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Our Friends in the East

Ann Hills introduces a British Council exhibition on Polish-British relations.

The British Council's exhibition - The Eagle & The Lion: 900 years of Polish-British Relations - is touring Poland. This month it finishes its stint in Warsaw and moves on to Lodz. It was born as a celebration of friendships and alliances and was timed to coincide with the Queen's visit to Poland in March.

But what is less high profile is the major cutback in funds to the British Council which might have put this 100,000[pounds] exhibition at risk had the cuts been announced earlier. They threaten the services of the Council in Poland, including the main centre in Warsaw - active for more than fifty years - which has recently been refurbished, and a dozen or so libraries and information centres around the country.

At the London preview of the exhibition, Neal Ascherson, author of several books on Poland, warned that `Britain now has an enormous chance to do something before the next bad times. We must help get Poland into the European Union and into NATO without delay. Otherwise we have really learnt nothing through the logic of our common history'. His plea that `Poland should enter the heart of Europe - not as a stranger but as a friend', echoed the sentiments of the late Edward, Count Raczynski - Poland's pre-war ambassador in London - when he said twenty years ago: 'Only the political unification of Europe can bring us a change for the better'.

These ideals were shared by the exhibition researcher, Noel Clark, former head of the BBC's Central European Service. He spent months researching our mutual links which have been forged over a millennium, notably through twin co-operation in trade and war: through money-making and bloodshed across Europe and beyond.

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