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History of the Czech diplomatic and consular representation

The Czechoslovak representation in Poland in 1919 - 1939

After the declaration of an independent Czechoslovakia on 28 October 1918, the new state needed to build up its diplomatic service, whose tasks included establishing diplomatic relations with other states and establishing Czechoslovakia on the international scene in terms of economic, political and security. To this end, it was necessary to establish a network of diplomatic missions abroad.

The diplomatic service in pre-war Czechoslovakia was firmly linked to the First Czechoslovak Foreign Resistance. It was based on legionnaires, politicians who participated in diplomatic efforts to restore Czech statehood and the establishment of the Czechoslovak state, as well as members of the domestic resistance, such as V. Girsa (the first Czechoslovak envoy to Poland), P. Maxa, V. Rejholec, B. Štrér, Z. Fierlinger or J. Šeba. Edvard Beneš became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Establishing diplomatic relations with its neighbours was one of the priority tasks of the new Czechoslovak Foreign Service. The Government of the Czechoslovak Republic recognised the Polish Republic de jure and established diplomatic relations with it through an exchange of letters between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs as early as 28-31 May 1919.

On 5 June 1919, Foreign Minister Edvard Beneš entrusted government delegate Vladimír Radimský with the task of establishing diplomatic relations and preparing a permanent Czechoslovak diplomatic mission in Warsaw. On 25 February 1920, Vladimír Radimský was appointed to the diplomatic rank of chargé d'affaires and on 23 March 1920, he handed over a cabinet letter in Warsaw. Thus the Czechoslovak envoy officially began his activities.

The Legation offices were initially located in several locations, e.g. in Moniuszki 1a, Wielka 33, Zgoda 10 or Złota 4. In October 1921, the Czechoslovak government purchased a property in Warsaw at 18 Koszykowa Street (kamienica hrabiego Uwarowa, dating from 1890), which was rebuilt in 1927-1929 for the purposes of the legation. The reconstruction created a five-storey modernist building decorated with a relief of the large state emblem of the Czechoslovak Republic above the large staircase window. The building still serves its purpose today.

Furthermore, in 1921 a building with land at Chopina 13 (formerly also Szopena 13) was purchased, which served as the envoy's residence with representative premises. The residence was connected to the legation building by a garden.

Czechoslovakia maintained a wide network of representations in Poland, despite the fact that relations between Czechoslovakia and Poland in the interwar period were marked by territorial and political disputes, and despite repeated attempts at rapprochement, mutual distrust persisted on both sides. Polish historian Andrzej Paczkowski aptly described this as a "cold neighbourhood".

Between the world wars, Czechoslovakia had in Poland, in addition to the legation in Warsaw, consulates in Kraków (1919-1939), Katowice (1924-1937), Poznań (1921-1936), Lvov (1921-1939), Gdynia (1937-1939), a passport office in Těšín (1920-1924) and an honorary consulate in Kvasilów (1931-1939), with activities only in the Luckie district in the Volhynia Voivodeship. In the area of the former Germany, which fell to Poland after 1945, Czechoslovakia had a consulate general in Opole (1920-1921), a consulate in Wrocław (1919-1939) and an honorary consulate in Szczecin (1926-1939).

The basic tasks of the consulates included protecting the rights and interests of Czechoslovakia, caring for Czechoslovak citizens and promoting cooperation in various fields, such as cultural and scientific. The consulates also had an important economic function; their duties included protecting the economic interests of Czechoslovakia, supervising the observance of international treaties and removing obstacles to the development of commercial contacts. Despite many discussions, however, Czechoslovakia did not have bilateral consular agreements with Poland, which would certainly have facilitated the handling of a large number of matters.


The war period 1939 - 1945

On 15 March 1939, Germany began its occupation of the western part of post-Munich, i.e. already curtailed Czechoslovakia. A day later the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was declared, followed by the abolition of the Czechoslovak Foreign Service and the closure of Czechoslovak diplomatic missions abroad.

In March 1939, the Polish government ignored the German appeal to the states with which Czechoslovakia maintained diplomatic relations to hand over Czechoslovak diplomatic missions into German hands, and tolerated the activities of the Czechoslovak legation and consulate general in Kraków until the German attack on Poland in early September 1939. The consulates in Gdańsk and Lwów came under German administration.

During this period, the Czechoslovak Legation in Warsaw and especially the Consulate General in Kraków played an important role. Czechoslovak citizens who began to flee to Poland after the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were concentrated around them. On 30 April 1939, a Czechoslovak military group was established in Kraków, part of which was moved to France and, on the basis of a decree issued by the Polish President I. Mościcki on 3 September 1939, the Legion of Czechs and Slovaks was formed. Despite being minimally armed, it joined the fighting on the Polish side during the German attack on Poland. After the defeat of Poland, most of the Legion's soldiers crossed into Soviet territory and ended up in Soviet internment. After a year and a half of internment and after the Soviet Union was invaded by German troops, the Soviet leadership decided to release the Legion and gradually form the first Czechoslovak Army Corps, which later fought alongside the Red Army on the Eastern Front. A small part of the Legion managed to retreat to Romania, from where they went to France or Palestine.

After the declaration of Slovak independence on 14 March 1939, the Czechoslovak envoy Juraj Slávik resigned and departed for Slovakia. In June, however, he returned to Poland as a representative of the forming Czechoslovak foreign resistance. Poland, however, did not officially recognize him as an envoy, just as it had not recognized his notified successor, Jiří Zedtwitz, earlier in March 1939. Both diplomats subsequently became involved in the activities of the Czechoslovak National Committee in Paris (they were representatives of the committee to the Polish government-in-exile) and in 1940-1945 worked for the London government-in-exile, which included the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry headed by Minister Jan Masaryk.

Like J. Slávik or J. Zedtwitz, Czechoslovak diplomats who resigned from the Foreign Service or went into exile after the occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II became the backbone of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, including the Foreign Ministry based in London. The recognition of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and the post-war reconstruction of Czechoslovakia are among the great achievements of Czechoslovak diplomacy.


The foreign representation of Czechoslovakia in Poland in 1945 - 1989

After the liberation in May 1945, the Czechoslovak Republic proceeded to renew its Foreign Service. In addition to the reconstruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague, it was necessary to reconstruct the network of diplomatic missions abroad.

According to an order issued by the Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky immediately after the Nazi occupation in March 1939, the entire network of diplomatic representations was to be handed over to Germany. However, of the 74 Czechoslovak First Republic diplomatic missions (legations, consulates-general and consulates), 18 of them operated continuously throughout the war. These included offices in Great Britain and its colonies, the USA, the French colonies and the Polish and French governments-in-exile.

On 3 May 1945, Josef Hejret, the Czechoslovak Republic's designated envoy who had been working for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, arrived in Warsaw. On 18 May 1945, he handed over his credentials, confirming his accreditation as envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary. He took up residence in the Hotel Polonia at 47 Jerozolimskie Avenue, which, due to damage to the building of the Czechoslovak diplomatic mission, also served as the envoy's temporary office.

The condition of the building and the envoy’s residence can be seen in the report of Mr. Hejret of 7 May 1945: 'On my arrival in Warsaw I went to see the state of our official buildings. I can report the following: The residential building in Szopena Street is completely destroyed - apparently by a direct hit from a heavy bomb. On the other hand, the building on Koszykowa Street is standing and could perhaps be saved and put back in order, although the damage is also very considerable. The building was the scene of a fire, apparently on several occasions, but it was always contained - from the view from the street it can be judged that the ceilings did not burn down. In addition, the house was shelled by machine guns and artillery - it was hit several times. Only an expert can judge how great the damage is."

The envoy had the damaged diplomatic mission building secured and began work on its reconstruction. The embassy moved from its temporary location in the Hotel Polonia to the repaired building at the beginning of 1946. On 19 May 1946, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland also confirmed by diplomatic note, in response to an enquiry by the Czechoslovak Legation, that, following an intervention with the relevant authorities, an order had been issued to strike out the reservations concerning the Czechoslovak State's ownership of the properties at Szopena 13 and Koszykowa 18 from the land register.

The residence at 13 Szopena Street was so damaged that in 1950 the embassy agreed to dismantle the ruins of the building, on the understanding that Czechoslovakia's ownership of the property continued. As no replacement plot of land for Szopena 13 had been identified by the Polish authorities, the question remained open. The lack of a residence remained a problem, so the Czechoslovak government bought the property at 16 Róż Avenue from Mr. and Mrs. Łuczak.

On 12 April 1947, the Czechoslovak Legation was promoted to an Embassy, after which on 22 May, Envoy Josef Hejret was officially promoted to the post of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and presented his credentials the same day.

The communist coup in Czechoslovakia also brought changes to the diplomatic service, which was subordinated to the communist regime. There were major personnel changes, with the diplomatic service being staffed by people associated with the Communist government, while pre-war diplomats were retired.

The relations between Czechoslovakia and Poland after World War II continued to be affected by border disputes over Těšín Silesia, Kladsko, Ratiboř and Hlubčice. This affected not only the economic cooperation but also the establishment of consular relations between the two sides.

At the beginning of 1947, there was a rapprochement in Czechoslovak-Polish relations, confirmed by the Agreement on Friendship and Mutual Assistance, which was signed in Warsaw on 10 March 1947. On 4 July 1947, the Convention on Ensuring Economic Cooperation between Poland and Czechoslovakia was signed in Prague. These agreements accelerated the establishment of consular relations.

The consulates had a wide range of tasks in the political, economic and cultural spheres. In view of the more than 1,000-kilometre-long mutual border, important transport and transit interests, joint economic projects (e.g. the industrial companies or the Oder-Danube Canal), active cultural contacts and the existence of a national minority in the neighbouring country, Czechoslovakia planned to open three consulates in the field - in Katowice, Szczecin and Gdańsk - and a consulate attached to the embassy in Warsaw.

In November 1947, the consulate in Katowice, which had been operating during the interwar period, reopened. Unlike the consulate in Szczecin, which was established later, the main tasks included the affairs of the Czech and Slovak minorities (mainly in Lower Silesia, Orava and Spiš), education, property and border issues. Due to the concentration of Polish industry in Upper Silesia, the Consulate General was supplemented in the 1950s with a commercial department.

The intention to establish a consulate-general or consulate in Szczecin and a consular office in Gdynia or Gdańsk was confirmed by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimír Clementis, on an official visit to Poland in mid-1948. On 14 June 1948, the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs applied to the Government Office for the establishment of a Consulate General in Szczecin and a Consulate in Gdańsk, which was approved by the Government on 12 July 1948. The Embassy received a villa at 32 Piotra Skarga Street from the Szczecin municipality for the seat of its office.

As far as the consulate in Danzig was concerned, on 26 February 1951, Ambassador František Pišek informed the Polish Foreign Ministry that the Czechoslovak government had resigned from establishing a consulate in Gdańsk and that it still envisaged two consulates in the field - in Katowice and Szczecin. The reasons were purely economic, as the actual cost of the reconstruction of the future headquarters exceeded the planned costs several times over.

In 1949, a Cultural Information Centre was opened in Warsaw (the forerunner of today's Czech Centre Warsaw), which focused mainly on cultural events, organising film and literary evenings, lectures, concerts and language courses. These activities were part of ideological propaganda and targeted friendly socialist states. The Centre was first located at 6 Wyzwolenia Avenue (1949-1956), later at Marszałkowska 77/79. A second centre also operated in Szczecin at ul. Śląska 38.

At the end of February 1950, all Czechoslovak honorary consulates were closed. The communist government did not want to allow the interests of Czechoslovakia to be defended by people from the ranks of merchants, industrialists or bankers, who often used their positions against the communist government in Prague.

The Czechoslovak Embassy in Warsaw had a separate commercial department, which was located in 1951 in separate premises at Piękna 64a, from where it moved in 1956 to a rented representative building at Litewska 6 (the palace of Prince Wasyla Dołgorukowa), where it remained until 1993.


The foreign representation of Czechoslovakia in Poland after the fall of communism (1989-1992)

The so-called Velvet Revolution of November 1989 ended more than 40 years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia and opened the way for the restoration of democracy. On 10 December 1989, members of a government of "national understanding" were sworn in to lead the country to its first free elections in 1990. Jiří Dienstbier became Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government.

Minister Dienstbier's main goal was to restore Czechoslovakia's independent foreign policy, to break away from the influence of the USSR and the structures of the communist bloc, to actively participate in European integration and to build new principles of global security. For this it was necessary to implement the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the territory of the republic, which was achieved by the end of June 1991. Czechoslovak Foreign Service also made a significant contribution to the abolition of the Warsaw Pact on 1 July 1991. After the dissolution of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1990, Czechoslovakia officially broke away from the former communist bloc. Our foreign policy was thus able to focus fully on anchoring the republic in the European and world context.

The fundamental change in foreign policy after 1989 was also reflected in the nature and distribution of Czech embassies, including those in neighbouring countries, in line with the way in which relations with our neighbours were rebuilt on the basis of equality and freedom in the political and economic spheres and the development of regional cooperation.

Honorary consulates could again be established. In the case of Poland, however, this came only after the division of Czechoslovakia. The cultural information centres in Warsaw and Szczecin and the Consulate General in Katowice continued their activities.


The foreign representation of the Czech Republic in Poland after the division of Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993

The independent Czech Republic established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Poland on 1 January 1993. To ensure legal continuity, the Czech Republic ceded to bilateral treaties and agreements concluded between Czechoslovakia and Poland. The main task of the new Czech diplomatic representation was to continue the development of good relations with our northern neighbour at bilateral, regional, and European level.

For the further functioning of the Czech Foreign Service, it was important to quickly conclude an agreement on the distribution of the Czechoslovak real estate in which the diplomatic missions were located between the successor states of Czechoslovakia - the Czech and Slovak Republics, and in the case of the Czech embassy in Warsaw, to resolve the open question of the legal status (ownership) of these properties.

As part of the partition, the Czech Republic received the embassy’s chancery at Koszykowa 18, which is still the seat of the Czech Embassy in Warsaw, together with the residence at 16 Róż Avenue, which served as a residence until 2004. The chancery of the Slovak Embassy was established in the building of the former commercial department of the Czechoslovak Embassy at Litewska 6.

The Czechoslovak Cultural Information Centre was also divided. After the separation of the Slovak Institute, the Centre was renamed the Czech Centre, which had branches in Warsaw and Szczecin (it ceased its activities there in 1997). In 2004 the Czech Centre moved from ul. Marszalkowska 77/79 to the former residence at 16 Róż Avenue.

Since 2000, the CzechTrade office in Warsaw, located at Koszykowa 18, has been helping to strengthen Czech-Polish trade relations and cooperation between Czech and Polish companies. The development of cross-border relations also led to the decision to open a second Consulate General in Wroclaw in 2001. In October 2003, the Czech representation in Poland expanded again when the CzechTourism office at 16 Róż Avenue was opened.

Following the accession to the European Union and subsequently to the Schengen area, the Czech government reassessed the form of the Czech diplomatic representation in Poland. Both consulates-general were closed - first in 2005 in Wrocław and three years later in Katowice. At that time, cross-border cooperation between Czech regions and Polish voivodships had already reached a high level of development. Thanks to this cooperation, so-called Euroregions were established on the Czech-Polish border in the 1990s and individual regions concluded detailed cooperation agreements with the Polish voivodships. The network of these partnerships, including town and village partnerships, has been constantly growing.

The tasks of the defunct Consulates General were to some extent taken over by the new Honorary Consulates, which became the extended arms of the Czech Embassy in the Polish regions. In 1995, the longest serving Honorary Consulate in Poznań was opened under the leadership of Ms Renata Mataczyńska. In 1996, an honorary consulate was opened in Szczecin, closed in 2008 and reopened in 2021. In 2009, honorary consulates were opened in Częstochowa and Wrocław, a year later in Bydgoszcz and in 2012 in Łódź.

In view of the continued development of regional economic and trade relations, the growing importance of Polish transport routes for Czech exporters and the increase in tourism, the Czech Embassy in Warsaw is preparing the opening of additional Honorary Consulates. The Embassy in Warsaw has made no secret of its goal to open an Honorary Consulate of the Czech Republic in every Polish voivodship.