Even though many people think of August as vacation time, Joanna Wronecka, Poland’s ambassador to the United Nations, is not taking off anytime soon, as she is presiding over the Security Council for the month.
As the Security Council is going to tackle issues affecting the Middle East and other parts of the world, the Polish ambassador could bring special influence to debates and meetings, as she speaks fluent Arabic and has built a unique personal relationship with her counterparts in the region.
But the agenda for the month, initially not fully filled, could pile up with emergency meetings, as Poland inherits tensions over recent missile-launching events in North Korea and rising threats between Iran and the United States.
Poland has an agenda of its own as well: discussions about the Mideast and the reintegration of child soldiers into civilian life as well as promoting the International Day for Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, on Aug. 22. Ambassador Wronecka (pronounced Vronetska) has invited representatives from a range of groups, including the Yazidis, an ethnic Kurdish minority, to meet with diplomats in New York City.
Although the president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, isn’t scheduled to be in New York before September, when the UN General Assembly convenes for its annual debate, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz of Poland plans to participate in various events this month in the Council.
Poland’s role in the Security Council during the last year and a half could be characterized as the epitome of quiet diplomacy, reflecting its balancing act between leaning toward Europe but unable to ignore its eastern neighbor, Russia. It is also taking up a new security plan with the United States, announced on Aug. 5, called the Warsaw Process Working Groups. Symbolizing Poland’s inescapable geopolitics, it sits next to Russia at the Council’s horseshoe-shaped table, in alphabetical order, and everyone is professional, Poland’s delegates say.
Each month since July of last year, PassBlue has profiled UN ambassadors as they step into the role of Council president and highlighted information about their home countries, including their carbon-emission levels. (Poland’s emissions, in tons per capita, are 8.6, compared with the world average of 5.) This month’s column follows those on Britain, the US, Bolivia, China, Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, France and Germany, among others.
The interview has been edited and condensed and includes information from the ambassador’s media briefing (see far below).
To hear the full interview with PassBlue and learn more about Ambassador Wronecka’s experience as a female diplomat in the Middle East, download PassBlue’s new podcast, UN-Scripted, from iTunes. Or listen below.
Ambassador to the UN: Joanna Wronecka, 61
Languages: French, English, Polish, Arabic, German
Education: Ph.D. in humanities, University of Warsaw School of Oriental Studies
Her story, briefly: Wronecka was not born to an especially political family, but the emphasis of her parents and grandparents on education has had an instrumental influence on her career. “I started to learn foreign languages with my grandfather, which was for me quite inspiring,” Wronecka told PassBlue. “My desire to learn and also to read difficult books was quite useful and was also my choice when I decided to study a very original language, Arabic.”
After learning to speak it fluently and earning her Ph.D., she quickly got involved in international relations. Wronecka joined the ministry of foreign affairs in 1994 and first worked in the UN Systems Department in Warsaw, the capital, but was soon posted to Morocco, Jordan and Mauritania. In 1999, she was named ambassador to Egypt, Poland’s first woman to be named an ambassador in the Middle East.
She was ambassador to Morocco from 2005 to 2010. From 2011 to 2015, she was ambassador and head of the European Union delegation to Jordan, before returning to Poland to work in the foreign ministry. In a way, being in charge of Poland’s current elected term on on the Security Council is a return to her roots, as the first position she held in Warsaw focused on the UN.
Please describe how your particular background has prepared you as an ambassador: I can say I was well prepared because of my specialization and the fact that I speak Arabic, and also because of my professional experience. People appreciate that — speaking the language provides motivation and opens all doors. Also knowledge of the region. Arabic philosophy was very influential in the development of our modern society, with the Greeks.
As an elected member of the Security Council, Poland has to interact with similar members of the Council, but [Poland] also brings forward issues that our country cares about. My colleagues at the permanent mission and I must work to do what is needed while using this opportunity to represent our country in the best way. We have to contribute to difficult discussions and build a good reputation on global issues. We have almost one year and a half behind us [on the Council], and I think we have gained the position of a partner, because when we agree we deliver. My goal is to be constructive and positive and have a solution-oriented approach.
For Poland, coming to the Security Council after 20 years’ absence means there is a gap and we have to perform with professionalism.
Can you tell us a bit about your life in New York City? I don’t have much free time, but I like to visit museums and go to the opera and cinema. Maybe after our mission on the Security Council, I can do more! I live on the East Side, close to the UN. Apart from working hard on the Security Council, I pay attention to developing good relationships with other colleagues working in different missions. I am privileged to work with distinguished, high-level diplomats. I enjoy the company of people with different perspectives. I enjoy and try to organize a social life and social discussions.
Have you been able to find good Polish food in New York City? We are extremely fortunate to have a substantial Polish community in New York City. There are lots of good Polish restaurants and shops. Whenever I organize dinners or receptions, I try to bring good Polish food to promote the country. Hopefully, Polish specialties are well appreciated in New York.
What’s it like to be one of the few women on the Security Council? We have had 49 women serve as permanent representatives in New York. Now, it’s just Karen Pierce, the ambassador from the UK, and myself [currently on the Council]. From time to time, women who serve as deputy permanent representatives [also attend meetings], so the feminine element is there. It’s all about professionalism. I feel comfortable because my colleagues are very nice and create an atmosphere of cooperation.
What are Poland’s big goals for August? We have to be ready for any kind of proposal or suggestions from member states. This is the second time Poland has served as president of the Council in two years. We will continue to press for our priorities: upholding international laws and standards and protecting civilians and international humanitarian law. We want to keep working on how to implement good standards.
We have four main events: On Aug. 2, we will hold an open debate on the situation of children in armed conflict. This is in accordance with the Security Council agenda, but we’re thrilled it falls during our presidency as we began work on this issue last June. (Watch the UN video of the debate.)
On Aug. 13, we will focus on the role of international humanitarian law, given the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. We will bring the issue of the protection of civilian standards, such as the protection of medical personnel, to the Security Council. This will be a briefing, with the participation of our minister of foreign affairs and we hope some ministers from countries who are members of the Security Council. We still need discussion, from a practical point of view, on how to implement international humanitarian law. When I see how people suffer — it’s difficult to access people in a conflict situation, when a city is completely bombarded or blocked, I think we have a moral obligation to bring up the issue of standards. Medical personnel should be able to arrive to help people who are injured, and it’s about a humanitarian corridor and being open to all parties involved in a conflict. This is a delicate, not very visible matter — we are talking about doctors and nonprofit groups that cannot work without facilities. We have a tendency to forget about it, but even during war nations have to respect international agreements.
On the 20th, we plan to organize a debate on the Middle East. We want to focus on rather horizontal issues, especially looking at the root causes of some conflicts. Our colleagues from Middle Eastern countries are invited.
We’ll have a meeting on Aug. 22 using the Arria formula [an informal arrangement giving the Council more flexibility to be briefed on international matters], concerning the safety and security of religious minorities. We’d also like to inaugurate the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief [proclaimed last May by the General Assembly]. We hope to contribute positively to a discussion on how to prevent religious persecution. Our minister of foreign affairs will be there because he attaches great importance to this.
Will you be welcoming any special guests during your presidency? Our foreign minister has sent out lots of invitations, but I don’t have a final list yet. [Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, is supposed to attend the Council meeting on the Geneva Convention.] President Duda was here in January and in May and will be back in September for the General Assembly session.
How can the Security Council could work better? We have a very active informal group on this, chaired by Kuwait’s ambassador, Mansour al-Otaibi, and I serve in the very modest function of deputy. We think the issue of transparency is important.
I also have the difficult task of chairing three Council subsidiaries, sanctions committees focusing on Sudan, South Sudan and Iraq. The affected countries should be respected, so I try to be in good contact with them to explain in a concrete way what is the real aim of our discussions.
Last year, thanks to the efforts of Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia, we developed a special guide to good practices for the sanctions committees. We also want to work on institutional knowledge and
help prepare the ground for newcomers to the Council. Over the last two and a half years, lots of countries, including Austria, New Zealand, Spain and the Netherlands, have contributed.
What’s interesting about the Security Council is that we’re not alone, we appreciate the effort of others.
Head of State: Andrzej Duda (President)
Foreign Affairs Minister: Jacek Czaputowicz
Type of Government: Constitutional presidential republic
Year Poland Joined the UN: 1945
Years on the Security Council: 1946-1947, 1960, 1970-1971, 1982-1983, 1996-1997, 2018-2019
Population: 38.4 million
2019 Contributions to UN Regular Budget: $24,578,000
2019 Contributions to UN Peacekeeping: $16,096,000
Membership in Regional Groups: European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Council of Baltic Sea States, Central European Initiative
2015 Maternal Death Rate: 3/100,000. By comparison, the US rate in 2015 was 26.4/100,000
2017 Per Capita GDP: $15,400; EU, $33,723; US, $59,531; world, $10,721
2018 CO2 Emissions (in tons, per capita): 8.6 (world average, 5)
Electric Power Consumption (1,000 kWh/per capita and year): 4; US, 13 (world average, 3.1 kWh)
Editing by Deborah Baldwin.
Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.