“At a time when the Lithuanian authorities are not able to sway Poles living in Lithuania, the only viable force capable of reminding them that Russia is not a friend, but a potential threat, is Warsaw. This, however, would require overturning of the current policy of Lithuania”, said in an interview for zw.lt Daniel Boćkowski, the head of the Security Department at the Institute of History and Political Science (the University of Białystok), a researcher in the field of, among others, the Polish population in the Soviet Union.
Małgorzata Kozicz, zw.lt: Last week a great agitation in Lithuania was caused by the test results, which show that 64% of Poles in Lithuania like the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, and 40.5% view the annexation of Crimea as legitimate. Parts of the study were announced in September and the final version will be released this month, however the Conservative Party takes this information as proof of the isolation of the Vilnius region and emphasizes the need for urgent attention to this region. Why so much pro-Kremlin sentiment?
Daniel Boćkowski: The first issue that comes to my mind when I look at the studies that are the basis of such conclusions, is their bias. I do not know what inspired the authors, but choosing such an attempt, they could expect certain values even before the development of results. It is well known that the perception of history by today’s 60-70-year-olds is completely different from the perception of the generation which was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This applies both to Russians, who make about 1/3 of the sample, and Poles. Let’s return to the fundamental part of the question. Pro-Russian sympathies of a part of Poles are the result of their specific position in Lithuania, similar interests in many spheres with the Russian minority, highly efficient operation of the Russian propaganda and abandonment on the Polish side.
“Specific position”, meaning what?
Speaking about the specific position, I mean general attitude of Lithuanian authorities towards Poles. To this day, among Lithuanian politicians there is a huge complex of Poland and Poles, fear of Poles, as one of the factors which lurk for the sovereignty of Lithuania. It used to translate and translates into treating Poles in Lithuania as the source of a potential destabilizing factor, a group hostile to the interests of Lithuania, which must be neutralized and subjected to “lithuanization”. The effect of such politics is visible with the naked eye. A part of Poles is closer to the Russian minority, which deals with similar problems and a kind of alliance in adversity is created, together with support in the fight for their rights with Lithuanian authorities. This is also because of the Polish policy towards Lithuanian Poles. Authorities in Warsaw, trying not to exacerbate tensions between both countries, in many cases refrain from exerting pressure on Vilnius – which does not reduce the phobia of the Lithuanian side. And, because Russia is trying to defend its minority more efficiently, there is an impression that the alliance of Poles and Russians will allow to create a force that Lithuanian politicians will have to face. The result is an increase in anti-Polish and anti-Russian sentiments. Because Lithuanians look at Poland and Russia through the lens of history and their own complexes of a small country on the edge of the EU and NATO. On the other hand, in Poland we have so many tensions and problems that issues of our minorities are set aside. We also lack a valid eastern policy. Russia perfectly figures out all the nuances and uses propaganda and a well-conducted information war, tries to destabilize the internal situation of Lithuania, using Poles, who are tired with various, irrational anti-Polish movements of Lithuanian authorities, growing since the moment when Polish and Russian minorities started to become a noticeable political force.
As the initiators of the survey say, their intentions are quite different – they aim at effective integration of national minorities in Lithuania, and they need the survey to identify problems and plan possible solutions…
If it is supposed to be a diagnosis of the problem, there is only one diagnosis – the existing Lithuanian politics towards minorities is not a road to nowhere, but a road to complete disaster. Because if people really, as the researchers would like, do not identify with Lithuania, it is not because they suddenly got offended, but because the policy concerning the use of language, culture, economic policy of eg. property affairs in the Vilnius region, resulted in the feeling of rejection. It is difficult for these results to reflect hope for care and help of the state.
Lithuanian media called the results shocking and considered whether such attitudes may pose a threat to the security of the country and the region. Are such fears justified?
I would not describe this directly as a threat, because it is grist to the mill of the Lithuanian propaganda, saying that the Polish minority in Lithuania is a problem for internal security. Because it is not. If we agree with the Lithuanian narrative, we can actually find ourselves in an unpleasant situation, when Poles deprived of the support of Warsaw will start to cooperate more closely with Russians, who will start to realize the long-term policy of the Kremlin, based on internal weakening and play countries of easter flank of NATO and the EU against each other. We have to remember that protection of all Russians outside the Russian Federation is in the defense doctrine of Russia. Lithuania cannot afford a situation when the Kremlin will become the sole guarantor of freedoms of minorities, and the more hysterical and nervous it reacts for any actions of Poland in this case, the more it pushes Poles towards Putin. At a time when the Lithuanian authorities are not able to sway Poles living in Lithuania, the only viable force capable of reminding them that Russia is not a friend, but a potential threat, is Warsaw. This, however, would require overturning of the current policy of Lithuania, which certainly would not be beneficial for the Kremlin. The deeper Lithuanian-Polish conflicts are, the better the Russian propaganda works, the more effective the information war against Poland and Lithuania gets. The Polish minority in Lithuania and its alleged pro-Russian attitude (as the results show) is one of the catalysts that provide energy for fueling this type of tensions. When there are no meaningful Polish-language programs or efforts to promote culture and the Polish language, which would connect people with Poland, and the Lithuanian language is not and will not be a key one for the older generation, watching Russian channels is completely natural. And because the Russian propaganda is top-notch, the Kremlin vision of the world turns out to be consistent and logical. Now these are issues of the Kremlin, over time it is possible that these will be issues of minority rights, guaranteed not by Warsaw, but Moscow. We have to remember that the Russian point of view is able to break through in countries of Western Europe and the United States, where the power of influence of local media and political experience are much higher. Lithuania authorities will not cope with this problem by multiplying the dividing lines. They will sooner condemn into even deeper divisions.
Does, therefore, Poland have a role to play?
Of course it does, but I do not know whether the current government has any idea what to do and how. We cannot act from the position of hegemony, and such are the visions of the currently ruling party, which dreams about Intermarium. Besides, we are between a rock and a hard place, because the stronger our message to the Polish minority in Lithuania will be, the more will we support it and try to break it free from the propaganda of the Kremlin, the harsher protests and retaliation of Lithuania may happen. Russia will benefit from the conflict, surely increasing tension on both sides with a help from Internet trolls, fictional informations, rumors and lies. As I said earlier, the current policy should be reset completely, however, in the current political situation in Lithuania, this seems completely impossible to me.
Tłumaczenie by Agnieszka Drabik w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Agnieszka Drabik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.