Polish Ambassador, Mr. Krzysto Suprowicz: “We have so much to learn from you too” [Archives:2002/35/Interview]

August 26 2002

It is not so easy to find someone who works 18 hours a day for the sake of his country’s mission. But what is even more difficult is to find an Ambassador who works for so many hours to represent his country in three different countries plus the country he is residing in.
We know very well that most diplomats have to attend official, political, and social receptions and ceremonies and sometimes pay complimentary visits here and there. However, a few of them gained the respect and admiration of the community after knowing that they have been working until a late hour at night serving their country and sacrificing many other social activities.
One of those unique and hard working diplomats is Mr. Krzysto Suprowicz, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Yemen. Mr. Suprowicz has been the Ambassador of Poland since the end of September 1996. He started his work for the Foreign Ministry after the political change in Poland 12 years ago. He served as a first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Bucharest, Romania between 1991 and 1993. Upon his return to Warsaw in 1993, he was appointed as the Head of the Southeast European Division of the European Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1995 he was transferred to the Department of Africa and the Middle East where he dealt with several Arab countries, including Yemen.
At the end of September 1996, he was appointed as the Resident Ambassador of Poland to Yemen, as well as the non-resident ambassador in three countries of East Africa, namely Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
Mohammed bin Sallam of Yemen Times had the opportunity to interview Mr. Krzysto Suprowicz, and filed the following interview.
Q: Could you tell us about your impression about Yemen and its people?
A: Well, it has been almost six years since I started working as an ambassador in Sana’a. All these years were full of many valuable experiences and hard work for the benefit of the traditionally friendly relations between our two peoples and states.
Before I came to Yemen, I had good knowledge about this beautiful country and its people not only because I was in charge of bilateral relations with the Middle East including Yemen in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also because of my profound personal interest in this country. I am an orientalist, who graduate from the Institute of Oriental Languages, Warsaw University. Therefore, in the course of my five-year study, I had the chance to learn a lot about the culture, history and achievements of Yemeni people throughout history. I am well acquainted with Yemen’s ancient history but since I am always trying to look beyond the horizons, my main interest is focused on the future of this country and its people.
Six years of my mission in Sana’a provided me with a lot of new impressions and information about the present situation of Yemen. It also provided me with an idea of the prospects for the future. I am profoundly convinced that there is great future for your nation. But in order to see such hopes fulfilled, many things have to be accomplished.
First of all, education! This is a country of basically young citizens as the new generation younger than 18 years represents over 60 percent of the population. There is no doubt that the future will belong to them. But for a bright future, education at higher standards has to be made available for each and every young man and woman in the vast areas of this great country. By the same token, higher education institutions have to become accessible to provide opportunities to those who, through their readiness to work harder, would aspire to get higher levels of training and knowledge. This country will need in the very near future many qualified engineers, doctors, teachers and scientists due not only to the natural tendencies of modernization of its economy and its social life, but also because of the fact that you have numerous other natural and mineral resources besides oil and gas. Please do not also forget about the natural beauty of Yemen’s landscape, untouched by modern civilization, unpolluted and hospitable. The exquisite seashores extending for over two thousand kilometers along the Red and Arab Seas should attract thousands of tourists from all over the world. This will only happen on one condition. That is if the Yemeni people, private sector and the government would invest heavily in infrastructure (hotels, resorts, sports and recreation facilities). Therefore my advice is simple – do not wait for the help from others but try to help yourselves! If you do so, others will come and bring their money with them.
As you see, it would have been a sin not to make use of what has been given to the Yemeni people by Mother Nature and God.
Secondly, we cannot forget that Yemen is placed in a very strategic if not crucial location of the Arabic Peninsula. Along with Oman, Yemen has direct access to open sea, of which other Gulf and Red Sea countries are deprived. Yemen is therefore not only historically but also politically very important to its neighbors. Whatever happens in Yemen will definitely have an impact on other countries in the Arabian Peninsula.
At this point, we should also remember the fully justified aspirations of the Yemeni people to become part of Gulf Cooperation Council. I join the opinion that spheres of prosperity and mutually beneficial cooperation should not be limited to those who “have more” and who were luckier in terms of their socioeconomic development. It is therefore my most sincere hope and wish to the Yemeni people to see their country become a fully fledged member of this regional organization in a foreseeable future.
Q: You have been kidnapped for several days in Khowlan district. Could you elaborately tell us about that experience? What was your reaction to this hostile act of violence and what was the impact on your family and the people in your country?
A: First of all, let me tell you that we have been watching recent developments in the Republic of Yemen with utmost interest, especially in the field of security. Yemen is not only participating in its own war against terrorism but it is also taking an active part in the global effort to eradicate this dangerous and destructive phenomenon. Being part of terrorism, kidnapping had in the past few years become an evil means to whoever thought it could be explored for their vicious goals. I am glad to see that the authorities as well as the vast majority of the Yemeni people started opposing kidnapping and enforcing the law which include severe punishments for those who perpetrate in their kidnapping ideas. As you may know, during 1993-2001 there have been over 140 cases of kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen. Among those cases, there were only a couple or so, thanks to God, which had a very dramatic and tragic resolution, resulting in the death of the abducted victims. I particularly remember the one in December 1998 concerning a group of 16 tourists from Great Britain and Australia. Then, two years ago there was a case of a Norwegian former diplomat. Otherwise, all other kidnappings that I know of -this requires emphasis- ended peacefully for those who were abducted. Since last October however, and this should be attributed to the authorities and the Yemeni people, we have not witnessed any new cases of kidnapping of foreigners. It is quite possible that those operations have stopped due to very strict and severe punishments which were inflicted on kidnappers of the last victim, a German expert. As far as I know, they were apprehended and brought to justice and then punished for what they did.
Another reason for not witnessing this sort of phenomenon in recent months is that the general security standards within the Republic of Yemen have been raised. This needs to be appreciated.
Coming back to my kidnapping case, I would like to say: Yes, amongst ambassadors accredited in the Republic of Yemen, I am the only one who was kidnapped in Sana’a and taken to the region called Yemeniatain in Khowlan mountains. I was kept there for four days. I had a chance on several previous occasions to describe my feelings during those four days as well as to depict the conduct of my kidnappers. I wish to emphasize time and again that, apart of the very humiliating and potentially dangerous moment of kidnapping, the kidnappers never treated me in a disrespectful way. My dignity of an ambassador stayed intact and contrary to what some might think, they were full treated me respectfully and were very forthcoming to fulfill most of my requests. During those days I used to engage myself in lengthy dialogues with my captors, I tried to better understand the motivation that stood behind the kidnappers and to apprehend the hardships of their lives. I tried to analyze that situation through the strength of reason rather than emotions. I respected the way I was treated by those very simple and in their own way, honorable people. However I cannot accept or justify what they had done. But since they never presented any economic demands, and did not ask for any ransom including cars or anything of materialistic nature for setting me free, I tried to be friendly with them and to tell them about my distant and so much different country. They listened with great attention but I realized that the stories I was telling them seemed like they were coming from another planet. They tried to explain their reasons behind kidnapping me. I understood that this illicit act was perfectly justified by their tribal code since they had no other option to seek what they see as justice and release their own sheikh.
The fact that they used an illegal way to achieve their ends is definitely to be condemned. But the way in which they treated me and the fact that they did not take advantage of the situation, and never asked for any benefits also has to be respected. It doesn’t mean that I could disregard in any way what they did. It was an ugly crime that created problems for many different people and states and gave a bad image to the abductors’ own homeland. Such a crime is also obviously punishable as per the Yemeni law. I just hope we will have no other incidents of this sort in future.
As for my family, I think they suffered the most. I cannot describe their exact feelings when they learned about me being kidnapped, but I am quite sure that this particular incident had a tremendous impact on their lives. For them, it was something they would have preferred to forget as soon as possible. Only time will show whether they could forget about this incident. For me though, it was yet another lesson of piety and a valuable professional experience in spite of all the stress and exhaustion I went through.
As for forty million Polish people in my country, it was the news of the day. But it lasted for four days only, “Al hamdu li-Liah”.
Q: Could you evaluate the relationship between Yemen and your country?
A: I would like to say that the activities of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Sana’a started just eleven years ago, specifically in 1991. I am the second residing ambassador of my country to the Republic of Yemen but it does not mean that our bilateral relationship started just eleven years ago. The history of Polish-Yemeni relations is much more abundant in bilateral context. They have been established forty five years ago in 1957. Moreover, I should say that they have a very promising future. I always tend to concentrate on the future rather than the past, which we cannot forget anyhow because it is the source of experience and provides an opportunity to assess what needs to be done next. The six years that I spent here were very fruitful in terms of development in different fields of bilateral cooperation. We have succeeded in strengthening cooperation in the educational sector and in the exchange of scholarships. Several Polish universities signed agreements with Sana’a, Aden, Hadramawt and Hodeida Universities. Many Yemeni students received scholarships to pursue their higher education in Poland and then return to Yemen to become valuable members of the Yemeni society. They are now opening their own private clinics and starting small businesses. On the other hand, many of them still maintain vivid contact with Poland. During the past six years, Polish students had for the first time an opportunity to come to Yemen to learn Arabic language.
In the field of culture, Poland has actively participated in most of the European Film Festivals held in Sana’a. Several exhibitions were displayed for the Yemeni public, including the photo-exhibition “Muslims in Poland”, showing the multicultural heritage of the Polish people.
Let’s not forget about the bilateral trade turnover which witnessed between 1996 and 2001 a growth of almost 400 percent. The Republic of Yemen is importing from Poland a great variety of goods, including sweets, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, electric appliances, power generating sets, agricultural equipment, and means of transportation for the army and the navy. Last year, we have recorded over 33 million US Dollars turnover for the first time in history of bilateral relations. It represents four times the value of Polish-Yemeni trade turnover in 1996. I certainly do hope that this positive trend will be maintained in the years to come. There is great potential on both sides and we have to explore them for the benefit of the two friendly countries.
There certainly have been exchanges of high level bilateral visits during the past six years. Let me mention here the official visit to Warsaw of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Yemen, Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Iriani in February 1997 and the visit the Deputy Speaker of the Polish Parliament, Mr. Jan Kr?l to Sanaa in May last year. The talks that took place during both visits greatly contributed to maintaining Polish-Yemeni political dialogue at levels corresponding to mutual interest existing between the two geographically distant and yet so close countries.
Finally, let’s say a few words about the Polish financial assistance programs that have been initiated 20 months ago as a result of my personal initiatives. Two projects on Socotra Island have already been implemented and based on the very positive initial experiences, my government is committed to continue its financial support to Yemeni reforms and development projects.
Our relationship is definitely much broader and more profound as we also have other common interests and experiences to share. Some 12 years ago, Poland has embarked on a program of deep social, economic and political reforms. Introduction of democracy and free market economy were both valuable and painful experience, leaving some 17 percent of the working population of 19 million people out of work, but liberating the spirit of unrestrained entrepreneurship among vast parts of the society. Over two million private companies have been registered during the past 12 years in Poland. From about 11 thousand state enterprises almost 10 thousand have already been privatized. That’s the measure of Polish economic success. We are ready now to share our experiences with our friends in Yemen as this country is currently undergoing very profound social and economic reforms. The Yemeni government’s efforts to modernize the country can not pass unnoticed and I am fully convinced that Yemeni people deserve assistance and support from international community.
Q: We have heard that the agreement on scholarships has been suspended. Could you tell us about the reasons behind this?
A: You must be referring to the agreement concluded between the two Ministries of Education which was signed during the visit of Dr. Abdulkarim Al-Iriani to Warsaw in 1997. The protocol of cooperation between the two Ministries wasn’t renewed last year and this wasn’t a result of neglect or lack of interest of either side but a mere reflection of changing realities in my country. You have to realize that growing pressures on the Ministry’s budget as well as changing laws in Poland made several articles of this agreement impossible to fulfill. Let’s take for instance the general health service system, of which a large portion was privatized and with the state sector providing for basic services to those insured only. Health insurance became very expensive and also from this point of view, in order not to leave Yemeni students outside its health insurance framework, we need to renegotiate some clauses of the Protocol. At the same time, please take into consideration that all Yemeni students coming to Poland on scholarships were receiving full five-year scholarships whereas Polish students coming in exchange to Sana’a or Aden were on 10 months scholarships only. This created certain disparity that has to be corrected, and I trust this will be done soon. I am convinced that both sides do care for well balanced relations based on true partnership.
Q: You are the Polish ambassador to four countries. How could you manage such a heavy task and why do you think your residence in Yemen is better than residing in any of the other three countries?
A: I have no doubt that representing my country in several other countries besides Yemen is quite a challenge, especially if one considers the small number of my embassy’s diplomatic staff. It is in reality a very difficult task. We care for bilateral relations with all these countries in an equal manner but, in reality, some offer much greater opportunities to develop friendly relations and then it becomes my duty to identify those most promising spheres of co-operation that would allow us to recover the required balance. The well balanced and steadily growing relation with all of them is what my government wants to achieve. The fact that I reside in Yemen makes it much easier for me to communicate with authorities here, to meet people, and make friendships. I feel emotionally involved with this country and its predicament, which is very dangerous for a diplomat though! What helps me a lot and makes my job easier is the realistic and far-reaching foreign policy of the Yemeni government that even in most dramatic moments looks out for ways to solve any dispute with its neighbors in an amicable peaceful way or through international mediation. That is very plausible too and much appreciated in my country which has paid so dearly for the atrocities of the two world wars in the 20th century. During World War II over six million Polish people died or were killed. Because we had enough devastating wars it became our duty to promote peace through dialogue, negotiation, mutual respect and understanding between nations.
Q: Any final remarks to the Yemeni people before you leave Yemen?
A: Peace and prosperity is all I wish to the Yemeni people, who are brave and generous yet still very poor. Let me tell you something: Yes, Yemeni people are very poor but they have so much to offer. They can offer dignified conduct, hospitality, ingenuity and resourcefulness that have unfortunately been forgotten in many developed countries. So, do not forget that we have so much to learn from you too.
Now, after almost six years, my present mission comes to an end. Yes, I wish I could have achieved more, not only in Yemen but in all other countries but it is really time to leave because I feel that little by little I am becoming half Yemeni and half,,,, Khowlani. This is not a bad mixture, provided one doesn’t use Kalashnikovs! This country needs to depart ambassadors -not to have them addicted too much to the country perhaps- as much as it needs new coming envoys.
Needless to say that Yemen very much needs friends outside the country in Europe, in the USA, and everywhere. I know that it is difficult to be Yemen’s friend when you in the country. But as soon as I depart you will definitely have one more friend; a very devoted and unselfish friend as of September this year.