VILNIUS - Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski says he thinks that now that the parliamentary election in Lithuania is over, it is a very favorable time to reboot bilateral relations with Lithuania, reports ELTA. “Lithuania had a parliamentary election during which the ethnic party of Poles won a number of mandates and now takes part in the ruling coalition. This presents a completely new situation which, I hope, will help develop cooperation between the countries and their people,” the Polish leader said.
Poland’s president also stressed that Lithuania and Poland share a common history, have common interests arising from their membership in the European Union and NATO and many other important issues that need addressing.
In turn, Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sikorski in his interview to Polish radio Radio ZET on Feb. 15 said that he was “happy about the first warmer words from Vilnius.”
Beginning of thaw
The Polish president on Feb. 16 paid a visit to Lithuania for the 95th anniversary of the restoration of the Lithuanian state. He was on a visit to Vilnius continuing a tradition of participating in Feb. 16 events in Lithuania, reports Lietuvos Zinios.
Political experts, though, are not yet ready to report a sudden improvement in Lithuanian-Polish bilateral relations.
Vilnius University’s senior lecturer, former Lithuanian ambassador to the Holy See and Order of Malta Vytautas Alisauskas, says that the visit by Komorowski was not unexpected but took place in a new political context, under Polish-set conditions. “This visit shows that a pause, which was declared by the Lithuanian president, is over.”
Political analyst Jacek Komar says that the first ice of the political Lithuanian and Polish relationship was broken, yet, further development is needed. “I believe that both countries are well aware that it is not a month’s process,” Komar said. He thinks that in the process of the relationship improvement a great share of responsibility falls onto Lithuania’s parliament, which has to deal with the old issues of the Polish minority in the country. However, the analyst says that the same support is expected from the Polish politicians as well. “Further relations and cooperation will be dependent on how the Polish politicians behave, if there are any statements that could ruin everything,” Komar said.
Political expert Kestutis Girnius (a TBT contributor) thinks that the annual visit to Vilnius by Komorowski is a good sign and this bilateral tradition should be preserved in the future.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius added that, after his visit to Poland, on Feb. 12, Polish leaders have the impression that Lithuania does not want to deal with issues of ethnic minorities and that some of the comments made by Lithuania’s politicians contribute to the creation of such image.
“Poland’s leaders have formed a certain view that the Lithuanian government ignores, or does not want to deal with, these issues [of ethnic minorities] or that they just do not hear them. And that opinion is shaped by some wrong statements made by politicians living and working in Lithuania. Such comments are quickly spread and no one probes whether these statements resemble reality,” said Butkevicius.
On Feb. 11, Lithuanian Minister of Energy Jaroslav Neverovich visited Poland where he met with Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Janusz Piechocinski. Neverovich presented Lithuania’s priorities in the energy sector, such as creation of a fully functional common European energy market, implementation of strategic energy projects and support for an alternative energy supply such as biofuels.
“We have many common energy projects. The LitPol Link project and its implementation progress is a fine example that effective and close cooperation is possible when you have common interest and goals. I hope that in the future we will implement the gas interconnection project with the same smoothness. The decisions concerning the next financial perspective that were made in Brussels… gives us hope that this project will be funded by the EU,” said the Lithuanian minister.
According to Neverovich, despite the implementation of such strategic projects as LNG terminal, electricity and gas connections, special attention has to be paid to regional projects. Lithuania has to make the decision about the regional Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant and, while making this decision, the position of regional partners Latvia and Estonia, as well as the support other countries in the region, will be vital, the Ministry of Energy said.
No apology needed
Prime Minister Butkevicius said that he did not see any reasons to apologize during this visit to Poland. “I have not committed any crime to start apologizing. When you find yourself at fault as a person or a politician and feel this guilt towards another person or a community inside you, then offer an apology. However, now I feel as a politician whose work is to vote for or against laws, and I do not see any reasons to apologize to anyone,” the prime minister said on Feb. 12.
It was during the previous week, during his visit to Poland when Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Linas Linkevicius in an interview to the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita apologized for his colleagues who nearly three years ago turned down a trade-off law on the original spelling of Polish names being allowed in Lithuanian documents. Former Polish President Lech Kaczynski was paying a visit to Lithuania when the MPs turned down the law.
Butkevicius had said earlier that the foreign affairs minister expressed his personal opinion and did not want to comment on the minister’s apology.
Support from opposition
In reaction to statements by Linkevicius during his visit to Poland, Seimas opposition leader, former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said that efforts to improve relations with neighbors could be compromised if Lithuania “overdoes it with apologies.”
“Efforts to improve neighborly relations with Poland are very welcome, yet, if we overdo it with ‘apologies’ such efforts could get compromised and ‘apologies’ also could create false expectations,” he said.
According to Kubilius, Linkevicius apologized for the Social Democrat MPs who in 2010 did not support the spelling law submitted by the 15th government. “One may wonder why did Linkevicius apologize to the Polish government, but not to our 15th government of Lithuania?” asked Kubilius.
The opposition leader says that it would be interesting if Linkevicius also apologized for the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, which in at least two Constitutional explanations had said that a law on changing the name spelling would be incongruent with the Constitution.
Upon return from his Feb. 7 visit to Poland, Linkevicius said he thought that a bilateral relationship “reboot” button was pushed. Lithuania’s diplomacy chief says that his apology to the Poles for the Seimas decision in 2010 to turn down a law on the original spelling of Polish names in Lithuanian documents was a gesture of courtesy.
“We could say that this ‘button’ was really pressed. Talking to my counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski, I felt signals to Lithuania that this tension in bilateral relations has to come to an end because everybody is tired of it. My visit was open and constructive. I believe that we have laid a good foundation for Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius’ visit to Warsaw on Feb. 12,” the minister said on radio Laisvoji Banga.
“I apologized for that case because back then, at the time when the law was turned down, Polish President Lech Kaczynski was paying a visit to Lithuania, and a couple of days later he passed away in a plane crash. I would call that decision by our parliament a misunderstanding, and I am well aware of discussions still going on in Poland. This decision of the Seimas is regarded as a grave insult,” Linkevicius said.
According to the minister, the goal of his visit was to discuss strategic cooperation issues, common to both states, with the Poles. “It included the upcoming Lithuanian presidency of the EU, to which we were offered the full support from Poland. The Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November is also important to both countries,” he stressed. The minister says that the latter issue was given great attention, as joint tactical and strategic decisions were made.