Piotr Buras was 15 years old when the socialist dictatorships in Eastern and Central Europe crumbled and a democracy emerged in Poland. When he studied international relations in Warsaw in the 1990s, Europe was still a myth in Poland. Today, Buras heads the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and defends the European idea against a government that is increasingly losing faith in the EU’s institutions.
Buras is an expert on Germany and Poland, often appearing in Polish media as an EU and Germany explainer. As a representative of ECFR, Buras argues primarily for stronger foreign policy cooperation among EU states. He and his colleagues regularly publish analyses, for example on European support for Ukraine. ECFR operates on a donor-funded basis, with two-thirds of the think tank’s money coming from non-profit organizations. The rest of the funding is almost entirely provided by European governments and EU institutions. The Polish Foreign Ministry is not among the supporters.
Learning the German language as a child
His studies, his work, his interest led Piotr Buras to Germany again and again. In 1995, he spent half a year in Berlin as a student. He didn’t actually study there, but he had a good time, made friends and learned a lot about the country, Buras says. And it became a life goal to live in Berlin, he says. He then returned in 2008, initially working on a political science research project for a few months. Then, for several years – until 2012 – he reported from Berlin for Poland’s second-largest daily newspaper, the left-liberal and pro-European Gazeta Wyborcza.
The roots of his interest in Germany and Europe lie in his family. His parents both studied German language and literature. His father was part of the Solidarność movement in the 1980s. He learned his first German phrases as a child, Buras says. Today he speaks fluent German, English and Polish.
But it was above all the Polish zeitgeist of the 1990s that brought him to Germany. “At that time, there was a saying: Poland’s path to Europe leads through Germany,” Buras says. “That was geographically uncontroversial. But also true in a political sense.”
Poland’s need for security
In 2012, after his time in Germany, Buras took over as head of the ECFR office in Warsaw, one of seven offices in various European capitals. “We assume that it takes a good understanding of national debates and interests to be able to develop an efficient EU foreign policy,” says Buras, referring to ECFR’s self-image.
The task of the Warsaw office is, on the one hand, to promote the concepts of ECFR in Poland – among politicians, for example, for a common EU policy on Russia. On the other hand, the goal is to communicate the Polish perspective at the European level, for example, to explain Poland’s special security needs.
Since the PiS party took over the Polish government in 2015, Buras’ work as an advocate has changed. In his first years at ECFR, close cooperation with the Foreign Ministry was possible, Buras says. But the tone has become harsher, the work more defensive, he says. “Since the change of power, it’s more and more about defending the principles of European integration against the attacks we experience in Poland every day.” The Polish government is now resistant to consultation on European issues, he said. Michel Krasenbrink