- March 25, 2012
Mackus: Tomaszewski’s and Sikorski’s syndrome a pain to Poland and Lithuania?
The discussion on Polish-Lithuanian relations is still filled with emotions and common stereotypes to which politicians and political journalists resort when running out of arguments. But they omit three basic facts: Poland is not only made up of Sikorski, Poles in Lithuania are not only Tomaszewski and Lithuanians are not at war with national minorities in their country.
Paradoxically, the person who reminded us about all this lately – the president of Poland may be capable of bringing hope to the relations between the two countries. He is a person who half a year ago did not hesitate to criticise the motherland of his ancestors (Lithuania).
Answering journalists’ questions on the 16th of March, Bronislaw Komorowski emphasised the importance of more adequate and balanced approach of Poland towards the poles that live outside of their home country, a matter that he already spoke about during his visit on the 16th February. Lithuanian citizens of Polish origin can expect to receive help from the Polish government but the disputes about the Polish minorities’ situation in Lithuania is mostly down to the conflict between the Lithuanian state and its citizens.
This idea may indeed become a counterargument against the Sikorski’s drive to make EAPL’s (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) complaints a number one factor that is to decide on the diplomatic relations between the two states.
Will Komorowski rebuild what Sikorski ruins?
The increasingly more clear differences in Poland’s leaders’ stances are really well illustrated by footage of a meeting held by the Commission on Contact with Emigrated Poles that was released on the Internet on the 26th of January. During that meeting Sikorski’s ministry representatives presented methods that outline how the matters of the Lithuanian state and its people are given the status of an issue in which the Polish state and international organisations have an interest.
Let’s begin with the idea expressed by the vice minister of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Jan Borokowski. He claimed that Poland cannot wait until important education issues actually get dealt with and solved by the Lithuanian authorities. Due to that, when Lithuania was the leader of OSCE, we filled the High Commissioner Knut Vollebaek in on the situation and since then he has taken steps to solve this issue, he has been working on it but nevertheless the case is still not closed
The written response provided by the ministry to answer the question of the lower house of the Polish Parliament considers the invitation of the OSCE High Commissioner to Poland. In the response, it is confirmed that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked the commissioner for specific help. What were other things mentioned too: a range of plans elaborated that when put into place, should pressurise Lithuania, the fact that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported Mrs. Wardyn’s case against Lithuania at the EU Tribunal, the obstruction of Polish diplomats in the European Council during carrying out the Convention in Lithuania, and also the plans of increasing the pressure put on Lithuania on the international forum to make that state’s attitude does not become more convenient.
This outline of our neighbour country’s diplomatic acts indicates that Sikorski’s ministry is turning the dialog between the states into pressurising and trying to gain more control over each other.
For example during the same meeting, a member of the Polish Parliament Adam Górski expressed his sorrow about the fact that the Parliamentary Gathering of Poland and Lithuania is ineffective and inactive “because Mr. Sikorski advised that the gathering members better do not meet up”. The best summary of the minister’s attitude is what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concluded and announced to the Polish Parliament (Sejm) – “the political activities carried out by the Lithuanian government towards national minorities are based on XIX century’s fears and on anti-polish, nationalist stereotypes”.
It is worth pointing out that this shocking conclusion has nothing to do with the actual attitude of the Lithuanian people and with their politics towards the polish minority. That becomes clear from just looking at the educational opportunities made available for the poles in Lithuania. As a matter of fact, half of all the schools that have polish as their main language of tuition, are located abroad and that are subsided, are in Lithuania.
In other words, the number of Polish people who reside in Lithuania only makes up for 2% of the total number of poles on emigration, but they have at disposal the half of all polish schools that are located outside of Poland. Moreover, Lithuania is the only country in Europe where individuals of polish origin can gain full education in their native language. The few Lithuanian language lessons that are added to the programme are not a problem to Poland, not to any other countries. Besides, the lessons do not replace any lessons that should be in Polish, therefore are not an obstacle when preserving national identity.
Regarding the dispute about the way in which surnames are spelt, it is worth highlighting that in explanatory writing from the European Council’s Convention of protecting national minority rights, the right of having your name spelt exactly as it would be in your native alphabet. This is also confirmed by Lithuanian Acts that abiding the Polish-Lithuanian 1994’s agreement of maintaining friendly diplomatic relations and cooperation, allow ‘one’s name according to its pronunciation in one’s native language. Lithuanian expression included in the agreement that states “pagal tautinės mažumos kalbos skambesį” is interpreted as “In accordance to the phonetic sound in the language of the national minority”.
There are also doubts about the way in which town names are spelt because according to article 18 in the Act on the National Language of the Lithuanian Republic, “names of organisations belonging to national communities and their signposts can be written in different languages apart from the official one, but not excluding the latter. This possibility is widely used in the Vilnius region.
The mentioned examples show that the aggressive approach of Sikorski’s ministry and his threats that he will never step onto Lithuanian ground unless that country ‘sorts itself out’, are not based on any solid evidence.
The pressure put on Lithuania by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs is leading the diplomatic relations between the two countries to distortion and is creating tension that could perhaps be avoided through more careful politics. It seems that also some of the most important politicians in Poland including the president – Bronislaw Komorowski, are starting to understand this issue.
The first positive change in the president’s attitude was visible in autumn of 2011. Towards the end of November a statement was released in which he stated that just because there is an issue related to polish schools and the spelling of polish names, we cannot start another cold war. He also pointed out that both Lithuania and Poland are keen on solving the problem of tensed relations.
Another step forward shown by the president is his traditional participation in Lithuania’s Independence Day celebrations on the 16th of February. Although his visit to Lithuania was interpreted in several ways, the positive impressions were more prominent. With his attendance to the celebrations, the president presented his respect towards the independence of Lithuania. Moreover his speech to the people of Lithuania and during meetings with the polish national minority members, the president was calm and restrained in terms of emotions. He pointed out that the local polish people not only have the right to preserve their national identity and culture, but also have the duty of being loyal Lithuanian citizens.
The last quoted statement of the polish president is directly contradictory to what Sikorski has been saying up to now. Obviously, according to some conspiracy theorists the behaviour presented by the president is only a cover up for his real intentions, misleading the other side to think something different.
However the reason behind the president’s change of attitude was probably different. First of all, the primary reason was the understanding the fact that not all complaints submitted by the EAPL have to based on solid evidence and that the key factor influencing relations between both our countries should be mutual economic, energetic and geopolitical help that is of value to both states and not the way in which some people describe the situation of poles in Lithuania. This also confirms the announcement made during the visit made by the presidents of both Poland and Lithuania, which was related to a plan of implementing some projects regarding energy on which both countries are to collaborate.
Will poles in Lithuania rebuild what Tomaszewski is ruining?
The celebrations on the 16th of February uncovered another positive aspect of the visit. It turns out that not all poles’ position is of the same anti-Lithuanian nature as Tomaszewski’s attitude is. The polish president was not only greeted with polish flags, mottos and complaints as the media state, but there were also numerous signs of respect towards Lithuania’s most important day of the year. All this is not the only indication of the increasing understanding presented by local authorities. They begin to show that they understand that local polish citizens are to be included in the community, rather than excluded from it, what excluding them from the country’s daily life. Understanding of this issue is shown by the fact that recently, a European Information Centre has been opened in Soleczniki.
Such phenomena can prove that the local polish people are starting to be keener on cooperating with the main authorities and on the suggested ideas on how to develop the eastern part of Lithuania in terms of economy, to benefit the whole region.
It is fair to say that economic problems in the Vilnius area are considered to be the main ones that concern this region. The blame for the fact that this region is lagging behind others in terms of economy is to be put not only on the local authorities but also on a large number of politicians who were in office since the nineties. It is clear that the uneven dialog, leaving social and economic issues as they are and the lack of common cultural projects in the society have triggered the radical political approach presented by Tomaszewski.
As the meeting on the 17th of February has shown, the radical attitude develops due to the recent tension between Lithuania and Poland. On the other hand what is also possible is that potential future attempts to improve the relations with Vilnius may prove to be a threat to Tomaszewski’s authority and power. Up to now, the politics presented by EAPL’s leader were all based on lies stating that the Vilnius region has not fallen behind in terms of economic development, describing any government initiatives in this region are worthless and that nobody tries to solve basic problems of which the main is thought to be the Lithuanian government’s resistance to providing education to foreign kids.
Tomaszewski’s attitude is inconsistent as recently on the polish version of www.delfi.lt , Mr. Tomaszewski stated that the ones discriminated are not just national minorities, the discrimination applies to all citizens who suffer under the current government. On the other hand it is clear that what Tomaszewski says does not fully reflect the attitude of the whole polish society. If the current attempts aiming to improve and deepen the direct cooperation of both countries are carried on, sooner or later, an alternative political group will arise that will not mislead its voters and that will care for their interests better.
Poland is not only made of Sikorski, Lithuania is not only made of Tomaszewski and the Lithuanians are not at war with national minorities. These findings are enough to conclude that the current issues that act as obstacles in the way of cooperation of Poland and Lithuania, can be solved in a way that is convenient to both sides. Most importantly, we must not emphasise emotions and we should ignore stereotypes. What could also encourage mutual trust is the common catholic religion that according to its nature should unite people, not set them apart. The way in which the relations between Lithuania and Poland will develop will also depend on whether the two countries will be capable of owning up to the mistakes they have committed.
What the Lithuanian government would have to start off with is admitting that the removal of the Department for National Minorities was a harmful and unjustified, whereas the president of Poland who recently thanked Latvia for their kind attitude towards the polish minority there, will have to start realise that the situation in which poles in Lithuania find themselves is even better than that of the poles in Latvia.
Tłumaczenie Kamil Szwarc w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Kamil Szwarc within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.