish diplomats and personalities who have either worked in or have some ties with our country as well as some of the few hundred Lebanese community members who live in Poland. Most of those who live now in Poland are graduates of Polish universities including of course the University of Lodz and are married to Polish women. They are well integrated in the Polish society and they also are a strong pillar in the relations between our two countries. A number of them reside in this beautiful and important city.

I wish to conclude my presentation by reiterating my sincere congratulations to the organizers of this 7th Conference on the Arab Civilization and Culture and by stating that, with the long list of important and famous participants in this event, the Conference will no doubt constitute a significant landmark in the cultural relations between Poland and the Arab world, of which Lebanon is an integral part. It is our duty as representatives of Arab countries to try to convey to our governments the importance and the necessity to support these efforts by all available means. As the ambassador of Lebanon, I will just do that.

Thank you for your attention.