• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland





    Learning from others

    By Hasan Abu Nimah

    For the last few days, together with several Jordanian colleagues, I have been struggling to cope with sub-zero temperatures in "frozen" Poland, a Central European country with a dynamic population of just over 38 million inhabitants of different ethnic backgrounds, with a great history behind and a distinctively rich cultural heritage.

    We arrived here as guests of the Polish government, mainly representing the media and non-governmental organisations, such as the Regional Human Security Centre, which I joined the delegation to represent.
    As we arrived, the entire country was under a thick blanket of snow. It kept on snowing gently, and we learned that the cold might last for quite a long time. People, however, go on with their lives normally. Streets are open for traffic and every aspect of life was functioning ordinarily.

    We went around meeting officials and visiting sights with no concern that the weather may cause any disruption to our crowded visit schedule. And we, the members of the delegation, could not fail to note the difference between the panic which haunts society in Jordan at any sign of snow, ending up in total cessation of activity, including schools, government, business and any other normal movement. As a matter of fact, there was light snowfall on the hilly parts of Amman just before we left for Warsaw. That was enough for schools and businesses to close down with authorities' permission, keeping hundreds of thousands of students and employees at home.
    In Poland, as we were driven around in a small van, often on snow, my colleagues kept asking sarcastically why cars in Warsaw did not skid or get stuck in the snow as cars in Jordan do. Another observation, quite related, was on the efficiency and reliability of public transport. Obviously that is not unique to Poland; efficient public transport systems exist in cities around the world in every developed country. No modern city can function without such a system. People in Europe, and indeed many other cities rarely drive around in private vehicles and that is one major factor in avoiding severe traffic jams. But then, public transport provides them with secure means to reach their destinations at all times, punctually and at much lower cost.
    What is quite unique is our situation in Jordan, where people rely mainly on private cars, at the rate of one car for each member of a privileged family. No amount of traffic management will be able to cope with the worsening road congestion in our streets. The number of cars is steadily increasing with the increase of the legitimate needs of the people. The natural result of dumping more cars in our streets is traffic congestion of the kind that will one day, sooner than one may anticipate, make driving around impossible.

    We seem to be heading towards such crisis.We are not the first to face such problems, although probably we are the first not to heed the experience of others who managed to successfully plan ahead to avoid crises well before they faced them upfront.
    The Poland visit is part of a programme run by the Polish foreign ministry. It entails inviting foreign nationals, representatives of various sectors of their society, to get to learn more about Poland and also to offer the Polish hosts the opportunity to get to know more about their invitees' countries. The "study visit" aims at building bridges of understanding amongst peoples, as well as creating new opportunities for improving and promoting bilateral relations in all possible areas.

    Towards that goal, an intensive programme was prepared for our visit, including meetings with officials at various ministries and departments. Despite the fact that we were not an official delegation (neither were we treated as such), our programme included meetings at the ministries of foreign affairs, economy and culture. We also had meetings with the director of the committee in charge of the bi-centennial celebrations of the great Polish composer Frederic Chopin, of whose legacy the Polish people are extremely proud. At the ministry of culture we were informed of the intention of the Polish government to send to Jordan a full-size upper half statue of Chopin as a gift to be placed in a suitable location in a relevant public institution in Amman.

    The Polish authorities are aware and quite appreciative of the fact that the works of Chopin are well recognised in Jordan, to the extent that celebrations of the great composer's legacy are planned in the Kingdom as well.

    In other meetings, our discussions touched on a host of other subjects, with particular emphasis on the need to improve economic, cultural, political and trade relations. It was noted that there were opportunities which needed to be further explored and harvested.

    Tourism is one area which needs particular attention, as it was noted that the number of tourists from Poland to Jordan has been dwindling, not as a result of decreased interest, rather due to the fact that there are no direct flights between the two countries. We were strongly urged to encourage the Royal Jordanian Airlines to plan for direct flights between Amman and Warsaw. Another factor, which the Polish authorities repeatedly stressed, was the need to have a resident Jordanian embassy in Warsaw.

    The Polish authorities' keen interest in stronger relations and in closer cooperationwith Jordan is genuine.Cordial sentiment towards Jordan, its leadership, its eager pursuit of peace, its moderate policies and its role in stabilising an otherwise restive situation in the region was repeatedly and quite firmly expressed. It will be very appropriate and wise on our part to reciprocate.

    In just two decades since independence, Poland has managed to build a solid democracy and a modern state. We were told that the economy has been surging and even thriving, with not one single bank failing in Poland as a result of the world economic crisis. Figures of the last two years attest to that.

    While in Poland and in the ancient southern city of Krakow, we had the chance to visit universities and other educational institutions. We were highly impressed by the quality of learning and the advanced levels of teaching techniques. We also noticed, at the Polish Institute for International Affairs in Warsaw, and the Middle East Institute at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, deep involvement in Middle Eastern issues, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the need for this conflict to be rightly resolved. We were offered publications and up-to-date research papers dealing meticulously with the various aspects of the chronic conflict, with expert researchers handling the issues. On more than one occasion we were informed of the next visit of another Jordanian delegation, an official delegation this time, composed of four senators. The upcoming delegation includes former prime minister Dr Adnan Badran who, in his capacity as president of Petra University, will sign an agreement between his university and the Jagiellonian University. This will be the second of its kind, following similar agreement that was just signed with the University of Jordan.

    The Jagiellonian University is rated as the best university in Poland. Attended by over 44,000 students, it is also the oldest in Europe, having been founded in 1364. Much of the Polish achievement has been accomplished in the last 20 years, specifically, since Poland was liberated from Soviet rule.This indeed is remarkable.

    As part of a fast-globalising world, we need to utilise every opportunity to learn from the rich experiences of friendly countries in dealing with pressing issues.We also need to consider every available opportunity for increased cooperation. That will save us time and lots of effort. When travelling around, one discovers a lot that can be beneficially learned.

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