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« Tuna 4 / 2020

Riigivanem (Head of State), President and Expressions of Friendship between Free Nations: 90 Years of Reciprocal State Visits by the Heads of State of Estonia and Poland

Poland recognised Estonia de facto on 6 October 1919 and on 31 December 1920, Poland decided to recognise Estonia de jure. The letter of recognition was handed over to the Estonian Foreign Minister Otto August Strandman (1875–1941) on 27 January 1920, that is one day after the de jure recognition of Estonia’s independence by the Entente’s Supreme Council. The 1920s saw rapid progress in Estonian-Polish bilateral relations, defined by shared interests, close connections between politicians, and cooperation between the militaries of the two countries. Bilateral relations progressed in the wider context of attempts by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania to ensure the security of the newly independent nations that were situated between Soviet Russia, Germany and other potentially revanchist powers. Estonia enjoyed relatively good relations with all its neighbours, except for the Soviet Union. In the 1920s, reciprocal state visits took place between Estonia and Finland, Estonia and Latvia (Latvia was Estonia’s only ally), as well as between Estonia and Sweden. During the Interbellum, Poland paid the highest-level visits to its allies France and Romania, and received the de facto head of state of Hungary. The only non-allied state that enjoyed a reciprocal state visit with Poland was Estonia. Polonia Restituta aspired to strengthen its international position as a restored great power, and hence started accrediting its ambassadors in the 1920s. Inter alia, Poland was vitally interested in elevating its status as a country ‘wedded to the Baltic Sea’.

The Estonian Envoy to Poland (1927–1929) Otto Strandman was seen in Warsaw as a true statesman who had already expressed his sympathy for Poland in the early 1920s. His election to the office of Head of State (prime minister with the representative functions of the head of state) created the preconditions for organising the state visit by the Estonian head of state to Warsaw (9–10 February 1930) and a reciprocal state visit by Poland’s President Ignacy Mościcki (1867–1946) to Tallinn (10–11 August 1930). Both visits were marked by pomp and splendour. It is noteworthy that President Mościcki’s (in office 1926–1939) visit to Estonia was his first state visit. His arrival by sea and other elements of his reception as Estonia’s guest (including a military parade, state banquet and a garden party at Kadriorg Palace) bore a resemblance to the visit to Estonia by King Gustaf V of Sweden one year earlier. The two visits shed some light upon diplomatic protocol and contemporary practices in both countries, enabling comparisons between them and earlier state visits. The development of Estonian-Polish relations, symbolised by the highest-level visits, was treated cautiously by Sweden and Latvia, and met with hostile reaction from the Soviet Union, which was interested in keeping Estonia’s foreign policy neutral and passive. The most complicated moment of the two visits emerged during Head of State Strandman’s short stay in Vilnius, which had been annexed by Poland in a move that was disputed by Lithuania. Yet leaving aside some negative implications for Estonia’s foreign policy, the visits proved to be a symbolic highpoint for Estonian-Polish relations, and this remained so until the restoration of Estonia’s and Poland’s independence. Characteristically, the first official visit of President Andrzej Duda in August of 2015 was hosted by Estonia, a party to the Estonian-Polish entente cordiale between the two World Wars, now a true ally.