Czechia has the second-longest border with Poland after Germany but the Czechs know Poles the least of their neighbours. They don’t share the same recent history as with the Slovaks, they don’t go on holiday to Poland as they do to Austria, and they don’t have that many joint ventures or a shared tradition of shopping trips and Christmas jaunts as with Germany. Author Martin Ehl Chief Analyst for the Czech Daily Hospodarske Noviny.
Older Czechs tend to stereotype Poles as salespeople of the 1980s, who don’t keep their word and try to make a profit on everything and in all circumstances. Younger Czechs mostly ignore Poles, but only until they find out that the Witcher is a character that was created in Poland.
Nevertheless, Poland is an important political and economic partner of Czechia, which has become even more apparent in recent months as Warsaw and Prague are among the biggest suppliers and supporters of fighting Ukraine.
In the last 30 years, their rapprochement has been rather unique. Allegedly, Prime Ministers Petr Fiala and Mateusz Morawiecki got closer during a long train ride to Kyiv in mid-March. In the eyes of many Czechs, this journey made a European statesman of Fiala, who found a natural ally in the Poles.
The dispute over the Turów mine, which was perceived much less dramatically in Czechia than in Poland, is now off the table. Because of the Czech lawsuit before the EU Court of Justice, Polish politicians ignored or condemned the Czech lawsuit for more than half a year. Practical problems related to Czech-Polish border areas, often unresolved for years, have been swept under the rug. Cooperation in the field of energy and European issues has been tabled.
Czechia needs help to abandon Russian gas and oil as quickly as possible, while Poland needs Brussels to release the recovery funds that were blocked because of the dispute over the rule of law since parliamentary elections are right around the corner and the Treasury is draining.
At the beginning of May, it looked like Prime Ministers Fiala and Morawiecki were forming a new lobby group within the EU, building on both moral and practical leadership in providing help to struggling Ukraine.
The two countries share enough interests: EU financing to respond to the refugee crisis, new rules for emissions trading, gradual transition towards a green economy, armaments with US arms and possible establishment of new alliance bases, cooperation between the defence industries or further road and rail construction to create more interconnections between the two countries (which is still a problem in the borderlands).
In other words, Czechia and Poland share a strong European agenda and can achieve allies for their agenda among the EU Member States.
When it comes to their practical relationship, the situation is not that rosy. The pandemic border closure by Poland has eroded confidence; long-established ties in the borderlands in particular were easily cut with the stroke of a pen somewhere in the capital. Czech businesses along the common border employ about 50,000 Poles and Czechs are accustomed to cheap shopping in Poland, although Polish products – not only food products – are known in Czechia mainly for their price, not their quality. The Made in Poland brand tends to discourage Czech customers. Consumers are mostly unaware of the fact that popular CCC and Reserved stores are Polish.
Related to this is another feature: the prevailing mistrust of Czech business towards Polish partners when attempting to establish joint ventures or when Czech companies try to penetrate Poland. Stories full of slander and obstacles that Polish authorities put in the way of Czech companies just to prevent foreign competition are heard too often to be isolated cases. However, Czech companies do not advertise it because the Polish market is large and attractive. An example of this is former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, known for his dislike of Polish food, though his investment fund does not mind investing in Polish food producers.
Czechs simply lack deeper knowledge of Poland and Poles. And the Poles do not give Czechs much reason to learn more about Poland. ©℗
The author is the Chief Analyst of the Czech economic daily Hospodářské Noviny and a member of the Programme Board of the Czech-Polish Forum