A wide-ranging interview with Charge d’affaires of Poland’s representative office in Myanmar Mr Miroslaw Zasada by the Global New Light of Myanmar and MRTV touched upon democratic and economic reform, peace process and bilateral relations between Poland and Myanmar.
Q: Please share some of Poland’s history with democracy and peace.
A: Poland has a long history of difficulties like Myanmar. Last year we celebrated the 1050th anniversary of the founding of the Polish State. During the Second World War people, in spite of the difficulties from the war, became enthusiastic about new times and the possibility of the reconstruction of new life. Decisions of the higher-ups without any consultation with our nation, we were suggested to join the so-called Socialist Camp guided by the Soviet Union of Stalin. So the enthusiasm we had was destroyed in the next years. Finally in the year 1989, thanks to the activity of solidarity, Poland regained full sovereignty, democracy and possibility to decide about our future. The big value of this period was that it was without violence. It was based on agreement between the socialist government and the opposition who were guided by solidarity and who wanted a real democratic state.
In the beginning the agreement was called “Our Parliament, Your President”. Later in the first democratic elections the majority was gained by the opposition. We started out reforms in 1990 and they were quite profound. We had to change everything; the structure of the government, the structure of the economy, moving from a central control economy to a market economy.
In socialist times we did have private companies but they were small. Big companies belonged to the State but people were enthusiastic because they thought “finally we have democracy.” True, we started to live like people in the West but the beginning was very difficult because people had discovered something we had not known before. One was unemployment and our shops began to be filled with many different products but many people did not have the money to buy it. So the people were surprised that we had freedom and a market economy but they had no money and no job to do.
The government’s policies decided to make short but painful reforms to get quick results. It worked because soon after in the mid-1990s Poland could say it had a good economy to move forward and we could join the EU in 2004. But, and this is an important message for Myanmar, when we started our reforms people had to wait at least 5-6 years to see the positive results. We have to make painstaking and long reforms to get good results and unfortunately when you make a reform at home where there are four or five people you can get results quickly in a short time but if it’s in a big country with 38 million people, it needs patience and people will suffer in the beginning but it worked because we joined all these important organizations that we aspired and dreamt about.
We joined NATO and EU, which is an extremely important and successful organization that helps people live normally in Europe. EU is a bit bureaucratic but it has one success and that is the opening of borders which leads to free flow of products, services and people.
Q: What is your opinion on the Myanmar’s government’s reform and democratization process?
A: I am not in a position to give my opinion or give suggestions on what the government should do because it’s your country and your own decision but I must say at this point we understand Myanmar very well because we were in a similar situation. We had a nondemocratic government and Myanmar had a similar history so even though we are in different parts of the world, certain economic and political processes are similar because we are humans and we make more or less the same decisions. We admire that you also made a transition peacefully without war or fighting. I’m lucky to have been in Myanmar during its important part of history. I came here in August 2015 and I formed part of the EU monitoring mission with my colleague from Spain during your November elections.
We were surprised that a country that had no democratic experience was behaving in such a well-organized way. The elections were organized well and even people who did not how to vote were being advised and instructed. The institution of the new government and the State Counsellor was peaceful but the difference between Poland and Myanmar is that you have ethnic regions that are still waiting for the peace and stability. Poland doesn’t have this problem because our minorities are very small and we were integrated. I admire Madam Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that she says peace is important and her work for the second panglong peace conference.
Q: The State Counsellor mentioned terrorist attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and that unbalanced reporting are fueling the flames in Rakhine State. She pointed out that despite the exodus of Muslim people; fifty Muslim villages chose to remain intact so she invited diplomats to visit Rakhine State. So what is your opinion on her statement and will you join the trip to Rakhine?
A: First of all it was a great statement and it summarized the present situation and desire of the government and the desire for peace. Terrorism is a very difficult problem and we have to take into consideration the security and normal lives of the people. I would like to join to see how it is, not because I don’t believe Madam Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but because I want to see what it is like in that area. I was in Sittway to visit an IDP camp but I hadn’t left the municipality of Sittway but I like to talk to the normal people because this is the way to discover the country.
Q: Poland developed a market economy so Myanmar is trying to do that too so what will be the priorities between Myanmar and Poland for economic cooperation?
A: Economic cooperation is important and in the case of Myanmar we started with assistance in 2012 by holding seminars with the ministries, especially the Ministry of Planning, to share our problems and experiences with transformation and to teach you how to avoid the mistakes we made in the 1990s. Polish businessmen from seven different companies came to talk to UMFCCI when the memorandum of understanding was signed with the Polish Ministry of Commerce. They talked to different foreign chambers and different business communities to discover what can we do and how can we cooperate.
Of course we have to take into consideration that Polish companies are not as big or important as those in Western Europe because we had no big private companies until the 1990s. Our desire is to exchange goods because we are from different climate areas and our products may be interesting for the Myanmar people and vice versa.
Q: Lastly could you tell us future plans for strengthening ties between Myanmar and Poland?
A: We opened our representative office in 2014 with the strong desire to open cooperation on all levels including political ones. Exchange of visits is important but the number of visits is not so big now. Our foreign affairs minister and the Speaker of the Upper Chamber of Parliament visited Myanmar in 2012 and we’ve had the Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw to Poland in 2015 and now we expect important visits in the near future because it will be a big step forward in our political cooperation. The climate is very good on both sides of the country but it will be more efficient if you do what we did and open your embassy in Warsaw because now the ambassador of Myanmar to Poland is in Berlin. Berlin is not far from Poland but it is still outside the country so opening your embassy in Warsaw will be a great step forward.