Fallen on the Polish front

  • 2011-05-04
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

VILNIUS - On April 27, the supervisory committee of the ruling center-right Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (also known as the Conservatives) decided to exclude MP Gintaras Songaila from the party ranks because he submitted to the court a complaint about the decision of the Vilnius branch of the Conservatives (backed by Andrius Kubilius, the party leader and prime minister) to create a coalition with the Polish Electoral Action in the Vilnius municipal council. Songaila argued in his complaint that the decision on the would-be coalition was not discussed enough within his party. The small Polish Electoral Action describes itself as a right-wing party but, taking into account that it opposes any integration of ethnic groups, the term “far right” would be more appropriate. The idea of the coalition failed and Songaila withdrew his complaint, but it did not save him. Although Songaila stays in the parliamentary Conservative faction, serious divisions appeared within the Conservative party as a consequence of the decision by its supervisory committee.

“The party follows the so-called pragmatic path. Nihilism dominates in the entourage of the prime minister,” Songaila commented on April 28. “His action was an outrageous breach of the party’s statutes,” Kubilius said about Songaila during a press conference on April 28. “There is probably a need to change the composition of the supervisory committee,” Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene said on April 28, expressing a kind of support to Songaila. She opposed the planned coalition with the Polish Electoral Action. Her stance got appreciation from such liberals within the Conservatives as MP Kestutis Masiulis and, to a lesser extent, from influential moderate pro-Conservative publicist Vladimiras Laucius. Degutiene will challenge Kubilius in a fight for the post of Conservative party leader in the coming congress of the party. Now she can also get the support of the party’s nationalists in that congress. On April 30, the Nationalist faction stated that in June they may discuss leaving the Conservative party if Kubilius will remain party leader. They will stay for sure in the case of the election of Degutiene.

Songaila was leader of the small Nationalists faction (quite a euroskeptic one on such chapters of EU official ideology as homosexuality) within the Conservative party. Until recently, his activity was almost unnoticeable in Lithuania, but he was a superhero in the Polish media, which made him a monster for scaring unruly children, although he is a cosmopolitan Mother Teresa in comparison with Poland’s far right Law and Justice Party, established by the Kaczynski twins and who even managed to introduce a kind of Polish ID, the Card of the Pole (demanding loyalty to the Polish state) for Poles in the former Poland-occupied territories. Only 3,000 Poles in Lithuania took those cards.

Last month, the Lithuanian parliament, despite Songaila’s efforts, postponed a decision on appealing to the Constitutional Court regarding the Card of the Pole (the court’s decision would be predictable, as well as a new relapse of Poland into chauvinistic hysteria). When current ludicrous Poland Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who in 2007 left the Polish Senate’s club of the Law and Justice party for the now ruling Civic Platform, stated that he will not recognize the historical fact of Polish military occupation of Vilnius, Songaila was not lazy to repeat a lesson on history: on Oct. 9, 1920, despite the Suwalki (a town now in Poland) truce agreement between Lithuania and Poland of Oct. 7, imposed on Poland by the West (the truce was due to take effect on Oct. 10), 14,000 Polish army troops, claiming to be Lithuanian and Belarusian rebels, led by General Lucjan Zeligowski on orders of Poland’s strongman Jozef Pilsudski, entered Vilnius creating the pro-Polish puppet state of Middle Lithuania, which joined Poland in 1922 (in 1931, the Hague’s International Tribunal recognized the action of the Polish troops as illegal).

Songaila achieved the Constitutional Court’s decision, which allows the writing in passports of Polish and other non-Lithuanian-origin names in their original forms, in case they are in Latin letters, with certain restrictions: this could be done not on the main page of passport, but on another passport page, while the main page would be written in Lithuanian letters only. “Such practice exists in Latvia. Poland has no criticism of Latvia,” Songaila, who is also a member of the parliamentary group named For Unity of Lithuanians and Latvians, said on April 8, 2010. Then he was criticized by the entire Lithuanian media (though later the Songaila-proposed practice got support in the form of the opinion of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg). However, when Poland started to attack Lithuania’s education law, Songaila started to gain the respect of the Lithuanian public.

Lithuanian-Polish tensions have deep historical roots. Jacek Komar, a Pole living in Lithuania and who used to be a correspondent with Poland’s daily Gazeta Wyborcza, commenting on the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski, stated that Poles view reality more like Latin Americans, not like the rest of Europeans. Indeed, it is a problem for Nordic-leaning Lithuanians. Pope John Paul II, who addressed Lithuanian Poles as “Lithuanians of Polish origin,” used to be an obstacle for Polish anti-Lithuanian chauvinism but after his death the situation worsened (on May 1, Kubilius went to the Vatican to participate in the ceremony of beatification of that pope). The Eurovision Song Contest is a good example of the Lithuanian-Polish division. Nations of the former Yugoslavia and nations of the former USSR as well as Turkey and Armenia, despite all their divisions, vote for each other, while Poles usually do not vote for Lithuania and vice versa. Lithuanians vote for Latvia and Georgia (the latter is Lithuania’s favorite due to the Russian-Georgian war of 2008). This year’s May 10 may be an exception: Lithuanians elected a Lithuanian Pole to represent Lithuania at Eurovision.