Celebrating Polish independence

  • 2010-11-24
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

BUSINESS AS USUAL: On Nov. 11, Dalia Grybauskaite was the only foreign leader invited by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski to celebrate Polish Independence Day and to address the Polish troops and civilian crowds in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, despite some recent anti-Lithuanian nationalistic rhetoric in the Polish media.

VILNIUS - On Nov. 11, which is Polish Independence Day rooted in 1918 and related to the controversial ethnic Lithuanian-origin strongman Jozef Pilsudski, who is the godfather of modern Polish independence, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite went to Poland. According to the tradition established in the era of President Valdas Adamkus and President Lech Kaczynski, Lithuanian and Polish presidents are the only speakers addressing the Polish troops and civilian crowds in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw on each Nov. 11. Polish presidents also come to Vilnius each Feb. 16 (Lithuania’s Independence Day, proclaimed in Vilnius in 1918), but in Vilnius they say a speech only in the Lithuanian parliament, where the Polish president is just one more speaker among several other Lithuanian and foreign speakers.

“In 1918, after 123 years of lost independence and territorial divisions, Poland restored its statehood. This year carries great meaning to our countries. The Solidarity movement, born exactly 30 years ago in Poland, cracked the foundations of the Soviet empire and contributed in a significant way to the reestablishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990. Lithuania felt Poland’s friendly shoulder along all its path of integration into NATO, which started 20 years ago. After Lithuania and Poland joined the European Union, cooperation between our two countries became strong as never before. It took us only several years to see how much we can achieve when we act in unity and in support of each other.

We have laid a strong foundation for the growth of the wellbeing of our people. The stability and strong economy that Poland demonstrated in the face of the global downturn sent a good sign to the whole of Europe,” Grybauskaite said in her rather understandable Polish. The latter sentence of this quote is worth some critical attention: indeed, Poland gained a lot by devaluing its currency during the crisis, while export-dependent Lithuania lost a lot by sticking to its currency peg to please the interest of Scandinavian banks dominating Lithuania’s market. Interestingly, Poland, as an inexpensive country, still attracts Lithuanian shopping tourists, causing a headache to supermarket managers in southern Lithuania.

North Lithuanian-origin Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, still unfortunately a quite weak political figure after his 100 days in office, accented mostly his pity over the current ongoing “Polish-Polish war” in his speech, although he found a place in his speech to greet “brothers Lithuanians.” The internal fights in Poland are boiling. On Nov. 15, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the PiS, which is the biggest opposition party in Poland, described Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s position towards Russia as a position of “a trembling little dog.” Kaczynski, who on that day even sent his party MPs to the U.S. Congress to complain about the current Polish government, obviously does not like the Polish-Russian strategic partnership proclaimed by Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. The friendship between Sikorski and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is so intimate that earlier this year, Lavrov even participated in the annual meeting of Polish diplomats, which is an exceptional case in international practice.

The change of Polish attitude to Russia made the feelings towards the Lithuanian-Polish strategic partnership a little bit colder in Warsaw. On the other hand, there is no longer some big sense in the strategic partnership between those two EU member states – all EU member states are strategic partners among themselves. The EU somewhat recalls to mind the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, officially called the Republic of Both Nations, created in the 16th century when Lithuania, then for centuries stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and knocking with a sword on the Moscow-city gates, agreed to create a confederation with Poland (when it was three times smaller than Lithuania and when Poland was already for centuries ruled by a Lithuanian-origin dynasty), which resulted in a common foreign and security policy of Vilnius and Krakow (then the Polish capital), although armies as well as the financial and legal systems of both countries remained separate. The roots of exceptional invitations to Lithuanian presidents on each Nov. 11 are in that commonwealth.

“It is too early to make conclusions, but the first signal from Warsaw by Lithuanian and Polish presidents which was sent to citizens of both countries as well as to colleagues in the European Union and NATO is very clear – both countries remain friends,” wrote Audrius Baciulis, columnist of the Lithuanian magazine Veidas.