Lithuania and Poland need to think about ”resetting” relations

By Vadim Volovoj, expert of the Centre for Geopolitical Studies, Doctor in Political Sciences

Today Lithuania and Poland experience notable crisis in their relationship. Therefore it is strange to hear the words of Laurynas Jonavičius, adviser to the Lithuanian President on foreign policy issues, that „bilateral relations are not bad in general“ and that Lithuanian-Polish relations are „working relations“. What is the real situation?

Recently Polish daily „Gazeta Wyborcza“ proposed to apologize Lithuania for the occupation of Vilnius in 1920. By doing this Poland could demonstrate that the big partner understands sensitivity and fears of Lithuanians and stretches the hand of sincere dialogue. Yet Piotr Skwiecinski, a publicist of the newspaper „Rzeczpospolita“, does not agree (in the article “Nobody cares about the weak”) that Poland should apologize Lithuania for the Zheligowski revolt. From the political and ideological point of view this is an absurd requirement, since there is nothing to ask the apology for: the lands which have been taken were mainly inhabited by the Poles. According to Piotr Skwiecinski, Polish Government should be more firm with respect to Lithuania, since so far the Polish used to succumb to the blackmail of Lithuanians. In the international policy only a strong subject could play a significant role, and the country which was not able to arrange the matters in twenty years would be considered weak everywhere: in Vilnius, Minsk, Kiev and Moscow.

The Polish politicians seem to prefer the second position. Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, said that Poland should increase the pressure toward Lithuania by all possible channels. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Deputy Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak and the leader of opposition Jaroslaw Kaczynski accuse the current Lithuanian Government, and Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski demonstratively refuses to pay a visit to Lithuania.

Recently Dalia Grybauskaitė also refused to go to Warsaw, though Darius Semaška, adviser to President on foreign policy issues, mentioned that invitation of the Polish leader Bronislaw Komorowski was rejected because Lithuania was treated as unequal partner (recalling the talks that Warsaw might revise its participation in the air police mission if Lithuania does not take into account requirements of the Polish ethnic minorities).

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Poland is an important strategic partner of Lithuania. First of all NATO’s defense of Lithuania would strongly depend on Poland in case of a hypothetic war with the third country. Secondly, Warsaw is the gates of Lithuania to Paris, Berlin and Washington since Poland’s voice sounds loud in these capitals. According to Laurynas Jonavičius, “we wouldn’t want multinational security questions – be it the air policing or issues related to NATO cooperation – to become hostage to specific bilateral issues”.

Lithuania is interested in Poland’s participation in the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant Project (as an investor and energy purchaser). We must not also forget the issues related to the Energy Bridge, possible gas pipeline and construction of the railway “Rail Baltica”.

Actions of the Lithuanian party ”Electoral Action of Poles” are not acceptable as well. The objective of the party is not only to defend the rights of the Poles residing in Lithuania, but also to make a political capital out of the conflict situation. It is impossible to forget a disgraceful act by Bronislaw Komorowski with regard to Dalia Grybauskaitė: soon after the arrival to the Lithuanian Independence Day celebration he first of all hurried to the Jan Sniadecki Gymnasium in Šalčininkai.

Thus it is high time to think seriously and take certain actions. The states went down to “working relations” and are not eager to meet with each other. Soon the situation might remind the dialogue between Lithuania and Russia: mutual accusations and deadlock in relations. But the Kremlin is an old problem of Lithuanian foreign policy, whereas the relations between Vilnius and Warsaw should not follow this example.

Question: what to do? The answer: leaders and political forces of both countries should avoid emotions based on painful historical experience and hypertrophied national sublimity, and start addressing the problems. First of all Lithuania could resolve the issue concerning the spelling of streets and Polish names/surnames and citizenship in the passport. Good will with respect to the above would allow the Lithuanians take over the initiative and reduce irrational speculations.

Later it could be possible to proceed with the Law on Education – with a positive attitude and the possibility to require from the Poles more attention to the Lithuanian minorities. Finally it could be useful to introduce a longer transitional period for the adopted amendments and present (together with the Poles) the decision as a mutually useful compromise. Both, the elections to the Seimas and a new parliamentary majority could serve as the basis for the correction of positions of both countries and for a “reset of relations”. The above was discussed by Irena Degutiene, Chairman of the Lithuanian Seimas, and Bogdan Borusewics, Chairman of the Polish Senate.

Will the above initial Lithuania’s steps could be treated as a submission to Warsaw’s pressure and humility? No. We should treat these as a European way of solving problems. Yet, if Poland chooses the first option, we’ll finally know which country is inadequate.