A SHORT HISTORY:
POLAND – MALAYSIA RELATIONS

EARLY POLISH-MALAYSIAN RELATIONS

Although, in 2021 Poland and Malaysia celebrate the 50th anniversary of official diplomatic relations, Polish-Malaysian contacts began much earlier and were less official and rather more interpersonal in nature. There are evidences that Poles have travelled to the Malay Peninsula many centuries earlier. To this day, we can find a few Polish graves here. Poles have been coming to Malaya as missionaries, travellers, soldiers and merchants.
 

Probably, the first Pole to come to Malaya was the Polish Jesuit missionary Wojciech Męciński, who in April 1635 arrived at the famous port of Malacca where he treated sick soldiers. Męciński spent two years in Malaya, before leaving for Macao.
 

Another famous Polish clergyman who visited Malaya was a Polish traveller and botanist, Apostolic Delegate to the East Indies and Latin Patriarch of Antioch, Archbishop Władysław Michał Zaleski. Archbishop Zaleski, was part of an elite group of the prominent Poles active in the 19th century in Asia. One of the most important works written by Zaleski from this period was the book Travel in Indochina in 1897 and 1898, in which he described his impressions from the meetings with the local people and the development of the Christian faith in Malaya. During his travels around Southeast Asia, he visited the island of Penang, where he admired, among others, the beauty of the newly created botanical garden. He wrote about Penang the following: "Penang belongs to the [sic] diocese of Malacca, which has ten thousand Chinese Catholics. As a tropical landscape, Penang is wonderfully beautiful. Everything is green and soaked in light. "
 

At the end of the 19th century, one of the greatest novelists of Polish origin, Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad), also came to the Malay Peninsula and probably Borneo. In his writing, Korzeniowski often referred to the Malayan culture and his experiences from his stay in Malaya.
 

The plot of his debut novel "Almayer's Folly" (1895) takes place on the eastern coast of Borneo and focuses on the main character - the title Almayer - a Dutch merchant who wants to ensure his (half- Malayan) daughter social status and wealth (there is a probability that Korzeniowski never actually been to Borneo). The further stories of the heroes of "Almayer's Folly" can be read in later works such as "Outcast of the Islands" and "Lord Jim", which are taking place in today's Malaysia and Indonesia. Korzeniowski is considered to be one of the first authors to introduce Southeast Asia to readers around the world.
 

Poles, though still a small number, came to Malaya at the beginning of the 20th century mainly on British ships, mostly for commercial purposes. However, those who decided to settle in the region did not choose the Malay Peninsula, but rather Java or Sumatra.
 

Another element that should be mentioned is the period of World War II. Both Poles and Malaysians fought on the side of the Allies. After the Japanese attack on Malaya in December 1941, three ships of the Polish Merchant Navy supported the British military operations. SS Kościuszko, SS Pułaski and MS Sobieski ships, were used to transport British forces to Burma and India, among others. At the end of the war, thanks to the presence of MS Sobieski in the region, the transport of released Japanese soldiers from the Cambridgeshire regiment in Malaya and Thailand was possible. In addition, MS Sobieski and SS Pułaski were designated as units that were going to take part in the invasion of the Malay Peninsula (which ultimately never happened, as Japan surrendered in the meantime).

MALAY LITERATURE AND
MALAY STUDIES IN POLAND

Another interesting topic is Malay literature and studies in Poland. However, it should be noted at the beginning that the output of Malay literature and Malay studies in Poland is relatively small, especially when compared to other areas of Oriental studies in Poland, but worth mentioning.


In the article "Malay Studies in Poland" published in 1978 in Archipel vol. 17 by Piotr Nowak, we can learn about the history of development and interest of this subject among Polish writers and orientalists. Undoubtedly, the most important figure who contributed to the popularisation of Malayan themes in Poland, including belles-lettres and knowledge about Malaysian society, culture and traditions of Malaysia, was the writer and interpreter Robert Stiller. For over thirty years, Stiller had been publishing scientific publications on Malayan subjects and his knowledge of Malay language (Bahasa Melayu) turned to be a useful tool. Therefore, as Nowak claims, it was thanks to Stiller that the first scientific foundations for Malay studies in Poland were laid. Thanks to Stiller, in 1959 the first book (Polish – Pieśni o ciemnej miłości / Songs of a Dark Love) was translated from Malay into Polish. In the same year, a collection of Malay and Dayak proverbs and maxims entitled Wisdom of the Palm Leaf (Polish – Mądrości z palmowego liścia) was published. Stiller also translated the classics of Malayan literature such as Hikayat Hand Tuah or Sejarah Melaju for the Polish reader. His most important works in the field of Malay studies include the 600-page An Anthology of Malay literature (English – An Anthology of Malay literature).
 

Andrzej Wawrzyniak, a Polish sailor and a diplomat, founder of the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw, who spent most of the 1950-74 period in Southeast Asia, was also an outstanding figure mentioned by Nowak in the context of the development of Malayist knowledge and popularising the culture of Malaysia in Poland. Wawrzyniak managed to accumulate a huge collection of weapons. The collection of kris (traditional swords from Malaysia and Indonesia) alone amounted to around 300 pieces. Moreover, Wawrzyniak was the owner of over 500 masks, 400 traditional dolls used in local puppet theatres and other objects of Malay culture - a total of approx. 3 thousand pieces. In the 1970s, the Wawrzyniak's collection was the largest private collection of Malayan objects in the world and the sixth biggest collection among the world's largest museums.
 

The interest in Malaysia grew in the 1970s, when an increasing number of publications on politics, economic development, culture, religion and customs of Malaysia began to appear. It is worth noting, however, that the first Indonesian-Malay philology course in Poland was launched only in 2009 at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

THE PERIOD OF
THE POLISH PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC

Before the official establishment of diplomatic relations, Polish-Malaysian contacts took place mainly at the UN forum and were not very potent. Due to the fact that Poland was part of the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the USSR, bilateral relations were not established until June 21, 1971 (four years after the USSR-Malaysia relationship was established). On that day, an announcement was published on the "exchange of diplomatic representations between Poland and Malaysia". In the second half of 1972, a Polish trade office was opened in Kuala Lumpur, which was later elevated to the rank of an embassy in 1973. From December 1971 to November 1978, former ambassadors of the Polish People's Republic accredited to Malaysia were based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The first ambassador of the People's Republic of Poland residing in Kuala Lumpur was Adam Świtkowski. Meantime in Poland, the ambassadors of Malaysia accredited to Poland were initially based in Moscow, USSR. The Embassy of Malaysia in Warsaw has been operating since November 4, 1977.
 

During the times of the Polish People's Republic (PRL), several significant visits took place by representatives of both countries. In September 1972, Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Haji Abdul Razak bin Dato 'Hussein, paid a visit to Poland. Among the relatively numerous visits of representatives of the Malaysian government to Poland, the most important ones include visits of the Foreign Ministers (1977, 1985 and 1989), the Minister of Trade and Industry (1975) and the Minister of Finance (1989). The most important visit of a representative of the Polish People's Republic to Malaysia was the visit of the then Deputy Prime Minister Zbigniew Szałajda (1986). Other significant visits by the representatives of the PRL government to Malaysia include visits by Foreign Ministers (1978, 1988).

POLITICAL COOPERATION DURING THE THIRD POLISH REPUBLIC

In 1989–1991, Poland engaged in a democratic transition which put an end to the Polish People's Republic and led to the foundation of a democratic government, known as the Third Polish Republic.
 

To this day, there are no points of dispute in Polish-Malaysian political relations. The relationships are developing smoothly and continuously with frequent visits of representatives of both countries. Visits at the highest level have particularly intensified in the 1990s. In 1996, Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz paid an official visit to Malaysia and President Aleksander Kwaśniewski in 1999. In 1997, the King of Malaysia, Tuanku Ja'afar ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman visited Poland and Mahathir bin Mohamad, the longtime Prime Minister of Malaysia, who was decorated by the President of the Republic of Poland with the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland visited Poland in 2002. In the same year, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz visited Malaysia again (this time as the Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Prime Minister, Marek Belka in 2005. Also in 2005, the King of Malaysia, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin was the last Malaysian head of state who visited Poland.
 

As part of bilateral political contacts, talks at the level of Deputy Ministers took place in 2011-2013 and 2015. In 2013, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, Anifah Aman paid a visit to Poland.

In 1989, contacts between the parliaments of both countries were established. The following visits of Deputy Speakers took place: the Senate of the Republic of Poland (1999, 2005), the Sejm (lower house) of the Republic of Poland (2011), and to Poland: the Chairman of Dewan Rakyat (2005), Vice- Chairman of Dewan Rakyat (2013) and the Chairman of Dewan Negara (2016) as well as Vice- Chairman of Dewan Negara (2003, 2007).
 

In 2000, the first Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Poland was established in Kuching (Borneo) covering the states of Sabah and Sarawak. Since then, the function of Honorary Consul has been appointed to Dato Raziah Mahmud-Geneid, whom the President of the Republic of Poland awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for her contribution to the development of Polish-Malaysian relations in 2007 and in 2020, the Commander's Cross of Merit of the Republic of Poland.
 

In 2014, the Polish Honorary Consulate was opened in Georgetown (Penang). The consular district includes the states of Penang, Perlis, Kedah and Kelantan. The Honorary Consul is Mr. Dato ’Suppiah Manikam.

MILITARY AND DEFENCE INDUSTRIES COOPERATION

From the beginning of the 21st century, intensive cooperation between the Defence Ministries and the Armed Forces of both states began. In 2003, the first Defence Attaché of the Republic of Poland, Colonel Julian Czyżyk, was accredited in Malaysia. During nearly twenty years of military cooperation, many official visits took place. Poland was visited three times by the delegations of the Ministry of Defence of Malaysia, led by the Secretary General or Deputy Minister, and the Polish side made eight visits of the same level to Malaysia. Great opportunities for mutual meetings are the renowned defence fairs and exhibitions organised in both countries: Defence Services Asia (DSA) and Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace in Malaysia (LIMA) and the International Defence Industry Exhibition (MSPO) in Kielce, Poland.
 

In 2003, Polish arms manufacturer “Bumar-Łabędy” signed the contract for the supply of 48 Polish PT-91M Pendekar tanks to the Malaysian Armed Forces (M - Malaysian version, pendekar "warrior"). The contract was finalised in 2010. The value of the contract and accompanying equipment (6 WZT-4 vehicles, 5 Leguan bridges and 3 MID engineering vehicles) amounted to approximately USD 368 million and remains the largest trade deal in the history of mutual relations so far.
 

Another significant project being implemented in Malaysia is the contract by a Polish company WB Group for the supply of 257 FONET Tactical Digital Intercom Communication System for the Malaysian AV8 GEMPITA armoured vehicles programme. In 2018, WB Group signed the offset agreement for the transfer of technology with Ministry of Defence of Malaysia and DRB-HICOM DEFTECH Sdn. Bhd. Representatives of the Polish defence sector regularly participate in the largest defence industry fairs in Malaysia, DSA and LIMA.
 

In 2014, two MoUs on cooperation in the field of military education were signed by the National Defence University of the Republic of Poland with a) the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDU); b) Malaysia Perlis University (UniMAP).
 

Finally, it is worth emphasising that Polish and Malaysian soldiers are currently cooperating as part of the UN UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, making a significant contribution to the contingent.

TRADE AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION

From the very beginning, economic relations were the most important field of cooperation between the two countries. Their intensification was recorded at the beginning of the 21st century, which was mainly favoured by Poland's accession to the EU and the visible complementarity of economies. In 2007, on the initiative of the Polish Trade and Investment Promotion Section in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysia-Poland Business Association (MPBA) was established, the first chairman of which was the former Minister of Tourism of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dato Abdul Kadir Bin Haji Sheikh Fadzir. MPBA was a forum for the exchange of business experiences between Polish and Malaysian companies, and an organiser of trade missions. The association still formally exists, however is not currently active.
 

In 2011, the office of the Malaysian Trade Promotion Agency MATRADE for Central and Eastern Europe has been opened in Warsaw; according to Malaysian side, Poland remains one of the priority European countries for the development of bilateral economic cooperation. Since 2011, a regional representation of the Malaysian Timber Industry Board - MTIB has also been operating in Warsaw. MTIB main task is to promote the broadly understood timber industry, including Malaysian exports and deliveries of tropical wood, furniture, joinery etc.


In 2018, in Kuala Lumpur, the PAIH Foreign Trade Office was established in place of the Trade and Investment Promotion Section, whose task is to actively promote Polish companies in the sale and export of goods and services, and in the implementation of investment projects. It is worth mentioning the successes of Foreign Trade Office in the cosmetics industry.
 

The main sectors of Polish-Malaysian economic cooperation include the electronics, chemical, machinery and agri-food industry. In recent years, cooperation in the halal sector has been gaining importance. Since 2011, Malaysia has recognised the Muslim Religious Union in the Republic of Poland (MZR) as the body authorised to certify products in accordance with the principles of HALAL- MALAYSIA Islam. Since 2018, the Polish Halal Institute is the second Polish institution authorised to issue such certificates.
 

Polish-Malaysian investment cooperation is at a relatively low level, although it has improved in the last decades, mainly due to the increased activity of Polish entities on Asian markets. Polish companies such as INGLOT Sp. z o.o., Symbiona SA, Comarch SA, WB Electronics SA, IT Kontrakt Sp. z o.o., TTMS Sp. z.o.o., Billenium S.A. and PCC Rokita SA had invested in Malaysia.
 

Malaysian investments in Poland are very limited. In 2016, Golden Fresh Sdn Bhd established a company in Szczecin, which imports frozen seafood from Malaysia and produces canned fish. It is the only direct Malaysian investment in production sector in Poland. In March 2018, the Malaysian pension fund EFP, through its subsidiary in Europe, acquired a prestigious Galeria Katowicka shopping mall for about PLN 1.5 billion. EPF also owns the Gdański Business Center office building in Warsaw. Meantime, a subsidiary of the Malaysian oil and gas company PETRONAS - Petronas Lubricants Sp. z o.o., which deals with the distribution of lubricants and machine oils, operates in Kraków.
 

However, there is a growing participating of Malaysia in the global turnover of Polish foreign trade. According to preliminary data from the Central Statistical Office of the Republic of Poland, in 2020 the value of mutual trade in goods increased to over PLN 6 billion (over USD 1.5 billion). After Vietnam, Malaysia is Poland's most important trade partner in ASEAN. In terms of the value of imported goods (country of origin), Malaysia was ranked 32nd. Malaysia was the 60th export market for Poland. Poland has a trade deficit with Malaysia. According to official data from the Malaysian Department of Statistics, in 2020 Poland was Malaysia's 10th trade partner in the EU.


It is also worth mentioning that in recent years, Poles have started to visit Malaysia in large numbers. It is estimated that before the COVID19 pandemic, about 20-25 thousand Polish tourists have visited Malaysia each year. On the other hand, the number of Malaysian tourists coming to Poland fluctuates around 4,000 per year.

EDUCATIONAL COOPERATION

Higher education is an important area of mutual cooperation. In 2007, the Malaysian authorities granted the status of the so-called recognized universities to Collegium Medicum of the Jagiellonian University, the Medical University of Warsaw and the Medical University of Łódź, which contributed to a significant increase in the interest in studies in Poland among Malaysians. It is estimated that over 1,000 Malaysian graduates have already left Polish universities, the vast majority of whom are medical professionals. There is a growing interest among young Malaysians in studying in Poland in the fields of engineering, business and IT.
 

In addition, direct contacts have been established between universities from Poland and Malaysia. The following Polish institutions have established ties with Malaysian universities: Jagiellonian University, AGH University of Science and Technology, Łódź University of Technology, Silesian University of Technology, Leon Koźmiński Academy, University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszów, Tischner European University in Krakow.
 

In 2019, at the initiative of Ambassador Krzysztof Dębnicki, the 1st Get-together of Malaysian Graduates of Polish Universities was held. In the same year, 14 Polish universities and educational institutions took part in the APAIE educational fair.
 

Poland and Malaysia negotiate MoU on cooperation in the field of higher education.

CULTURAL COOPERATION

Cultural cooperation is an important element of mutual relations. Polish music bands regularly visit Malaysia as well as screening of Polish films, exhibitions and promotional event are being organised. Especially, the activities of Chopin Society Malaysia (CSM), established in 2002 at the initiative of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Kuala Lumpur and Prof. Snezana Panovska, laureate of the "Chopin Passport" awarded by the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Poland. To this day, Professor Panovska remains the music director of the CSM and the main initiator of the Association's activities. The statutory goal of the Chopin Association is to promote Polish culture in Malaysia and to support the development of cultural cooperation between Poland and Malaysia, including by popularising the music of Fryderyk Chopin and supporting young Malaysian musical talents. The most important event organised by CSM is the "ASEAN International Chopin Piano Competition". So far, 7 editions of the competition (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018) have been organised. In December 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, CSM organised the "Virtual International Music Competition Malaysia 2020", which was attended by 600 participants from 38 countries and 36 international jurors. The Embassy of the Republic of Poland and Polish companies present in Malaysia have been supporting and continue to support the activities of the CSM.
 

Moreover, in recent years Polish jazz musicians have performed regularly in Malaysia as part of the Asian tours of the "Jazz Po Polsku" project as well as Polish classical musicians. The topic of Polish Tatars was also very popular, especially during the Tatar Culture Festival organised by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, which consisted of exhibitions, Tatar music performances and Tatar cuisine presentations.

FACTS, CHARACTERS AND EVENTS WORTH KNOWING ABOUT

  • It is estimated that there are approximately 250 Polish citizens living in Malaysia. The main focus of the Polish community is Kuala Lumpur and its satellite cities. Few Poles also live in Penang, Melaka, Johor and the island of Borneo. The dominant group are employees of large multinational corporations who temporarily reside in Malaysia. The Embassy of the Republic of Poland organizes regular meetings of Poles.
     

  • In 2002, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad was the first head of the Malaysian government to meet Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. The visit became a prelude to the establishment of official diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See. In 2020, Pope Francis appointed the Polish clergyman Archbishop Wojciech Załuski to be the Apostolic Nuncio in Malaysia.
     

  • A Polish lady of Tatar origins – Lejla Chalecka, born in 1941 in Vilnius, known in Malaysia as Laila Taib (actually: Datuk Amar Hajjah Laila Abdullah Taib) was a valued, but little known figure in Poland. Her grandfather, Suleiman Chalecki (1884-1956) was the last Muezzin of the Vilnius Mosque. Her father, Abu Bekir, was a member of the Tatar Cavalry Squadron of the 13th Vilnius Uhlans in his youth. After the start of World War II, the whole family fled to Vienna and then moved to Australia in 1949. As reported by the magazine "Tatar Library": "After turning 18, Lejla married Abdul Taib Mahmud, lawyer, political scientist, member of the Federation of Malaysia States, later Chief Minister of Sarawak (the largest state of Malaysia located in Borneo – adds Embassy), member of the Malaysian parliament." In 1962, she and her husband moved from Australia to Sarawak. "Lejla accompanied her husband in a joint fight in freeing from the rule of the British colonisers of the Sarawak province (...) She was a defender of women's rights, president of the Women's Federation in Sarawak, initiator of the Women International Day in Malaysia - "Hari Wanita ", recognized since 1988. It allowed the women of the region to receive a good education, maintain a higher standard of cultural life and better social security. She fought for the equal rights of women. She also chaired many sports organisations gathering tennis fans and field hockey and organised health care for patients under the aid name of "Heart to Heart" and blood donation points knows as Blood Banks. As part of her involvement in the World Red Crescent Organisation, she dealt with patient care. She was called the Mother of the Suffering. Lejla Taib, with her husband and children, visited Gdańsk and the mosque in Oliwa. At the end of her life, her father travelled along with her in a trip of their lifetime – to Vilnius. Laila Taib died on April 29, 2009 at the age of 68. She was buried at the Demak Jaya cemetery in Kuching. In her honour, the school “Bersatu Sarawak Kolej” in Sibu, Borneo, was renamed the “ Kolej Laila Taib“ (KLT) in 2010. Her son, Datuk Seri Sulaiman Abdul Rahman served as Malaysia's Deputy Tourism Minister in the government of Mahathir bin Mohamad; in turn, her daughter Datuk Hanifah Hajar Taib is currently Deputy Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for Sabah and Sarawak.