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The religious-pandemic diplomacy: Duda’s visit to Italy and

Vatican
The President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, starting his
second term, chose Rome and the Vatican as destination of his first official visit
abroad. Honoring the memory of John Paul II, pandemic challenges and the
party’s own ratings forced the Polish side to choose these countries. The Italians
were interested in completely different priorities ...
The EU, Transatlantic and Belarus
The visit took place from September 23 to 25, during which Duda was
met by the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, his counterparts Sergio Matarella
and, of course, Pope Francis.
This visit was planned to be held before the first round of the Polish
presidential election. And it confirmed after Duda’s taking the oath.
“The negotiations considered the pandemic situation in both countries and
Europe, the mechanisms for cooperation in similar situations in the future, as
well as bilateral political and economic cooperation and security policy in
Europe”, reported the head of President’s office Krzysztof Szczerski.
On the other hand, Duda’s visit to Rome “could be an opportunity to
demonstrate that Italy, having suffered too much from the coronavirus, has
managed to defeat it”, the Secretariat of the Prime Minister Conte stated.
Italian people believe, as Poland is preparing to attract large investments
in infrastructure and energy in the coming years, there is great interest and
prospects for Italian companies to enter this market. According to Duda, Poland
needs to develop a framework for north-south infrastructure that can reach
Croatia as part of the Three Seas Initiative. These include works on roads,
railways and at the new international airport. Moreover, this will be the main
reason for the visit of Italian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs I. Scalfarotto
to Warsaw this week.

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The presidents also stressed the need for Transatlantic unity and dialogue
between Europe and the United States. According to Shchersky, the presidents
noted that the basis for this is a common vision of security in the framework of
the Alliance and they underlined the role of Poland and Italy as countries on the
two wings of NATO.
“The different views of Poles and Italians concerning this budget’s future
must be agreed to make it truly common for the whole Europe. It is important
for us to call for an ambitious budget, that will be completed and have the
executive propositions providing a new impetus to the development of Europe”
Shchersky outlined. He said that the security issues would also be negotiated.
“Poland and Italy are situated on different wings of NATO, so they have
different security priorities, but we must be united to support each other's
priorities”, he added.
Belarus has also had negotiations with both politicians. Both leaders
consider that in Minsk there must be a permanent dialogue between the regime
and the opposition, which will lead to a revision of the constitution and
subsequent free elections. It is important that the statements were made on the
day of the so-called “inauguration” of Alexander Lukashenko.

The anticovid alliance


On the first day of his stay, the President Andrzej Duda visited the Italian
center for Studying the coronavirus – Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for
the Study of Infectious Diseases (Istituto nazionale per le malattie infettive
Lazzaro Spallanzani). The institute, among other things, studies the coronavirus
vaccines and the COVID-19 treatment. And, most importantly, it succeeds.
Already on February 2, i.e. at the beginning of pandemia, a scientific
breakthrough was announced at the Spallanzani Institute. There the coronavirus
was isolated, which was then considered a message of global importance,
because Italy was the first European country that managed to do this.

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And in August this year, the tests of the Italian vaccine were launched at
Spallanzani Hospital, for which 90 volunteers were selected from 7,000 people
who expressed their readiness to take part in this experiment. The goal of the
project, which was funded by the authorities of the Lazio capital and the Italian
Ministry of Higher Education and Research, is to prepare a vaccine next spring.
It is clear that such scientific potential has not escaped the attention of the
Polish authorities. As an example of such cooperation, Duda mentioned the
signing of the cooperation agreement between the Spallanzani Institute and the
State Institute of Hygiene, which enabled Poland to join the European projects
implemented by the Institute in vaccine research and fight against pandemia.
“Through joint actions and mutual understanding, we have to become as
self-sufficient as Europe so that we can produce and provide the resources
required during pandemia, and not to search for them outside Europe”, the
Polish leader commented on. He noted that this is the only way to get the two
main guarantees: the first one – the delivery guarantees, and the second one –
the quality guarantees.
It should be noted that the interest of official Warsaw in the fight against
COVID-19 can have not only the humanitarian but also political reasons. It is
common knowledge that from July 1 Poland chairs the Visegrad Group (V4).
And one of Poland’s goals during this presidency is to cooperate with the
participating countries to return to normal conditions as soon as possible after
pandemia.
It is clear that the adoption of the Italian experience which at the
beginning of the coronavirus disease outbreak was affected by it the most, can
significantly help Poland to achieve the goal of V4. If it is successful, Poland
can significantly strengthen its leadership not only in V4, but in the region as a
whole, which can both play into the hands of the current Polish government and
provide a significant chance to turn Poland into an influential Central and
Eastern European actor.
The religious tourism above all

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According to Italian Vaticanist Andrea Gagliarducci, Duda is the first
president to be received by Pope Francis after the imposition of emergency
restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemia. According to the publicist, the
visit of the President of Poland will begin the gradual return of the state leaders
to the Holy Father.
Duda’s visit to Vatican was his third meeting with Francis as head of
state. This time it was the celebrating the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s
birth. Some issues of the both parties’ interest such as the Church’s mission,
family support and youth education were also discussed.
Most likely, the visit also had a practical underground. Given the fact that
Yaroslav Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party which Andrzej Duda belongs to,
has chosen a model of relations with the Church in which power is legitimized
by religion, Vatican’s support is extremely important for the rulling group.
This is especially topical now, at the start of a new political
confrontation, aimed at getting seats in the National Assembly of Poland – the
bicameral parliament of the Third Republic. Therefore, for Duda, as well as for
Law and Justice Party in general, it is important to further root the clericalism in
Polish state by means of demonstrative strengthening of ties between Warsaw
and Vatican; and consequently, keeping their electoral field in permanent
mobilization.
The opposition politicians were surprised by the Polish leader’s first trip
abroad. Thus, Andrzej Duda’s visit to the Apennine Peninsula was commented
on by one of the main opponents in the presidential race, Shimon Golovnya. He
was quite critical of Duda’s trip to the Apostolic Capital. The publicist and
former TV presenter described the trip to Italy and Vatican as “religious
tourism”.
“We have the president who, as far as I have learned, will do religious
tourism next week with our money, because he will go to Vatican again. This is
something I do not want to put in my head” – said the leader of the “Poland-
2050” movement in the video posted on social networks.

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“He will stand on his knees again and, in fact, in the framework of his
public duties, will implement his religious practices, because I have no idea
what a visit to Vatican should contribute to the state functioning at this time” –
added Holovnya.
Some other members of the opposition also criticized this trip. “Why
Italy? It’s difficult to answer. I don’t want to seem sarcastic, but maybe the
president wants to combine a business trip with some part of the vacation. I do
not know. For example, Ukraine, Paris or Berlin would be a more appropriate
destination to talk about Poland’s future in the European Union, or Poland’s
position in the European Union”, said Tomasz Trela, a member of parliament
from the Left.
It is curious that during the above-mentioned May television debates, only
the candidates Shimon Holovnya and Vladyslav Kosinyak-Kamysh mentioned
Kyiv as destination of their first foreign visits. Nevertheless, for his second trip
abroad, the Polish President Andrzej Duda chose Ukraine.
The Polish leader took part in the ceremony of General Wladyslaw
Anders bust opening at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Rome. Duda
also visited the Monte Cassino military cemetery, where he put flowers and took
part in a ceremony commemorating the fallen Polish soldiers.
It should be recalled that in 1944, during the Second World War, a series
of bloody battles took place near Monte Cassino (part of the so-called Italian
campaign), when the Allied troops, including the Second Corps of the Polish
Army (the Anders’ Army), broke through the German fortifications and
captured the Italian capital. However, Ukrainians also took part in the battle
(about 5 thousand) – mostly from the Western region of Ukraine, which on the
eve of the World War II was part of Poland.

*****

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The meeting in Rome was marked by the memorable and ceremonial
events, the agreement conclusion for fighting the coronavirus infection and it
demonstrated the priorities of each party: the Italians are interested in their
economic benefits in Poland, and Poland pursues the political priorities.
Duda’s visit also points to the priorities of his administration in the
upcoming years: Poland’s involvement in countering COVID-19, the priority of
improving the continental security in the Transatlantic cooperation, the Polish
government’s cooperation with the Catholic religious institutions, etc.
However, it should be noted that Duda’s first foreign visit was noticed by
the Polish opposition. After all, they accused the current government of actually
using the latter’s administrative resources for their electoral preferences. And
this is quite understandable, given the beginning of the political confrontation in
Poland, where the next parliamentary elections are to take place in three years.
But the Italian party was not entirely interested in the Polish visit. It is not
surprisingly, as debates about the referendum and scandals in some regional
polling stations attract more attention.
And what is next? Ukraine is among the priorities of the second trip
abroad for Poles. Given the recent improvement in relations between the two
countries, Duda’s visit to Ukraine could be quite important for the further
building of partner and good-neighborly relations.
But these days the attention of Ukrainians will be definitely focused on
the Italian media as the trial of the National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv in Milan
begins.