Lithuanian-Polish dialogue in Warsaw

  • 2011-09-28
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

THE EU STRAITJACKET: Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius (left) and Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament and former Polish PM. Due to common commitments within the EU, relations between Lithuania and Poland remain good despite anti-Lithuanian propaganda launched by Polish chauvinists.

WARSAW - The Warsaw-based Bronislaw Geremek Foundation (Geremek was a liberal anti-communist Polish politician and a big friend of Lithuania who died in a car crash in 2008) invited six leading Lithuanian journalists from The Baltic Times, Lithuanian National TV and Radio, Lietuvos Ryto TV, the magazine The Economist IQ, and two popular Vilnius-based Web sites, liberal Catholic-orientated, and (the latter, Lithuania’s Russian-language Web site, is popular among an audience living in Belarus, Poland and Russia). During five days of non-stop meetings from Sept. 19-23, which were organized by the Geremek Foundation, Lithuanian journalists met with high-level Polish state officials and heads of leading Warsaw think tanks.

“The study tour for the Lithuanian journalists to Poland is a common initiative of the Bronislaw Geremek Foundation (Warsaw) and the Eastern Europe Studies Center (Vilnius). The aim is to enhance knowledge and understanding about our society and politics and possibly counter the recent deterioration of Lithuanian–Polish relations,” stated Marcin Starzewski, who was a program coordinator in Warsaw.

The first meeting was held in the Lithuanian embassy in Warsaw. Lithuanian Ambassador Loreta Zakareviciene confirmed that regular anti-Lithuanian pickets in front of her embassy are organized on the pretext of the new education law in Lithuania, which introduces more Lithuanian-language lessons in Lithuania’s ‘Polish’ schools. The pickets are well organized and participants in the demonstrations are probably paid, according to Zakareviciene, for their activity. When asked about such payments, Zakareviciene answered with a question, “Who knows?” She said that official Warsaw is rather nervous about the alliance of Baltic and Scandinavian countries (and probably the UK) which, according to Warsaw, may somehow diminish Poland’s influence in the region. Zakareviciene also urged the Lithuanian media not to respond to hostile propaganda attacks from Polish politicians and media. She asked just to ignore it and write only positive things about Poland. This position seems to coincide with the position of Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

Jan Widacki, Polish leftist MP and Poland’s first ambassador in Lithuania in the 1990s, during his meeting with Lithuanian journalists in Poland’s parliament expressed an opposite opinion. “I don’t understand the position of the Lithuanian embassy. When I was Poland’s ambassador in Vilnius, I always protested against articles in the Lithuanian media when I found them to be wrong. I also don’t understand the position of Grybauskaite who, despite the week-long requests from Polish TV reporters, refused to give an interview to TVN24, which is the most popular Polish TV news channel,” Widacki said. He described such a Lithuanian position as weird because, according to his opinion, it is crucial to inform the Polish society about the real situation in Lithuania.

Widacki also invited Kazimierz Kutz, Poland’s independent MP and famous film director, to participate in the discussion with Lithuanian journalists. Widacki’s intention was to show that not everything is perfect with the ethnic minority situation in Poland. Kutz is one of the leaders promoting the establishment of Silesian autonomy within Poland. “There are now 1.5 million Silesians living in western Poland and they are the biggest ethnic minority in Poland. They have their own language [and much higher culture than Poles, if one is to believe statements by Kutz]. However, Warsaw refuses even to grant the official status of ethnic minority to the Silesians,” Kutz said. Officially, the Silesians as an ethnic group do not exist in Poland’s official statistics.

Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the executive board of the Institute of Public Affairs, which is one of the leading Polish think tanks, spoke to his Lithuanian guests about the vicious circle causing the current Polish-Lithuanian ‘war.’ He said that Polish media is used to speaking in primitive nationalistic slogans regarding Lithuania and it forms the public opinion in Poland. Polish politicians are forced to please this public opinion. “Making a comparison between the situation in Lithuania and Belarus is ridiculous,” Kucharczyk said (Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stated scandalously in the Polish parliament that the situation of Polish minorities in Lithuania and Belarus is similar). “There is too much focus on minority issues in Polish foreign policy,” Kucharczyk said. He said that he supports the current Polish centrist government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The current Warsaw anti-Lithuanian rhetoric, according to Kucharczyk, is caused by pressure from the opposition ultra-chauvinistic political party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski (the parliamentary elections in Poland will be held on Oct. 9).

The most cordial meeting with Lithuanian journalists took place in the Geremek Foundation’s premises, where the Lithuanian delegation met with Krzysztof Czyzewski, a socialist-era anti-communist activist who now lives in the ethnically mixed town of Sejny (Seinai, in Lithuanian), which is situated near the border with Lithuania. He established the Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations Center promoting tolerance among Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, and other ethnic groups via various cultural projects. Like all previous Polish speakers meeting the Lithuanian journalists in Warsaw, Czyzewski expressed his disgust with Polish PM Tusk’s statement in St. Theresa Church in Vilnius on Sept. 4. “Poland’s relations with Lithuania will depend on Lithuania’s relations with the Polish minority,” Tusk said at the church.

Czyzewski, as well as Kucharczyk and Widacki, repeated almost word-by-word an earlier statement by TBT that if German Chancellor Angela Merkel would say such words about Poland’s German minority in a church in Wroclaw, she would be forced by the German political establishment to resign the same day. “I don’t understand Tusk’s statement. The main problem of Poland is its nostalgic mythology of kresy (the Polish term for territories occupied by Poland in 1920-1939), which causes a paternalistic attitude towards Lithuania,” Czyzewski said.

The Lithuanian group of journalists also visited the headquarters of the Polish government and the office of the Center for Eastern Studies to discuss the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program, which deals with Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. No differences of opinion between Lithuanians and Poles were noticed in these friendly talks. “We want these countries to be stable and capable of withstanding foreign influences,” Szymon Ananicz, expert of the Center for Eastern Studies, said about these six neighbors of the EU. He was in favor of tougher sanctions against the regime in Minsk and for new democratic elections in Belarus to be held as soon as possible, while his colleague, Rafal Sadowski, was in favor of encouraging Minsk’s regime to start an economic transformation in Belarus, though he agreed that if such encouragement from the EU would fail, tougher sanctions against Minsk may be inevitable.

Konrad Niklewicz, spokesman for the Polish government, also spoke in favor of the EU’s tough position towards Belarus and a less tough position towards Russia, because the EU can do little about the domestic situation in oil-and-gas rich Russia. Niklewicz also expressed hope that the section of the Via Baltica highway near the Polish town of Suwalki (Suvalkai, in Lithuanian), which is crucial for Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian transit of goods, will be constructed in 2014.

During the discussions with Lithuanians at the lunch in the most posh hall of Poland’s presidential palace (the Polish president meets the most honorable foreign guests for intimate talks there), Tomasz Nalecz, senior adviser on history and heritage to Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski, was forced to admit that the Polish attitude towards Lithuania is rather biased. “We would find a lot of interesting things if we would start taking interest in the situation of the Polish-language education in Ireland and the UK,” he said ironically. Nalecz and the majority of other Polish officials expressed hope that the anti-Lithuanian rhetoric in Poland will stop after the parliamentary elections in Poland on Oct. 9. However, it would be naive to expect full silence on this front because Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action, which has the backing of radical forces in Poland, started its election campaign for the Lithuanian parliamentary elections in Lithuania, which are scheduled for the fall of 2012.