As I write, preparations for the fi rst state visit of King WillemAlexander and Queen Máxima are in full swing. Our Chamber is in charge of organising the match-making for the accompanying business delegation, and the embassy staff are putting together a very detailed schedule showing in fi ve-minute intervals what will happen during the visit. T
he King and Queen will be accompanied by a group of Dutch business people interested in the Polish market, as well as a delegation of CEOs of major Dutch companies. Combining business and politics is really a Dutch specialty. During the recent Nuclear Summit in The Hague, Dutch businesses managed to sign contracts worth over 1 billion Euro: commercial diplomacy at its best!
The choice of Poland as the destination for the fi rst state visit of the Royal couple is recognition of the importance of Polish-Dutch relations and for all those business people that have been working on strengthening trade relations between the two countries since the King’s mother, then Queen Beatrix, visited Poland in 1997. On the occasion of that visit, the Netherlands-Polish Chamber of Commerce was founded. The Chamber has come a long way since then and so have Polish-Dutch business relations.
Polish-Dutch business relations have a long history. During excavations in the North of Poland, Frysian coins were found dating back over 1000 years when Dutch tradesmen came to the Baltic Sea to buy herring. During the 17th century, Gdańsk was full of Dutch immigrants, including preachers. The architecture in Gdańsk is distinctly Dutch and large parts of the Old Town were built with Dutch brick. The Utrecht-born architect Tilman van Gameren (known in Poland as Gamerski) left his mark on Warsaw (e.g. the white church in the New Town square, the palace that houses the Chopin museum and the original bathing pavilion in Łazienki Park).
The theme of the trade mission is innovation and water management. Dutch involvement in Polish water management has a long history. In the 16th century, many religious refugees came from the Netherlands to Poland and used their knowledge of water management to create arable land. Dutch Mennonites created the polders in Żuławy Wiślane, south of Gdańsk and Dutch immigrants also created parts of Warsaw, such as Saska Kępa and Kępa Zawadowska between Powsin and the river, where I live. At ul. Walecznych 37 in Saska Kępa, there is still a wooden house which was built by a Dutch family in the 19th century. Apparently, even the most Polish of trees, the pollard willow, was introduced by Dutch settlers as it helped to keep the newly reclaimed land together. The Dutch also needed Poland for a serious piece of water management: Amsterdam is built on Polish poles. Relations between the Dutch royal family and Poland also go back a long way. The King’s grandfather Bernhard von Lippe Bisterfeld spent his early childhood at the family estate in Reckenwalde (now the village of Wojnowo) while Princess Juliana and Prince Bernhard spent a large part of their threemonth honeymoon skiing in Krynica-Zdrój and hunting with his godfather Mr. Mielżyński (yes, the grandfather of the Warsaw wine merchant!). They stayed in the hotel owned by the famous opera singer Jan Kiepura.
The Polish hosts are not yet in full preparatory mode for the state visit because on June 4 a whole array of world leaders, such as the presidents of the United States of America, France, Germany and many other dignitaries from Europe and beyond, will fl ock to Warsaw to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the fi rst semifree elections since the 1930s in June 1989. As a direct result of the events in Poland, the remainder of the Warsaw pact countries saw similar changes which resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunifi cation of Germany.
This year, Poles will celebrate three major anniversaries – 25 years of democracy, 15 years of NATO membership and 10 years of EU membership. All these events have helped to strengthen ties between the Netherlands and Poland. A royal visit in a year like this is indeed highly appropriate.