First Minister, Mark Drakeford MS
On 10 January 2024, I undertook a three-day visit to Silesia in Poland to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Silesian Voivodeship. This was also an opportunity to undertake a programme of visits and events aligned to the areas of collaboration set out in the MOU.
The relationship between Wales and Silesia is a long-standing one, largely based on a shared history of mining and heavy industry and formalised by an MOU signed by the former First Minister Rhodri Morgan in 2002. Today, both Wales and Silesia have moved away from these industries and have a focus on regeneration, land reclamation, sustainable development, social inclusion, tourism, education and rural development. It is on this basis that we have renewed this partnership through an updated MOU and action plan.
The MOU and action plan between Wales and Silesia will initially focus on life sciences, cyber, coal tip safety and green transformation, science and innovation, education and industrial tourism.
As well as the signing of the MOU, my programme featured engagements with the Marshal and Deputy-Marshal of Silesia, cultural performances, and a visit to a silver mine with connections to Wales dating back to the 18th century.
On arriving in Krakow, I met with the Head of Economy and International Cooperation Department from the Silesian Voivodeship Marshal’s office. I travelled to Koszęcin where I spoke at an event, hosted by the Marshal, for organisations involved in delivering the MOU. It featured a cultural performance by the Stanisław Hadyna Song and Dance Ensemble and a performance by an orchestra of the Ukrainian Army. This gave me the opportunity to outline the steps Wales has taken to welcome Ukrainians as a Nation of Sanctuary and to reflect on the support Poland has provided following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The second day began with a visit to the Tarnowskie Góry silver mine. The MOU with Silesia commits to shared learning around managing post-industrial landscapes and using former mining sites as an opportunity for tourism. The silver mine’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was an excellent example of how Silesia is taking forward this work and I discussed the National Slate Museum and the Slate Landscape of North West Wales World Heritage Site. Conversations have already begun regarding the sharing of best practice and possible projects where our respective UNESCO sites can collaborate.
The formal signing of the MOU was attended by senior figures from across the six areas of co-operation. It was also attended by Jan Olbrycht MEP, former Marshall of Silesia, and cosignatory of the 2002 memorandum. Established partnerships are already in place to take forward many of the actions in the action plan, for example, around coal tip safety, cyber security, and innovation. The MOU formalises those partnerships and is an opportunity to bring together the excellent work between Wales and Silesia.
My programme concluded with visits to the town of Nikiszowiec, an historic mining housing estate in Katowice, and the Silesian Centre of Freedom and Solidarity where, together with the Marshal, I laid a wreath in memory of six coal miners killed by troops during Martial Law declared to prevent the growth of the Solidarity trade union, and the Silesian Museum. Each of these sites play an important part in telling Silesia’s industrial story and its transition to a post-industrial economy.