ASTANA – Poland is seeking to expand cooperation with Kazakhstan in various fields, according to Jacek Kluczkowski, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Poland in Kazakhstan.
In his interview with the Astana Times, the ambassador, who has been posted in Kazakhstan since 2011, emphasised a few pivotal points of his mission. A historian by education, Kluczkowski spent his early career as a journalist, then switched to the President’s administration and was posted as an ambassador in Ukraine in 2005.
How would you describe the achievements in almost twenty-three years of relations between Poland and Kazakhstan as two independent nations, including in politics, economy and business?
In general, Poland and Kazakhstan have vibrant bilateral relations. Since 1992 when our diplomatic mission was established, there have been two presidential visits of Polish presidents and two visits of your president to Poland, as well as official visits of prime ministers, foreign ministers and parliamentary delegations, so in this sense we have had very vibrant relations.
As for economic relations, despite the fact that the countries are located quite far from each other Poland adheres to the policy of exporting goods to the east in general and Kazakhstan happens to be one of the most important trade partners, not only in the [Commonwealth of Independent States] CIS member states but also in the whole Eurasian space. In short, Kazakhstan is about the third largest importer of Polish goods in the CIS and fifth in Asian countries. And for Kazakhstan, in my opinion, amid European countries, Poland is not in the top five but perhaps the sixth or seventh trade partner.
In general, our relations are also developing steadily in the humanitarian field, where there is potential and opportunities. We have something to be complacent of. Poland’s exports to Kazakhstan are mostly comprised of automobile parts, mining gear, chemical products, make-up, furniture, agricultural produce, fruits and vegetables. I can say in the past two years we have expanded this trade quite successfully, although in 2014 we did run into some challenges with logistical issues with some products via Russia. The devaluation of the tenge also made our products less competitive with some others. Nevertheless, there is no significant drop in trade. Polish businessmen count on the Kazakh market and what’s important is the two sides are integrating into the production industry with joint investments rather than just trade. Businessmen understand that to have a reliable position in the Kazakh market they need to be here, they need to organise joint ventures. What gives us hope is that we see that there are about 160 Polish companies in Kazakhstan that have either joint ventures or subsidiaries and about 2,000 companies that are part of the bilateral trade. These are impressive numbers. Polish investments are not huge, but mostly in small and medium-sized businesses; that is the dynamic of the Polish economy, which keeps developing without interruption. The Polish economy is the only EU economy that has not undergone a recess; during the 2008 and 2009 financial crises our economy grew. What makes our economy different is that it has an internal dynamic; we see that in many respects it depends on small and medium-sized businesses that are more adept during times of crisis.
What were the outcomes of the recent visit to Astana by Polish Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski?
The visit in November 2014 of Polish Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski, who also happens to be the co-chair of the inter-parliamentary economic commission of Poland and minister of economy, boosted the economic ties between the two countries. A wide range of questions in economic cooperation were touched upon during the visit, in investments, trade, exchange of technology, green technology, infrastructure cooperation, construction sector, agriculture and so on.
There is a significant Polish minority in Kazakhstan. How do you think they feel about Kazakhstan and Poland? How would you evaluate the government’s language and cultural policies in this respect?
We help the local 45,000-50,000 in the Polish community in Kazakhstan to preserve the Polish language and cultural heritage. Back in September 2014, I signed an educational agreement that stipulates many educational programmes, however one of the pivotal points was to support the Polish language studies for Kazakh citizens of Polish descent. Thirteen teachers arrived from Poland mostly to northern parts of Kazakhstan, including Astana and Karaganda, where the Polish communities are prevalent in number. The government of Poland covers their expenses and the teachers are working in schools and cultural centres.
The media reported that the Polish government designated Kazakhstan as one of the five most promising markets for Polish business?
First of all, Poland’s take on Kazakhstan is that Kazakhstan is an important economic partner. The goals of our embassy here are to closely cooperate with the ministries, national companies and governmental bodies that are actively engaged in the economy of the country, promote cultural and educational ties and be an active part of the large Polish community in Kazakhstan.
What are some of the challenges, if any, that your mission encountered in Kazakhstan?
One of the main challenges in Kazakhstan is the distance. Sometimes our diplomats have to travel to Kazakh borders and those are lengthy distances, like to Kostanai (700 kilometres) for instance. Other than that I don’t feel other challenges in Kazakhstan. Another thing we give priority to is to have honorary consuls in Kazakhstan similar to many other diplomatic missions here. These are citizens of Kazakhstan that can aid and resolve some issues in the country. We are close to having at least two such consuls in Kazakhstan.
How long have you worked in Astana? What are your personal impressions of work in Kazakhstan?
I like Kazakhstan in general; when relatives arrive I take them to Borovoye. I like the mountains in the southern parts of Kazakhstan, as there are places to be seen. One thing is the winter is not that exciting and not abundant with evening city strolls. Sometimes it is impossible to go out for weeks. For an ambassador it is not a problem, as mostly we spend time in offices, cars and meetings, but the ambassador’s families might find it a little dull.