Polish-Lithuanian organizations support NATO expansion

  • 2000-04-20
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - All organizations of the Polish-speaking community in Lithuania signed a declaration supporting the country's membership in NATO. Some observers called this declaration a "sensation." Two main local Polish organizations overcame their bitter disagreements to sign the document. Some of those who signed were not very loyal to Lithuania's independence in the past.

The declaration states that Lithuania is the only country adjacent to Poland in the East that wants to join the Western European structures. "Being open for cooperation with neighbors, Lithuania always was part of the Western world. Lithuania's membership in NATO will strengthen the security of Poland and will expand the sphere of stability in Eastern Europe," reads the declaration which calls leaders of Western countries to accept Lithuania into NATO. Poles of the world are asked to support this goal.

Polish-Lithuanian leaders also stated that they are "citizens of this country and loyal to the Lithuanian state." They emphasized in the declaration that NATO membership "will give additional security feeling also to Lithuanian ethnic minorities."

On April 14 Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius invited Polish-Lithuanian leaders for dinner. Kubilius expressed his support for the declaration.

"This declaration is a historic event. I think Lithuania's Poles had a purely pragmatic interest in signing it. They want to be closer to a Poland that is already in NATO. The only other option for Lithuania is to become a satellite of Russia. Even economically it will be better for Lithuania's Poles to live in the country that is a NATO member," said Rasa Jukneviciene, Conservative MP and chairperson of the NATO affairs commission.

Polish-Lithuanians showed that Poland's position and the position of Polish-Americans to support Lithuania's membership in NATO is right. This declaration showed that the local Polish community has matured. The document shows that everything is fine with ethnic minorities in Lithuania and that these minorities support Lithuania's goals, said Audronius Azubalis, Conservative MP and chairman of the parliamentary committee of foreign affairs.

"It is a very positive and logical step. It is especially important, because our national movement in the late 1980s and the early 1990s had the biggest difficulties in finding a common language with the leaders of the local Polish community," said Rimantas Dagys, leader of the Party Social Democracy 2000 and deputy parliamentary chairman.

Polish-Lithuanian organizations overcame their differences signing this document, wrote Lithuanian daily Lietuvos rytas. Recently Lithuania's Polish Union, claiming to be the representative of the entire Polish community, had a bitter quarrel with Lithuania's Polish Electoral Action, the Polish political party representing the Vilnius area. The Electoral Action claims that Poles can be members only of this party. The Polish Union says that Poles can join other Lithuanian parties too. However, both signed the declaration on the country's NATO membership.

The declaration was signed by local Polish organizations of veterans of WWII, Soviet-time deportees, political prisoners and cultural unions.

Persons who had doubts about Lithuania's independence in the past also signed the document. On March 11, 1990, the democratically elected, 141-seat Lithuanian Parliament voted for the re-establishment of the country's independence. There were no votes against that declaration, but four MPs abstained. All four were Polish-Lithuanians. Now these four also signed the declaration which urged NATO to accept Lithuania.

One of them, Leon Jankelevic, was sentenced by a Vilnius court to two years imprisonment in December 1999 for his activity in 1990-1991 when he was the first secretary of the pro-Soviet Communist Party in the Salcininkai region in southeast Lithuania. The pro-Soviet leaders of this region planned to create Polish autonomy there and expressed the wish to join the Soviet Union in 1990-1991. The other three pro-Soviet activists were fined 20 percent of their salary for the two years.

The decision of the Vilnius court was criticized by Polish-Lithuanian organizations saying that the views of the former autonomists had changed radically, and they have been loyal Lithuanian citizens during the 10 years of Lithuania's independence. This April, President Valdas Adamkus accepted Jankelevic's appeal for a reprieve and he is free.

Jankelevic not only signed a pro-NATO declaration of Polish-Lithuanian organizations, but also wrote a separate individual public statement, recanting his behavior in 1990-1991, writing that he is happy that he, at least, did not vote against Lithuania's independence in 1990. Jankelevic writes that the Chechen war shows that Lithuania should join NATO as soon as possible.

The declaration of the Polish organizations will push several million in the Polish-American community and millions of Poles in other NATO countries to lobby even harder for Lithuania's speedy acceptance into the Alliance, said Ceslav Okincic, an Adamkus adviser. The declaration is also a kind of self-rehabilitation for some Polish-Lithuanian activists, according to Okincic, one of those Polish-Lithuanian MPs who voted for re-establishment of Lithuania's independence on March 11, 1990.

Warsaw officials hailed the declaration when President Valdas Adamkus visited Poland April 4-7.