When the year 2020 began those six months ago, we were aware that the beginning of a new decade of the 21st century would be a time of both change and breakthrough. Renewed friction between global powers, a trade war between the two largest economies in the world, a debate on the new long-term budget of the European Union, activities aimed at the permanent presence of allied troops on NATO’s eastern flank – the Polish diplomacy was and still is aware of the significance of these challenges.
The world, however, accelerated a lot more than anyone could have anticipated. The pandemic increased the dynamics of changes that had only so far been embers glowing in the dark, the supply chains that we had so far treated as an inviolable certainty broke into pieces, and the model of globalisation that had been functioning for years suddenly turned out to be unstable. National sovereignty and the ability to protect one’s own citizens began to regain importance – be it even at the cost of dismantling the existing mechanisms of global cooperation.
In these circumstances, international solidarity and the willingness to help those in greater need than countries, such as Poland, that coped better with the effects of the pandemic, have become all the more important. COVID-19 put our societies, institutions, and nations to a great test of solidarity. After the last few months, it can be seen that Poland has passed this test successfully.
We began our work in the very first days of the epidemic. We organised a safe way back home as part of the #LotDoDomu (#FlightBackHome) campaign – not only for our countrymen, but also for several thousand citizens of other countries, such as the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Turkey, South Korea, Switzerland, Norway, Thailand and almost all countries of the EU. Polish doctors from the Military Institute of Medicine (Wojskowy Instytut Medyczny) and the Polish Center for International Aid (Polskie Centrum Pomocy Międzynarodowej) flew in the opposite direction. Since March, Polish medical teams have been supporting the fight against the pandemic in Italy, the US, Kyrgyzstan, Slovenia and Tajikistan; further missions are in preparation.
At the same time, it became a priority for Polish diplomacy to help our closest partners as quickly as possible, in particular the countries of the Eastern Partnership and in the Western Balkans. Humanitarian convoys that transported medical equipment, respirators, personal protective equipment, coveralls, masks, medicine, tests, disinfectant and antiseptic liquids, as well as other necessary material aid were sent to Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus. The convoy to the final country sent in June was the largest humanitarian land transport during the pandemic – several dozen trucks.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland coordinated this aid, but it would not have been possible without the efficient cooperation of state institutions (including the State Fire Service, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior and Administration, the Ministry of National Defence, the Material Reserves Agency, the Industrial Development Agency, Solidarity Fund PL, the Polish National Foundation and numerous state-owned companies).
In Poland, we still remember the aid that would reach our country in the 1980s from Western Europe, the United States and Canada. On a moonless night in the times of martial law, this help was indispensable for the functioning of the democratic opposition and the operation of Solidarity. The real value of this aid was much greater than its purely material dimension, because as a result our nation felt that it was not alone in the fight against the communist regime.
Today, the nations that we are supporting with humanitarian aid in the fight against another deadly enemy – the COVID-19 pandemic – can feel the very same way as we once did. The memory of the Polish aid that arrived at a trying time will remain with them for years. This help is not only a noble gesture, but above all else the best investment in our future relations and in building a good image of Poland – not through PR, but real actions. I am glad that Polish diplomacy passed this exam with flying colours.