This week, we have posted things about Poland. The Wizards are hosting the Nets on Saturday for Polish Heritage Night, so we decided to dedicate this week to it. We have alternated from highlights on Marcin Gortat’s career on one day followed by a piece on other people of Polish heritage the next.
On this edition of Bullets Forever’s Polish Heritage Week, we’ll talk about Poland’s relationship with another fellow European country: Belgium.
Belgium doesn’t border Poland, so you might be wondering, why would we put them in the same sentence? Isn’t Belgium a western European country while Poland is (or was) part of the Eastern Bloc? Yes, but stay with me on this one.
Mathilde, the Queen Consort of the Belgians is Polish! And Belgium’s capital, Brussels, is the de-facto capital of the European Union. And like Belgium, Poland is also in the EU. Within the EU’s seven governmental institutions, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is now the President of the European Council.
So let’s go a little in depth on it.
Queen Mathilde: Belgian born with Polish roots
In some of our pieces on Belgium (because of Mystics forward Emma Meesseman), you may know that the monarch is King Filip (Dutch), Philippe (French), or Philipp (German). His wife, Mathilde is the Queen Consort. She’s from a noble family herself.
Mathilde’s father was Patrick d’Udekem d’Acoz, a Belgian Count. He has no ties to Poland. But her mother was Countess Anna Maria Komorowska, part of the influential Komorowski family in Poland which used the Korczak Coat of Arms.
So this is where things get interesting with Mathilde’s Polish roots. Komorowska’s mother (and Mathilde’s maternal grandmother) was Princess Zofia Sapieha of Poland. When the Polish were part of a kingdom, the title of Prince or Princess didn’t necessarily mean that that figure is next in line to the throne. Many noblemen and noblewomen were called or given the title of “Prince” or “Princess.”
Finally, former Polish President Bronisław Komorowski is one of Mathilde’s distant relatives. Komorowski was elected president in 2010 and served until 2015.
Mathilde’s mother was Polish born, so ... can the Belgian Queen speak Polish? Unfortunately, not really. According to Dominika Ćosić and Agnieszka Niedek of Wprost.pl, Queen Mathilde only knows a few words. That said, she is fluent in French, her native language; Dutch, Belgium’s majority language; English; and Italian.
Queen Mathilde’s and King Filip’s oldest child, Princess Elisabeth, is now 16 years old. She is the heir apparent to the Belgian throne. After King Filip abdicates or dies, Elisabeth will be the first Queen Regnant (or female monarch) of Belgium. And Elisabeth will also be the first Belgian head of state with Polish roots!
Donald Tusk: President of the European Council
Wetstraat or Rue de la Loi in Brussels is Europe’s most powerful street. In fact, it may be most powerful street in the world after Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.!
On the west side, you’ll see Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel’s residence and the Belgian Federal Parliament. When you get to the east side, you’ll head to Leopoldswijk/Quartier Léopold, where most of the European Union’s administrative offices are.
There are seven official EU institutions, one of which is the European Council. The European Council consists of each EU country’s head of government. This group elects a full-time leader to coordinate their meetings, messages, and oversee EU policy from their perspective. Currently, a Pole leads the Council.
Gdansk native Donald Tusk has been the President of the European Council since 2014 when he was elected to a 2.5 year term. He was re-elected to a second term last year, though it wasn’t unanimous. It sounds weird to those of you who aren’t Polish, but Poland actually voted against him when every other nation did. You can click on this link in The Guardian to read about the political story behind that. At any rate, Tusk can only serve two 2.5 year terms as President, so he will move on in December 2019.
What did Tusk do before his current role in the EU? He was a former Polish Prime Minister who served from 2007-2014 when he took his current role in the EU. Before his career as a politician, Tusk was an anti-communism activist. He was even arrested for his activism in the 1980’s. In 1991 after the fall of communism in Poland, Tusk was elected to Parliament for the first time and steadily gained influence in the country.
In short, Tusk is a man who has definitely seen it all when it comes to governmental change. He’s seen major change in Poland and the EU from the Cold War to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. And today, most European nations, including Poland are part of both the EU and NATO, which is also headquartered in Brussels.