We are here at the Consulate General offices of Poland in Houston. The Hon. Robert Rusiecki is our gracious host today
First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Walk us through your background a little.
I started my professional career while still a student at the University of Warsaw. Some time in my third year, I became an assistant and translator for an American lawyer from Miami, Florida, who represented a few corporate clients in Poland, including a telecommunications company that eventually won the contract for the first mobile telephone network in Poland. Initially I was hired for two days, but I remained in this role for two years. It was my first contact with real business and an interesting professional experience. While still at the University, I started working at an Austrian commercial bank in Warsaw. In the following years, I also had the opportunity to work at German and Dutch banks. Following the business experience, there came the time of foreign service for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and my work in London. Later I was consul general, in Chicago, and finally I was appointed to Houston.
Have you always wanted to be in the diplomatic service? How did you prepare yourself to serve as a Consul?
My professional goal, as I remember my dreams from quite an early childhood, was to work in an American corporation, with Ford Motor Company as the first example. As you can see, it was not entirely successful. Over the years of my career in banking, I didn’t seriously consider becoming a government officer. From time to time, I remembered the words of my first boss, the lawyer from Miami, about not working in a bank for many years, preferably staying there for only four. I do not know why it was supposed to be four years, but he justified it by the example that in four years I would be able to get to know my company in such a way that I would know everything about it, and my further professional development would slow down. After all, in the banking sector, in the treasury department, I worked for fifteen years, most of the time in customer trading and sales, business development and larger projects, e.g. changing the banking accounting system. In 2007 (a year before the global financial crisis that led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other respected institutions), probably the most serious professional change took place in my life.
I remember that my employment with the bank ended on October 15, and on October 25, I had already found myself in London in a new role. To become a consul, I needed to fulfill several conditions such as having a university diploma and knowing the relevant foreign language. I also had to successfully complete several months of training, mostly in the area of law. The training was followed by an exam that I remember as one of the most difficult exams I have ever passed.
What are the duties and responsibilities of a Consul?
It is very vast, also taking into account many non-standard situations that are difficult to predict in advance and include in training materials. Basically, consular offices fulfill several basic functions. Firstly, making the movement of people across borders possible, i.e. issuing passports to Polish citizens and visas to foreigners. Secondly, legal matters, i.e. performing certain legal and notarial activities for the office’s clients. Thirdly, consular assistance, i.e. helping Polish citizens in difficult situations, accidents and various, often dramatic events, that they may find themselves in while staying in the consular district of a given consulate. Fourthly, maintaining and developing relations with the local Polish community and Polish organizations.
Last but not least, there is also a lot to do in the area of public and cultural diplomacy, many very diverse projects promoting Poland in the USA as well as matters related to economic diplomacy especially important for our office in Houston.
What is your primary concern for Poland at this time?
Hon. Robert Rusiecki: Currently, the situation of Poland, as well as a very large part of the world, has become complicated due to the war taking place just outside our border, caused by Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine. Before that, for a long time, we and the rest of the world struggled with the effects of and the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. These two issues became important factors in the economic development of Poland, which started after the 1989 system change and successfully continued for so many years.
Do you have a goal set for the future of Polish-United States’ relations? What issues or programs are you working on at this time?
The main goal facing the Houston office is further developing US – Poland bilateral relations. Poland is a proven ally of the USA, in the NATO organization, in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in other areas of political and military cooperation. The location of our consulate in Houston has a huge impact on specific areas where cooperation between our countries can develop. In the first place, it is economic and business cooperation between Poland and Texas. As we all know, Texas means energy. Houston is called the energy capital of the world. For this reason, a few years ago, close cooperation between Poland and Texas began with regard to LNG supplies, which allowed for the effective implementation of the policy of diversifying energy sources and Poland’s energy security. It is possible that this cooperation will soon develop further and take into account new solutions in this industry. Besides the oil and gas industry, Houston and other business centers in Texas and the neighboring states are the destinations of many Polish entrepreneurs. I believe that these very recent contacts will start translating into fruitful business cooperation in the near future.
The second important issue is cooperation in the medical field. The Texas Medical Center in Houston with numerous highly specialized clinics and institutes is a very important medical center in the entire USA. In recent years, cooperation in this field, especially in the field of cancer treatment, started developing dynamically, as can be evidenced by numerous visits by representatives of the highest state authorities, including the President of the Republic of Poland. Thanks to the Polish-American professors at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, projects have been developing successfully. What is also important, some actions related to the latest medical achievements are carried out at the highest levels of government. For many years, the Polish organization from Dallas has been supporting Polish children who go to this city for sophisticated treatment. The president and the association have been actively working on establishing a training platform for Polish doctors; so that in future, sick Polish children can be treated in Poland. This would also allow Poland to establish a pioneering treatment center not only for Poland, but for the entire Central Europe. Another fast developing element is scientific and academic cooperation. And again, thanks to the involvement of an outstanding Polish-American Texas A&M professor, many projects were launched regarding contacts between universities, scientists and business individuals from Poland and Texas. The above are just a few examples, but there are Polish academics, with important achievements in many other universities in Texas, Louisiana, Kansas etc.
The important role and goal of our office is to support these types of initiatives as much as possible.
Poland is doing a lot for Ukraine. How has the war in the Ukraine impacted life in Poland?
The war in Ukraine, which caused and still causes the indescribable barbarism and crimes committed by the Russians against the Ukrainian nation, from the very first day, showed how much humanitarian attitude and compassion there are in Polish people. Up to now, over 5 million refugees from Ukraine have found themselves in Poland. Some of them ended up in other European countries; some have returned to Ukraine; but a huge number of Ukrainians are still in Poland. Poland quickly introduced legal solutions, incredible help and the involvement of tens of thousands of volunteers and people who opened their homes and have allowed Ukrainians to stay in Poland for many months, have a place to live and often work. Everything is done in safe conditions, with help and care shown on a daily basis.
What happened, once again showed both Poles and other nations that, in times of need, they can effectively unite and carry out extraordinary and wonderful joint actions.
Is there anything not addressed in the foregoing questions that you would like to add, please go ahead and tell our readers.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my views and comments. Closing, I would very much like to encourage all IF readers to take an interest in Poland, our history and culture. Poland has a lot to offer when it comes to economic cooperation, scientific research, university studies and of course tourist attractions. Feel free to reach out to the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Houston and other Polish government offices and institutions in the USA for information and guidance.
The other thing I would like to point out is the fascinating story of Polish immigrants to Texas. It all started in the first half of the 19 century. Many Polish freedom fighters of the 1830 uprising (against Russians) were deported to the United States. The US Congress granted them land in Illinois, but these soldiers made poor farmers and when the Texas Revolution broke out in 1835 many volunteered. Beginning in the 1850’s, the pace of Polish immigration substantially increased. This time, came mostly farmers, fleeing poverty, cultural harassment, and religious persecution by the Prussians, Austrians and Russians (at that time Poland was partitioned by her neighbors). These fugitives who established the first permanent settlement at Panna Maria, TX in 1954 and their followers had the greatest Polish influence upon Texas. Last year, the Polish Heritage Center at Panna Maria was opened and is very much worth visiting.
Thank you so much for that historic fact. We should visit Panna Maria. I did not know that we have had Polish immigrants for so many years.