EAPL and the rest of the world. Where the wind blows.

DELFI (Š.Mažeikos nuotr.)

Before the Seimas elections in 2008 I was expected to associate with a person responsible for the electoral campaign of one of the main parties in Lithuania. The discussion took place in one of the cafés on Pilies Street and we talked about different strategies of electoral campaigns.

Polish knot of Russians

Even though it happened a long time ago, one thread of the discussion stayed in my mind till today.

“It is important not to just concentrate on advertising and being visible in the electoral districts in which you expect to win. Equally important is the knowledge about in which districts one should not be campaigning. For example we try not to focus on Švenčionys. There our advertising would have an effect of antiadvertising.”

I did not get the specifics of whether Švenčionys  was given as an example because of the fact that a large number of Poles live there, thanks to whom the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania gets more votes than in the whole Lithuania on average. It is not the rudimentary factor, because of which my interlocutor avoided campaigning in that region. However it is undoubtedly a factor of great significance. In other towns where the Poles constitute a great majority, the main parties in Lithuania also forego the attempt to win the election, while the nationalistic composition in such a region is the most basic and decisive  indicator of that decision.

Election thread
It can be said that in the last 20 years the political elite in Lithuania accepted the fact that the Vilnius and Šalčininkai  Regions are governed by the local princes and certain territories were simply excluded from its sphere of interests.

For many years such a turn of events made everyone content. The local Polish princes have strengthened their rights to the monopoly of governing. The Lithuanian political elites pretended that the minority of Poles in Lithuania simply does not exist.

However after the parliamentary elections in 2008 something started to change.

After the reshuffling of the authorities in Vilnius and Warsaw the relations between Lithuania and Poland deteriorated significantly. The result of the long disputes was the fact that without the solution to the issue of Poles in Lithuania one cannot count for any improvement in the relations. Because the relations with Poland are of strategic importance to Lithuania, a shift in the direction of the Polish community in Lithuania was inevitable.

Russian thread

When people started to get interested in the actual situation of Poles it turned out that the vacuum left by the political elites had been filled. Not with the EAPL. And not even with Poland. Surprisingly, Russia has expressed an unexpected activity.

Quite a few, recently up-to-date facts point to that.

In 2009 an exhibition of photography about South Ossetia was organised in the Centre of Polish Culture, during which “assessments of events, mostly one’s own, that did not correspond with the official assessment here in Lithuania were uttered”.

Till 2011 Viktoras Balakinas, the former engineer of the KGB, worked as an assistant of Waldemar Tomaszewski in the European Parliament.

Some of the Polish activists in Lithuania, i.a. the current undersecretary Renata Cytacka, talked loudly in the Russian press about the duty of uniting forces and efforts of Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Latvians and Estonians in the fight for the rights of national minorities. Last year the member of the EAPL Jarosław Skuder and the member of Russian Alliance  Andrej Fomin published in Russia a book in which they blame Lithuania, accusing it of discrimination of national minorities and using the army against the Lithuanian Poles in Gudeliai in 1993. Just recently Tomaszewski, who likes to show his anticommunist side, together with the deputy chairman of the Russian Alliance Irina Rozova and the consul general of the Russian Federation Vladimir Malygin  greeted the veterans of the Red Army on the occasion of the liberation of Klaipėda from the Nazi occupation. A periodical „Baltijskij mir“, financed by the Russians, for some time had been calling Tomaszewski their member of the social council.

„Rossotrudnichestvo “, a Russian institution responsible for the implementation of policy regarding their countrymen abroad, has put Poles living in Lithuania on the list of their “ sootieczestwienniks”. During the presidential election campaign in 2014, dr Rafael Muksinov, a member of the international coordination council of “sootieczestwienniks” in Russia, encouraged people to vote for Tomaszewski in the newspaper of the Russians in Lithuania “Obzor”.

A party of every minority

Worth mentioning are the the political positions and statements of the EAPL. The party has been declaring for a long time now that it is not just a derivative that connects just Poles. Also Russians, Belarusians and other national minorities in Lithuania.

In 2012 the EAPL took part in the parliamentary elections together with not just the Russian Alliance (with which it has been cooperating since 1995), but also with an openly pro-Russian and pro-Putin National Party of Lithuania.

Being in the present Seimas the EAPL did not support the decision concerning waiver of immunity of the members of the Labour Party, accused of keeping double accounts. It also doubts the benefit of energy projects, decreasing Lithuanian dependency on energy from Russia (In this case we need to distinguish the EAPL’s position and the secretary delegated by it, Jarosław Niewierowicz. He is not the member of the party and his view differs in this issue).

Eventually Tomaszewski lately questioned the legally invalid referendum concerning the incorporation of Crimea to Russia, speaking about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine in a manner echoing the propaganda of most of the media in Russia. All of the aforementioned factors allow us to state that, basically, the EAPL has become a pro-Russian party, trying to unite all of the national minorities and confronting them with Lithuania, doing it together with Russia.

Such a thesis is backed up by a confidential note of the Department of Homeland Security which has been revealed by the BNS in November 2013 (the visit of the representatives of the EAPL and the Lithuanian Russian Union to the Kremlin was mentioned in it).

Also the disseminated report concerning the assessment of threats to the homeland security of the Department of Homeland Security has made things even clearer “In order to realise its own interests, Russia is also trying to use the issue of the Vilnius Region. The activity and the declared expectations of some of the representatives of the Vilnius Region’s society correspond with the foreign policy of Russia. In the pre-election period the Russian embassy is very active in supporting the unification of parties of ethnic background and joint publication of “current” issues.”

Where two quarrel

So Russia, which finds it hard to fuel the disagreements between Lithuanians and Lithuanian Russians, tries to use the tension between Lithuanians and Lithuanian Poles.

In such a way one tries to create an additional commotion, opposition and initiation of an even bigger division within the Lithuanian society .

In such a way the opposition to Russia’s doings and its interest in Lithuania decreases, shifting the attention from the more important objects of interest. Apart from this, Russia is also trying to isolate Lithuania in the area of foreign policy, because the discord between Lithuanians and the Polish minority is harmful to the Lithuania’s image abroad and negatively influences the strategically important relations between Lithuania and Poland.

The choice is what it is

Most of the Lithuanian politicians, analysts and political scientists, who incorrectly perceived the EAPL as a Warsaw’s instrument for sticking its nose into Lithuania’s internal affairs, could not understand why did the party decide to cooperate with Russia.

First of all, for the party to have a nationwide influence it should cooperate with the leaders of the Russian minorities in Lithuania. The votes of Poles are not enough to achieve this aim. After 2000, when Vladimir Putin became the president of Russia, any cooperation with the Russian minorities and their political organisations is not possible without the consent of the Russian Federation and cooperation with it. Second of all, the interests of the EAPL and Russia coincide. The EAPL, being a party of an ethnic foundation, is trying to justify its political inclination with the problematic issues of the national minorities. Without certain issues the party loses its meaning of existence and therefore it is interested in the constant escalation of conflicts. Russia is also interested in such a course of events, which makes the conditions for cooperation easier. It is important to notice that at this point the interests of Poland and the EAPL are immeasurably different. Poland will never support all of the EAPL’s initiatives and is not interested in the discord between Lithuania and Lithuanian Poles. Third of all, some of the leaders of the EAPL, being it Tomaszewski or Cytacka, are feeling ideologically close to Russia, its official outlook on Lithuania and the current situation of national minorities. One can assure oneself in that by reading their public statements and by seeing the links posted by them on facebook with information from the websites that are in the administrative custody of the President of Russia, rubaltic.ru or the Russian MFA. Tomaszewski’s views about Lithuania and its history were shown by his this year’s appearance during the anniversary on 9th May , organised by the Russian embassy, when he had the Ribbon of Saint George pinned to his jacket. Fourth of all, the Russian mass media are more popular among the Polish minority that the Polish ones. The geopolitical views of the not so small part of Lithuanian Poles are similar to the Russian directives, an this facts forces the EAPL to correct its views on the international policy. Apart from this, in the party there is an ultra-Catholic , nationalistic, national democratic ideology, which views on the international policy, especially concerning Ukraine, make it very similar to the ideology of the present Russia.

Poles and the EAPL

The issue of the connection between the EAPL and Russia has created a lot of commotion and became an object of numerous discussions. Especially the right-wing politicians were the ones that took a liking to publicly speak about it. The former chairman of the Department of Security Gediminas Girna joined them, presenting to the Seimas the fact that Tomaszewski refused to meet with the Department’s official who wanted to warn the leader of the EAPL about the Russian influence.

Worth noting is the fact that Girna precisely chose Tomaszewski as an example of Russia’s impact on Lithuania’s politician. Not just a politicians from the Labour Poarty or the Party of Law and Justice. The success of the EAPL in this year’s elections to the European Parliament and presidential elections in Lithuania, thanks to to votes of Lithuanian Russians, once again made this dilemma an up-to-date problem and, in most probability, it will remain one of the main themes of political discussions for a long time.

Right now it is important to think what kind of meaning does it have for the relations between the Lithuanian Poles and Lithuania and Lithuanians. It is very tempting to equate Lithuanian Poles with the EAPL and Russia. This is what some of the signers of the Act of Independence of Lithuania, some members of the Homeland Union, some informational media like to do. This provokes us to draw a conclusion that fulfilling of the pleas and demands of Lithuanian Poles is parallel with fulfilling the interests of Russia, which could make the threat to the homeland security of Lithuania bigger. It is probable that a similar opinion is shared by Mrs President. Such thinking is faulty. The most basic, up-to-date questions posed by the Lithuanian Poles concern: the original spelling of names in the documents, legalisation of bilingual street names and names of towns, and also ensuring  quality education in Polish. Most of those questions have been asked even before the EAPL has been founded and have roots in international legal and political obligations. It is important to distinguish between the EAPL and Russia, and the dilemmas of the minorities of Lithuanian Poles. For the latter the issue of education, but other issues as well, is not of little significance.

Divided we fall

We need to remember that Russia is using the discord between Lithuanians and Poles, but it was not the one that created it. To eliminate the possibility of manipulation of the disagreements between Poles and Lithuanians all of the problems of the Lithuanian Poles need to be gradually solved: making the original spelling of names legally valid, passing the law on national minorities, providing quality education in the mother tongue. At the same time we need to promote integration (not assimilation) of the Lithuanian Poles with the Lithuanian society. All of this is necessary to rebuild the trust of the Lithuanian country in the eyes of the Polish minority.

Sometimes the hasty actions of some of the Lithuanian politicians, for example the statement of Audronis Ażubalis or Valentinas Stundis, or the law on education of national minorities that was passed in haste and was of little quality, could have created an impression that the Lithuanian politicians deny the national minorities rights concerning the declaration of any demands at all. This has helped to widen the gap between the Lithuanians and the Lithuanian country, and the national minorities. Solving of the problematic issues of the Lithuanian Poles will allow the Lithuanian political elite to show that they grant the national minorities the rights to support their culture and national identity.

A reflection in the mirror works miracles

Finally, all of the participants in the Lithuanian-Polish relations should take part in the process of problem solving. It would not be too rushed for the Lithuanian Poles to take off the rose-coloured glasses and understand that not all of the politicians from the circles of Poles want and can solve the issues bothering them. Too often the Lithuanian Poles do not want to see and accept the mistakes and inappropriate behaviour of their leaders. For example, apart from the portals pl.delfi.lt i zw.lt, the mass media of the Lithuanian Poles have ignored the information of the Department of Security concerning the threat to homeland security and manipulation of Polish politicians by Russia and Tomaszewski’s refusal to meet with the official from the Department. One must not belittle the weight of the change of Poland’s opinion about the the leaders of the Lithuanian Poles: here more criticism would be needed.

Also very useful would be Poland’s aid in taking the Lithuanian Poles from the striking distance of Russian information.

It is important to make it clear to the political elites and Lithuanian society that any delay in solving of the present dilemmas is only making them worse. And this process will continue without Russia’s help.

At the same time none of the Lithuania’s system parties has a clear policy concerning national minorities that would guarantee them help and integration into the Lithuanian society. If that does not change, the conflict will only get bigger and the possibility of compromise will recede even further.

The most important thing is to understand that solving of the issue of national minorities in Lithuania is in the first place the responsibility and national interest of Lithuania.

Therefore the tactic for the election campaign (of the aforementioned person) to not campaign in the places where the chances of success are tiny, cannot be accepted with respect to places inhabited by the national minorities.

The Lithuanian parties should go there and fight for the votes. Even because of the respect for particular minorities. In other case it is possible that not only Russia, but also Belarus will become interested in the problems of the Vilnius Region. And who will guarantee that then Alaksandr Grygorjewicz will not find his compatriots and will not think of returning the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to its “rightful” owner?

The views of the author may be inconsistent with the stance of the editorial board.

Source: http://pl.delfi.lt/aktualia/litwa/awpl-i-reszta-swiata-skad-wieja-wiatry.d?id=65740826

Tłumaczenie by Alicja Dudzik w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Alicja Dudzik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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