An interview with Przemysław Żurawski alias Grajewski, a University of Łódź professor, Polish political scientist, and, since 2015, a member of the National Development Council established by President Andrzej Duda. In the discussion on the problems of Poles in Lithuania and Polish-Lithuanian relations, he emphasises that he does not represent the position of Poland, but he speaks on his own behalf.
How do you assess the current Polish-Lithuanian relations?
There are a few dimensions of those relations: strategic relations in the security dimension are very good. Poland and Lithuania assess the threat posed by Russia similarly. In the similar way too, they strive to strengthen the NATO’s eastern flank and bring other Eastern Europe countries together to tackle those issues, which they proved at the meeting in Bucharest last year. In the dimension of the so-called hard security, military security, and in the dimension of the geopolitical situation assessment, positions of Poland and Lithuania are convergent.
Polish planes protect safety of Lithuania; however, when it comes to ensuring rights for the Polish minority in Lithuania, there is still a lot to be done…
The Polish planes in the Lithuanian sky protect both the security of Lithuania and the one of Poland. Both countries have always fallen together and have always been reborn so. There’s no reason to think that this rule will change. However, it’s not a secret that in the dimension of the Polish minority’s rights in Lithuania and in the field of the political practice of their observance, relations between the Republic of Poland and Republic of Lithuania are an object of concern on the part of numerous political bodies of both countries and both nations. It’s a problem that still needs a solution.
The Polish minority’s rights in Lithuania deteriorate continuously despite the signing of the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty in 1994 and the obligations resulting from the mutual participation in the EU structures. What ways of resolving this problem does the current ruling team find possible to be used?
It’s not within my field of competence. However, we must keep in mind that there’s a certain political calendar. Soon there’ll be a parliamentary election in Lithuania, and I think that the new set which will emerge from it in the autumn will be the appropriate addressee of the Polish diplomacy’s efforts. Now it’s hard to guess how this set will be structured after the election. Secondly, I think we have to bear in mind that there are four subjects participating in the political game concerning the issue of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The actors of this game are: the Lithuanian state, Polish state, Polish minority in Lithuania, and Russia, attempting to pit the three subjects against one another. The Lithuanian Poles, having gone through the annihilation of their former ruling elite either by murdering them by Soviets and Germans or by expatriation, were deprived of the possibility for recreating that social group by natural formation in the conditions existing during the half-aged Soviet captivity. During the 26 years of independent Lithuania’s existence, they managed, however, to form their new elites. The Polish minority in Lithuania has, therefore, its own reborn ruling class currently, with its own political programme and own hierarchy of priorities.
Right now a struggle for the Polish education preservation is going on, so, in the long run, for the survival of the Polish community in Lithuania…
From the viewpoint of the Poles in Lithuania it is a supreme priority. From the viewpoint of Lithuania – something else is a priority, and from the viewpoint of Poland – it’s one of the priorities. Yet another actor, Russia, intends to pit us all against each other and benefit from it. Thus, it’s necessary to distinguish between interests and dimensions of those four subjects’ actions, which, in the case of Poland and the Polish minority in Lithuania, are not contradictory, but as for Poland I would say they’re richer, and poorer when it comes to the Polish minority in Lithuania, which isn’t engaged in the policy of the Eastern Europe region, but, what’s natural, in its own policy, concerning the defence of Poles’ rights in Lithuania, while the Polish state has to take into consideration other factors and has also other instruments of action and means of pressure and persuasion. One of the errors in the debate on the situation is confining to one-dimensional issue, a very important but not the only one, that is the Polish minority’s position in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Poles’ rights are violated in five spheres: in the field of Polish language presence in the public space (this includes the issue of surname transcription in passports and other documents in compatibility with the rules of the Polish language orthography); in the field of education in Polish on various levels, including its status in the Lithuanian law (it embraces also the quality of education as for the organisational and content-related efficiency both of Poland and of the Polish minority in Lithuania, especially when it comes to the quality of teaching in Polish).
Fulfilment of the last task requires support and effort on the part of Poland. There’s the problem of reprivatisation – the restitution of property that was appropriated by Soviets, which is the subject of manipulation on the part of Lithuania with regard to Wileńszczyzna. The issue of the access to Polish media is there as well, not only the minority ones, but also those from Poland, so that, at least in the information space, the Polish minority could be free from the domination of Russian media, which are in Putin’s control and which present the image of world in accordance with Russia’s interests. The risk of “Putinisation” of media constitutes a challenge both for the Polish state and for the Lithuanian one; leaders of the Lithuanian Poles should care about it too. The best method is the universal accessibility of the Polish media: not their Lithuanisation, as we can’t replace the Putinisation with it effectively, but Polonisation. What’s still left is the problem of gerrymandering of electoral districts, so the manipulation of those districts’ borders.
There is also the problem of raising electoral thresholds…
The electoral threshold should be abolished as for the minorities, just as it is in Poland, which is in the interest of the Lithuanian state. Lithuania, wanting to accomplish its interests properly, should adopt such a solution, since it’ll be a step towards tearing the electoral alliance of the Polish and Russian minority in Lithuania, which neither Warsaw nor Vilnius likes and which hasn’t come out of nowhere. It’s not enough to complain about the fact, but to change the situation in such a way so that this alliance doesn’t have any political sense anymore for the Lithuanian Poles as well. What’s in the interest of Poland and Lithuania is creating conditions for the Polish media accessibility (as many radio and TV channels as possible) in Lithuania and the abolishment of the electoral threshold for national minorities. These are the issues which, I hope, will be the subject of negotiation among the post-electoral line-up.
The education issue within the context of those problems is a key one – it is “to be or not to be” of the Lithuanian Poles…
As for the education, there are various dimensions of it: a certain part depends on the Lithuanian legislation, another one depends on the scale of financial means involvement to support the Polish education in Lithuania. We have here various possible actions for Poland to undertake. It’s necessary to consider each of the pending issues, remembering that we act within the context of real military threat from Russia, which in consequence may destroy the peace in our part of the world and cause people’s death, the example of which we had and still have in Donbass, Ukraine. In Lithuania – both on the Lithuanian side and on the Polish one – there are groups which are interested in the Polish-Lithuanian political conflict, which exist thanks to this conflict, and which consolidate their voters around it. If it was just a mutual quarrel of both of the environments, we could bemoan it or calmly look for a way to put an end to this. However, what is a political dispute for both disputing sides can be used by Russia in order to start a military conflict. It’ll result in bloodshed and human misery, and not an exchange of however blunt insults, and this is the main danger, which has to be opposed mutually. And there’s no indication that Moscow is to change the nature of its policy.
Does the bitter statement from the letter of the Parents’ Forum at Polish Schools in Lithuania that “Polish children’s chances of a lifetime are offered on the altar of the Polish-Lithuanian strategic partnership” become a reality?
Of course not. What would the authors of this appeal expect?
First of all, cancellation of the discriminatory Education Act, which transgresses the rule of equal educational chances.
It’s obvious that it is the Lithuanian Seimas that must address this problem, not the Polish Sejm or government. It depends on Lithuanians’ will.
It depends on Lithuanians’ will, but the Lithuanian Poles, unfortunately, have not managed to induce the Lithuanian authorities to change this Act…
It’s a mistake of Lithuania. Pursuance of policy that rejects an essential group of citizens – the population of Lithuania, so Poles – from the Lithuanian state is a move against Lithuania’s interests. The problem that still remains is: what can Poland do with it and with help of what tools? How can it persuade or force Lithuania effectively to change its proceedings? After all, it’s not the point to deliver a few haughty words (as Minister Sikorski used to do) expressing support for the Lithuanian Poles and disapproval of Lithuania, none of which result in any real changes for the better.
I think that Minister Sikorski’s declaration that “he will never set foot in Vilnius” until Lithuania does not change its attitude towards the Polish minority was in fact really convenient for the Lithuanian authorities, which were not going to change anything…
As I pointed out, it’s not the point to say a few harsh words in a just cause, but to achieve the intended effect, that is to improve the situation of Poles in Lithuania. We should identify the tools that can serve this aim.
So what for example?
One of the ways is to show Lithuanians that in the interest of strategic cooperation against the threat posed by Russia, in Lithuania’s interest there’s the objective of reaching an agreement with Poland, so that the Polish public opinion will be able to support the policy of the strategic cooperation with Lithuania. Poland and Lithuania are democratic countries. In the strategic dimension our government can pursue only the policy that our citizens agree to. The Polish policy of the strategic cooperation with Lithuania requires, then, building support for it among Polish citizens. This, in turn, requires such a policy of the Lithuanian state towards the Polish minority there so that it will be possible in Poland psychologically speaking. Not fulfilling these postulates, Lithuanians destroy the possibility of building the social support for the policy of this sort in Poland, and have to take it into account. Unfortunately, they haven’t taken it into account to a great extent, which led to a palpable rift between Poland and Lithuania. However, it doesn’t mean that this rift influences the situation of Poles in Lithuania in any positive way. Thus, it’s not the way to achieve the aim. It’s not the point to entrench oneself in one’s own positions and insist on one’s own views, but to reach the aim of the improvement of Poles’ situation in Lithuania.
It requires understanding on the part of both countries, as well as in the politically active community of the Lithuanian Poles of what is feasible, at what time, and in what way. The time factor is not on our side. Russia doesn’t wait until we reach an agreement, but incites this wrangle. In 1994 Poland, in turn, could assume that the young Lithuanian state, after the traumatic Soviet occupation had to have some time to create a mature political class. But 22 years have passed since then. It’s been long enough to expect the maturity in the approach towards the Polish minority issue from Lithuania. It’s not a futile expectation. There are some political circles in Lithuania that understand the necessity of reconciliation with Poles when facing the mutual threat from Russia. The question is whether they are strong enough to turn it into a Lithuanian policy; whether it’ll make a proper offer for the Lithuanian Poles – one that is concrete (media, the electoral threshold, education, language, property), and not just a promise – and whether it’ll be accepted and taken up by for the common good by the latter. The answers will be given by the oncoming election in Lithuania. It’s time to settle this conflict noticing that, unfortunately, both on the Lithuanian side and on the Polish one there are communities which feed on this conflict. If the conflict was solved, they’d become irrelevant.
What could the Poles in Lithuania do about the enforcement of their rights and saving the education?
There are two dimensions here: legal, which, in my view, does not depend on Poles’ decision. Their insistence, issuing of postulates and demands, demonstration of their will in this scope is a form of normal civil pressure on the structure of the country, the duty of which is to meet citizens’ demands. It must be sustained to an extent that won’t be destructive for the state. On the other hand, it’s necessary to eliminate all pretexts for accusing the Lithuanian Poles of being the Russian “fifth column.” It compounds Poles’ negotiating situation, regardless of whether it’s true or the product of the Lithuanian propaganda. It’s unacceptable, then, that the Polish leaders wear the Saint George’s Ribbon, which is a symbol of the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine currently, or that they broadcast their electoral platforms on the First Baltic Channel, which is controlled by Russia and which is a propaganda tool of the Kremlin. After such moves it’s impossible to dismiss the Lithuanian worries shrugging and saying that “it’s nothing.” In Poland it also does not evoke positive feelings towards the author of those moves. As the diplomacy master, Talleyrand, said, “it is worse than a crime, it is a blunder.” And in politics you pay a high price for blunders; sometimes the price of human life, especially when you play with Moscow. Secondly, I see the role of Poland primarily in the scope of diplomatic, political, financial, as well as content-related support in understanding of teachers who would be able to conduct classes in correct Polish. To achieve concrete results, it’s necessary to apply adequate financial means. Of course, it’s a serious task for the Republic of Poland, from which it must not shirk.
Tłumaczenie by Karolina Katarzyńska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Katarzyńska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.