Turkish and Polish leaders at almost each state visit in Poland and Turkey respectively emphasize long-standing friendship in relations of the two countries. Remarkable symbols of this friendship are the two always mentioned facts: Turkey’s refusal to recognize partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century and current Polish support for Turkey’s accession to the European Union.
After the Second World War, Poland and Turkey found themselves in two opposite blocs - Turkey joined NATO and became an ally of the Western countries whereas Poland fell into dependence on the Soviet Union and became a part of the Soviet bloc. In the aftermath of the Cold War, the two countries had to face new challenges but, what ought to be underlined; they shared their priorities in foreign policy- European integration. After two decades Poland is an EU member and Turkey with a strong support of Poland is a candidate country. There are no serious problems in mutual political relations. Polish and Turkish economies are flourishing and it seems that there is a great potential to further tighten the historically friendly ties. This analysis aims to present the current Poland-Turkey relations and outline future perspectives of bilateral cooperation.
Living History of Polish-Turkish Amity
Nearly six-century-old history of diplomatic relations of the two countries started in 1414, when two envoys of the Polish king arrived at the court of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed I. However, the long-standing relations had not always been free of conflicts. The best evidence of this fact has been the Polish-Turkish wars in the seventeenth century. Every Polish student remembers an illustrious catchphrase “Poland as a bulwark of Christianity”, that is taught at Poland’s history classes and refers to the participation of Polish army in the battle of Vienna in 1683.
Nevertheless, after the partitions of Poland (1) situation had changed diametrically. The Ottoman Empire became a defender of rights of Poland, whose territories were divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria. According to a popular tradition, in the nineteenth century each reception of a foreign ambassador in Istanbul began with a sacred formula: “the ambassador of Lehistan (2) has not yet arrived”.(3) This romantic legend reflected the fact that the Porte had initially refused to recognize the partitions of Poland. Owing to that many political exiles from Poland found shelter in the Ottoman Empire. Amongst them was Adam Mickiewicz, one of the greatest Polish writers, who died in Istanbul. A symbolic remnant of those times is Polonezköy (in Polish known as Adampol), a village near Istanbul founded by Polish political emigrants in the nineteenth century.
The Porte’s friendly policy towards Poles explains good relations between two countries after Poland’s restoration of independence in 1918. In 1920 Polish permanent representation in Turkey was established and since 1930 the chief of the diplomatic mission has had a rank of an ambassador. During Atatürk’s rule Turkish-Polish friendship had been enhanced. It is worth to emphasize that during the Second World War, despite the Hitler’s pressure, Turkey did not break diplomatic relations with Poland. Turkey again became a shelter for Polish exiles getting help from Polish mission in Istanbul.
Although Turkish-Polish friendship is mentioned at every occasion, one particular event mirrored a great significance of it in the Polish memory. In 1989, when the first non-communist Polish Prime Minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, applied for Poland’s membership in the Council of Europe, he recalled in Strasburg the very legend about expecting Polish ambassador and added: “at last the ambassador of Lehistan has arrived.”(4)
Current political relations of the two countries are full of pompous words but lacking of actions. Poland and Turkey together are members of many international organizations like NATO, the Council of Europe, World Trade Organization, OECD, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. As it is always emphasized, the Polish government supports Turkey’s accession to the EU and was in favour of starting accession negotiations. The main argument raised to justify Poland’s official support for further EU enlargement in Southeastern Europe, particularly in relation to Turkey, has been the reference made to the principle of adhering to agreements and promises made beforehand.(5)
However, Poland’s stance is not free of ambiguity. Poland’s support for Turkey’s integration into the EU is directly related to eagerness to incorporate Ukraine in the EU enlargement process. According to former Polish foreign affairs minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld, Poland would be more secure with both Turkey and Ukraine in the EU. (6) So, although Poland has proven to be a major driving force in the EU integration of Ukraine, the future membership of Turkey does not represent a priority in Polish foreign policy. Therefore it could be argued that Poland will neither play a leading role in Turkey’s accession to the EU nor will be the main advocate of Turkey’s membership. Nevertheless, Poland still remains the biggest zealot of further EU enlargement. According to Eurobarometer survey in 2009 Polish citizens presented the strongest enthusiasm towards enlargement – 69% of Poles were for it.(7) The fact is that in Poland the issue of the EU enlargement is not a matter of a wide public debate. For example, Turkey’s EU integration was not tackled at all in the last parliamentary election campaign.
Turkey’s accession to the EU is a popular topic of academic conferences and debates held in universities and think tanks in Poland. But the fact is that participants of the debates focus mainly on the European dimension of this issue. As it is argued by Polish scholar Adam Balcer, Turkey’s integration with the EU would strengthen the EU role as a global power. The latter, thanks to Turkey’s accession, will be able to manage effective foreign policies in Eurasia and North Africa, especially towards Muslim-majority countries. (8)
During the last visit in Turkey in December 2010 Polish prime minister Donald Tusk made promises that in time of Polish presidency in the European Union (July-December 2011) Poland would act for acceleration of Turkey negotiations with the EU. Tusk also articulated Poland’s support for lifting visa requirements for Turkish citizens in the EU. (9) However, there have been hardly any developments in this area. Recently, at a meeting with Polish journalists Turkish minister for EU affairs Egemen Bağış called Poland to take action towards accomplishment of its stance.(10)
Regarding mutual relations of the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Poland, the two countries signed 28 bilateral agreements. First of all, the ground of friendly relations of the two countries embodies the treaty on friendship and cooperation which was signed in 1993 and which is a complement to the previous treaty of friendship signed in 1923. The treaty indicates the following goals: cooperation in promoting democracy and human rights, cooperation in strengthening international stability and security, cooperation towards abolishment the differences in development which divide Europe, enhancing development of cultural cooperation, enhancing economic cooperation, enhancing development of scientific and technological cooperation, cooperation in combating international terrorism and organized crime.
According to the treaty, an instrument of implementation of these goals shall be regular consultations at different levels. (11) Therefore, the protocol on the establishment of a high level permanent consultation committee was signed (July 1994). The latter agreement is especially important, because it contains the mechanism of consultancy. According to the protocol meeting of consultation committee ought to be organized if necessary, but at least once a year. Among the tasks of the committee is evaluation of developments that took place in political, economic, consular, cultural and scientific bilateral relations and exchange of views on the ways to further enhance these relations. It is also stipulated that parties shall elaborate ways and means in cooperating in regional and international matters. Additionally, protocol determines that the parties can include military cooperation and matters relating to defense in the agenda of the meetings. (12) It needs to be highlighted that the protocol creates many miscellaneous opportunities for starting Poland-Turkey cooperation in new areas.
Despite the existence of solid grounds of cooperation, both countries seem to forget about the possibility of making use of them. A good example is Arab Spring – Turkey and Poland, that is currently holding presidency in the European Union Council, could have coordinated their activities. Unique historical experiences of the two countries can be taken as an inspiration for a process of reforms in the North African countries. Turkey is posed as a model for Arab countries thanks to its status a Muslim country that can be secular and democratic as well. Poland has an experience in the transformation from an authoritarian regime to a democratic system. But, in contradiction to Turkey, Poland has been never present in the North Africa. Hence, even the visit of legendary Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in Tunisia was purely symbolic.
Poland and Turkey cooperate also in the sphere of security and defense within the framework of NATO. Being a NATO member since 1952 Turkey supported admission of Poland to the structure in 1999. The last development in the security realm was a trilateral initiative by Poland, Norway and Turkey to set up a radar early warning network. The initiative aims at facilitating information exchange between NATO and Russia on air-borne threats to their respective territories.(13)
Although Turkey is not yet a member country of the European Union, the main area of Polish-Turkish economic cooperation takes place in the EU realm. It is a result of participation of the two countries in the Customs Union, which started in May 2004 together with Poland’s accession to the EU. It was the crucial step on the way of enhancing economic relations between the two countries. Nowadays, Turkey is one of the main trade partners of Poland in the Southeastern Europe and the Middle East. In total, Turkey is in the 20th position at the list of Poland’s contractors.
For the last years trade exchange between the two countries has been steadily increasing. For instance, in 2002 trade volume was at the level of 884,6 million dollars, in 2005 it surpassed 2 billion dollars and in 2010 reached its highest level of 4,6 billion dollars.(14)
Poland’s Trade Volume with Turkey in 2009-2010 and the First half of 2011 in USD (15)
As of 2011, 78 Polish companies are operating in Turkey, in comparison with 4 firms in 2001. The Polish capital of these firms is approximately 19,5 million dollars. In 2009, Turkish foreign direct investments in Poland reached 10 million dollars. Turkish businessmen are increasingly investing in Poland due to its strong economic performance. There are 22 companies with Turkish capital registered in Poland. The operations are mainly in textiles, followed by foodstuffs, electronics, electrical appliances, tourism, construction, and automotive. What is worth to be highlighted, Turkey participates in one of the most prestigious project in Poland. The Turkish-Polish-Italian syndicate is building the second line of subway in Warsaw.
The last visit of Polish economy minister Waldemar Pawlak in Ankara showed both countries’ interest in increasing economic cooperation. Pawlak together with his counterpart Zafer Cağlayan signed a new agreement on economic cooperation. They declared eagerness to reach the target of 6 billion dollars in trade volume in 2011. Furthermore, both countries expressed their willingness to enhance cooperation in energy sector. Poland is especially interested in Nabucco project, which is perceived as a chance to diversify its energy supplies. During his visit in Poland, Turkish minister of energy and natural resources Taner Yıldız expressed willingness to cooperate in the field of energy efficiency and development of mining technologies. The other prospect of cooperation is nuclear energy, as the two countries are planning to build nuclear power plants.(16)
The current Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations Witold Sobków claimed that Turkey is a great chance for a diversification of Polish energy supplies, especially regarding Nabucco project. He added that although Turkey’s accession to the EU is not a priority of Polish foreign policy, this is a matter of great importance. According to Mrs. Sobkow, the EU ought to open its door for Turkey. Otherwise somebody else will do this.(17)
Although the commercial relations between Poland and Turkey present increasing dynamics, there are some barriers in access to markets of both sides. On the one hand, Turkey has been enforcing a ban on import of cattle and beef and imposed many (also bureaucratic) requirements for agricultural and food products. On the other hand, Turkish exporters also face barriers in trade with Poland and other EU countries, like non-recognition of certification, duplicative testing, multiple inspections, technical regulations and standards. There is also a recurrent visa problem for Turkish businessmen and lorry drivers, which restricts their movement.
Despite the declared friendship there is still a big unfamiliarity of each other between Poland and Turkey. That is why cultural relations are especially important, since they enable countries to better know and understand the other country and its people.
At the grounds of Poland-Turkey cultural relations lies the agreement on cooperation in the fields of Science, Education and Culture signed in 1990. The two sides adopted an objective of further development of cultural relations through help in organizing visits of artist, widening access to cultural places, conducting scholarship programs, supporting contacts between schools, advancement of translations of Polish and Turkish literature, carrying out inventory of Polish historic monuments and antiquities in Turkey and the Turkish ones in Poland.(18) A good example of the latter is renovation of the Museum of Adam Mickiewicz in Istanbul, which was reopened in 2005.
Essential factor for better understanding the other country’s culture is to know its cultural heritage, especially the literature. There are some recent developments in this field. Some literary works of the Turkish literature are being translated into Polish (e.g. books of Orhan Pamuk, Elif Şafak, Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar or Halide Adıp Adıvar) and the works in Polish literature into Turkish (e.g. Ryszard Kapuscinski, Witold Gombrowicz, Czeslaw Milosz or Jerzy Kosinski’s books).
Additionally, recent years have shown increasing interest in Turkey and its culture in Poland. There is a plenty of Turkish restaurants and kebab shops in the streets of every Polish city. At the last Turkish Film Days that was held in Warsaw on February 2010, the cinema hall was full. The most visible sign of Turkey’s popularity amongst Poles seems to be tourism sector. In 2010 more than 428 thousands Polish tourists visited Turkey (in comparison with 118 thousands in 2000).(19) Destinations chosen by the Poles are mainly summer holiday resorts, like Antalya, Side or Kuşadası. Though, more and more frequently Poles decide to go to Istanbul or for a trip round the Turkey. On the other hand Poland remains unknown destination for Turkish tourists.(20) It cannot be explained only by unfriendly weather conditions in Poland. It depicts also ineffective Poland’s policy of promoting its tourist amenities.
Perspectives on Enhancing Cooperation
Although there is a positive approach and many warm gestures, Poland and Turkey are not so close partners as they potentially could be. Regarding the fact that Poland is one of the fastest growing economies of the EU, and Turkey is the one of the fastest growing economy in the world, (21) there are great opportunities to further enhance economic relations between the two countries. Due to the lack of serious political problems in mutual relations, Poland and Turkey are potential partners who apparently are not strong-willed to make use of opportunities. Poland should be more active in supporting Turkey’s integration with the European Union. Recalling Polish road to the European Union, Poland’s accession would have been much harder if it had not had the support of Germany. Due to existence of many stereotypes and prejudices toward Turkey in Europe, this country needs a channel to change its image. And Poland could be such a channel.
As it turned out recently, the possible region where Turkey and Poland could act together is the North Africa. The two countries were very active after the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, but did hardly cooperate with each other. The coordination of actions would bring many benefits not only for Turkey or Poland, but also for the North African countries.
On the grounds of present-day process it can be foreseen that Turkey’s regional and global role will increase. Poland will maintain its leading role in Central-Eastern Europe and it is likely that the country will strengthen its position more in the EU. However, we should distance ourselves from a forecast of George Friedman who argues that Turkey and Poland, along with Japan and Mexico, will rise in the next 100 years as a world powers.(22)
And, last but not least, increasing economic cooperation in the recent years presents a positive trend. There are plenty of investment opportunities in both countries and it seems to be finally noticed. Prospect of cooperation in energy field can further enhance Polish-Turkish relations and add a strategic dimension to the bilateral affairs.
1. The three partitions of Poland took place in the second half of the 18th century (in 1772, 1793 and 1795) and ended the existence of the Polish state, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years. The partitions were perpetrated by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Austria, which divided up the Poland’s lands among themselves progressively in the process of territorial seizures.
2. Name of Poland in Ottoman Turkish.
3. Kołodziejczyk, Dariusz, Semiotics of behavior in early Modern Diplomacy: Polish embassies in Istanbul and Bahcesaray, Journal of Early Modern History, No: 7, 2003, p. 256.
4. Kołodziejczyk, Dariusz, Semiotics of behavior in early Modern Diplomacy: Polish embassies in Istanbul and Bahcesaray, Journal of Early Modern History , No: 7, 2003, p. 256.
5. Kaźmierkiewicz Piotr, EU Accession Prospects for Turkey and Ukraine debates in New member states, Institute of Public Affairs, 2006, p. 119-120.
6. Traktujmy Turków poważnie, Rzeczpospolita, October 4, 2005,
7. Eurobarometer 73, November 2010,
8. Balcer Adam, Heading for the Strategic Partnership EU-Turkey in the Foreign Policy, DemosEuropa, Warsaw 2009,
11. Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Turkey, November 3, 1993,
12. Protocol on the establishment of a high level permanent consultation committee between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Turkey, July 19, 1993, http://www.traktaty.msz.gov.pl/fd.aspx?f=P0000007901.pdf
13. Poland, Norway and Turkey Plan New Radar Network, Defense News, April 23, 2009,
14. Turcja. Dwustronna współpraca gospodarcza,
15. Turcja. Dwustronna współpraca gospodarcza,
17. Partnerstwo Strategiczne UE-Turcja w polityce zagranicznej - prezentacja raportu, DemosEuropa, February 18, 2010,
18. Agreement between the government of Poland and the government of the Republic of Turkey on cooperation in the fields of Science, Education and Culture, October 24, 1990,
19. Turizm Istatistikleri, Turkiye Istatistik Kurumu,
20. In 2009, 55 Turkish tourists traveled to Poland,
Instytut Turystyki (Tourism Institute), http://www.intur.com.pl/warsztat.htm#kraje2010
21. According to data of the International Monetary Fund,
22. Japan, Turkey, Poland, Mexico the Rising World Powers?, January 16, 2009,