Poland’s Path, Mirek’s Meanderings

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Mirosław ‘Mirek’ Adamczyk isn’t a career diplomat, but he is something. From his nation’s liberation, this lawyer, administrator, financier, and political junkie is, for now, a diplomat.

Nation of heroes
Like a child, he is clear about who his heroes are. During his lifetime, his native Poland has provided plenty. He came of age when the country threw off the Soviet yoke and became truly free again. He left high school and attended a compulsory pre-university summer camp in neighbouring East Germany as part of a programme promoting Soviet brotherhood. He returned mere weeks later to begin university and manhood in a nation transformed. Cries of “Solidarność” rang out across the country: Solidarity. “Suddenly you could express yourself, your freedom, your  speech…We enjoyed 15-16 months of real freedom. A carnival of Solidarity, a carnival of freedom!”

Then the military hammer came down. Lech Wałęsa, the first of the decade’s heroes, was leading the people to resist their Soviet-friendly leaders. Lesser known (to the outside world) was Father Jerry Popieluszko, a brilliant orator who was kidnapped, beaten and murdered during the struggle. Not forgotten in Poland, over 600,000 people came to his funeral. Resistance did not wane, until on June 4, 1989, Poland had their first semi-free elections, a date celebrated as one of freedom. It may suggest cosmic balance, given that day’s significance to people in China. But for the Poles, it was independence day.

June 4, 1989: “In Poland, in contrast to the Tiananmen tragedy, it was a very joyful day for the first semi-free parliamentary election after decades under the Soviet regime.”

Pope John Paul the II, née Karol Józef Wojtyła, was another hero in the era. “He was like a spiritual leader for the nation,” and is credited with the fall of Communism. When the elections finally came, they were a blend: 100% popularly elected seats in the upper house. But the lower house had 30% of seats popularly elected and 70% reserved for the Communists. This arrangement was negotiated between Solidarity and the reigning government. The Parliament finally chose Tadeusz Mazowiecki, one of the prominent leaders from the opposition, to become Prime Minister and kept General Jaruzelski as the interim post-Communist President. It wasn’t a purely democratic system, but it was enough. Poland was free.

Kids in charge

We created a new generation of young energetic local leaders who later on took on leadership in the central administration.

A would be-engineer turned law student was ready to take part in the transformation of a nation. Friends from his hometown and law school, young lawyers like himself, got elected to municipal positions in the new Poland. But in dismantling the top- down Soviet command and control structure, they found they had to rebuild everything. Along with national democracy, they also found themselves stewards of municipal democracy – and no idea how to go about it.

Mirek laughs. At 28 years old he was put in charge of the administration of City Hall- he had only been in the building once before. Still, he was a lawyer with some organisational and people skills. And everyone else was as clueless as he was about what to do. Fortunately, he was a fast and energetic learner who could put in the 18 hour days and reach out to advisors in Warsaw from America, the World Bank, Europe and more come to help the nation rebuild.

“It was very challenging.” But the situation gave rise to a wave of young people committed to actively rebuilding their nation. “We created a new generation of young energetic local leaders who later on took on leadership in the central administration.” They learned how to build a council, write legislation. He worked in his birthplace with the Grudziądz municipality and later practiced as a legal advisor through the 1990’s as the new Poland rose.

Flirting with America
Later, he moved to Warsaw to work with USAID. America held a particular fascination. He had already secured a green card to live in America through the lottery and had to choose between moving to America with his wife and three young children, or work for the Americans in his own country. He chose to stay in Poland-and vacation, repeatedly, in the US.

Having been denied a passport by authorities in the past, his only previous experience was his Soviet brotherhood GDR experience. This was his first real taste of the outside world. He liked it.

He did a brief stint in the Ministry of Finance, sitting on the boards of the biggest pillars of industry of the nation. While Poland undertook a so-called ‘shock therapy’ that vaulted their economy past other post-Soviet nations, the government retained  some shareholding and board seats in major companies including the nation’s biggest banks, insurance companies and railways. Mirek represented the government on these firms’ boards and had a look into their internal workings.

When he thought the time was right, he was keeping an eye on government notices for available diplomatic posts in America. When the time came, at the last minute a friend talked him out of it – and convinced him to try Abu Dhabi – ‘one of the very challenging and richest places in the world’.

Polish CG Mirosław Adamczyk - 2BON VOYAGE.
Polish President Komorowski sends Mirek to the Big Lychee. (Photo provided)

Why not? He took on the Head of Mission role, describing himself wryly as a ‘contracted ambassador.’ UAE-Poland relations were not the top priority for either nation, but there was good work to be done. Mirek successfully organised the first visit of the Polish President, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, to the UAE, negotiating Polish and Middle Eastern protocol with his small staff. He also helped facilitate the later establishment of daily air service to Warsaw by Qatar Airways and Emirate Airlines. There was, like in Hong Kong, a small community to pull together and provide services to.

After 5 years, he stepped away from diplomacy to rejoin the Ministry of Finance as the Director General, reporting directly to Minister of Finance. Just in time for Atlantic Financial and Euro Crisis.

While most of Europe went into a tailspin from which much of it still has to recover, some parts did better than others. Poland had only the slightest of dips in GDP from 2008 to 2009 and got back on an upward trajectory almost immediately. This put Mirek in a position where he felt comfortable to turn the Ministry over to other hands and scratch his itch for wanderlust once more.

He was fascinated by how a place like Hong Kong could exist within the framework of the People’s Republic of China and was keen to see it for himself. The Consul General position opened up and one of the former CG’s convinced him to apply.

He has his work cut out for him. He is, again, childlike in his straightforwardness. “Hong Kong is so far not recognised properly in Poland as a place of great opportunities and there is very limited knowledge in Hong Kong about Poland.” He thinks of himself as a ‘double ambassador’, that needs to promote both places in both directions.

Polish CG Mirosław Adamczyk - 3
Traditional Chinese guide to Poland
He had a warm welcome. When Cardinal Joseph Tong discovered there was a new Polish Consul General in Hong Kong, he was mindful of the special connection between the former Pope and Poland and freedom. On the day Pope John Paul II was canonised, he invited Mirek to speak at the fully packed Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception in Mid-Levels to over 2,000 people. It was a touching and meaningful introduction to the Christian community.

On the Hong Kong side, the Consulate has supported the launch of the first ever Polish travel and culture guide published in traditional Chinese (see photo), created by a Polish-Chinese couple. The Polish husband provides the insiders’ view, his Hong Kongjournalist wife provides the writers’ flair. Ideally, it will help to establish relations people to people, Polish to Hong Konger.

The ties may be nascent, but Mirek no doubt has the energy to grow the Hong Kong -Poland connection. Hong Kong, in particular, could do well to pay attention to a country that has already found its path forward.