- December 18, 2012
Wilczewski: One cannot be too careful.
From the Polish point of view, the new Lithuanian government is unique because for the first time in history a representative of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania became a Minister. And, therefore, the cabinet of Algirdas Butkevicius gives hopes of improving Polish-Lithuanian relations.
Are these expectations reasonable? Maybe they are just an expression of wishful thinking? Or the belief that it is (was) so bad that now it can only get better? That any change in Lithuanian politics may be a harbinger of improvement?
There were many voices in the Polish media welcoming the new government if not with hope, then at least with moderate optimism. Even Jerzy Haszczyński, the editor of “Rzeczpospolita”, who used to make many bitter comments to the authorities in Vilnius, this time allowed himself to express a note of optimism, saying that “on December 13 (the day when Butkevicius inaugurated his government) the first episode of the best-case scenario in Polish-Lithuanian relations took place. And those were relations that have been reaching a bottom after bottom, year after year.” The author of these words noted, however, that he is somehow “blinded by emotions” and that “his experience suggests that the promises made by Lithuanian politicians should be taken with caution”. (“Rzeczpospolita”, 14 December 2012).
It’s good that the editor ends his enthusiastic article with advocacy for caution, because one cannot be too careful in the relations with Lithuania. We should recall here how the situation looked like after the previous elections in 2008. The government created by Andrius Kubilius with the centre-based coalition of conservatives and liberals was expected to arrange “our issues” positively and to improve the ideological kinship of the political groups in Warsaw and Vilnius. PO and PSL, just like TS-LKD, belong to the European People’s Party. So why could Donald Tusk not be able to get along with his “euro-friend” Kubilius? Time revealed that these hopes were dashed. A perfect example of Donald Tusk’s in the Polish-Lithuanian dispute was his visit to Vilnius in September 2011, and the words spoken in the Church of the St. Teresa, that the Polish-Lithuanian relations are as good as the relations between the authorities and the Polish minority in Lithuania.
Shortly thereafter, the expected change of the authorities in Vilnius has become somwhat a part of the official Polish agenda of foreign relations. This was reflected in assumptions about foreign policy presented by the Minister Radosław Sikorski in Parliament in March this year. The head of Polish diplomacy announced the “new opening” of the government “which will emerge after the October elections”. It became clear then that the Polish government has no intention to talk with Kubilius’ government. Such wishes expressed in this way about the expected outcome of elections aren’t a standard behaviour in diplomacy. It shows the quality of the Polish-Lithuanian relations.
By the way, Sikorski seems to be the “whipping boy” in the Lithuanian media. He’s often blamed for the deterioration of the relationship. In fairness, however, attention should be paid to the sins of the Lithuanian side as well. Much ink was wasted by writing about the lack of political will to solve the problems, at least those which shouldn’t be too difficult to solve and which are not that irritating, even from the point of view of the Polish minority in Lithuania (e.g. spelling of names and bilingual signs). However, if there was no will to solve these problems, it was hard to expect that even more urgent matters through dialogue and compromise. Such a matter is for example the education system.
Surprising is also the Lithuanian political class’ acceptance for “frolics” of the nationalists, especially of the environment centred around Gintaras Songaila, who spent almost the whole term of the Seimas fighting against non-existent Polish threat. For completely incomprehensible reasons, nationalists joined in 2008 the electoral list of the Homeland Union. Again, one can talk about the lack of political will within the ranks of conservatives to make use of that time and distance themselves from the radicals. But we should be happy that they are eventually outside the party and outside the Seimas. Songaila’s absence in the mainstream of the Lithuanian politics certainly helps to cool moods.
The electoral pendulum moved now to the left. Lithuanian got used to such changes, because nearly every election meant complete change of the ruling. However, the current coalition is not really “centre-left”, as pointed out recently by Alexander Radczenko (“EAPL got a lot of seats, but it’s possible that they will held them for a short time”, politykawschodnia.pl, 14 December 2012), because among the groups that create this coalition only Social Democratic party may be seen as a genuine left-winged. The EAPL in this system seems to be the most right-winged, especially as the party cultivating Christian values.
In this respect, the Action is closer to the conservatives; however, in recent years, on the grounds of the dispute over the rights of the Polish minority, there was a wall raised between the Action and TS-LKD. There are too few individual conservatives sympathetic “to the Polish problems”, such as Emanuelis Zingeris or Mantas Adomenas, to rely on a closer cooperation between the two groups, at least in the near future. Lithuanian Liberal Movement, who seemed to be the most sympathetic towards minority affairs, does not seem to be a desirable partner for the Action, mainly because of the issue of the reform of the education system, implemented by the liberal Gintaras Steponavicius and his department. In the environment of parents opposing to the new educational law, Steponavicius is perceived as stubborn and arrogant, and this opinion “works” for the rest of the party. The favourable gestures of the department of justice and Remigijus Simasius, suggesting a positive resolving of the problem of name spelling, did not help to improve this image. It’s no wonder that the EAPL was kind of “convicted” to cooperate with the coalition LSDP DP-TT.
And, even though the coalition is already creaking, also because of the programme differences, the current system seems to be the most optimum whet it comes to matters of the Polish minority and the Polish-Lithuanian relations. If we can’t rely on the ideological kinship of Polish and Lithuanian conservatives, maybe we should rely on the pragmatism of Lithuanian social democrats? It may enable them to see and recognize the common interest of the close cooperation between Poland and Lithuania? That it’s better to have if not a strategic ally, then at least a benign partner in Poland?
Recent weeks have shown that the newly formed government certainly will not have an easy life with President Dalia Grybauskaite. There’s no doubt that, in order to maintain a significant position on the Lithuanian political scene, Grybauskaite will use different ways and opportunities to attack the activities of the government and to criticize individual ministers (she did so in the case of Kubilius’ government). Also the intra-coalitional conflicts may be problematic in the implementation of the government’s programme. As a result, Butkevicius’ government may survive no more than a few months, and the EAPL’s representatives will have to say goodbye to their seats. But for now, we enjoy positive signals coming from Vilnius. Bearing in mind the recent harsh relations and still unsolved problems, it’s worthwhile to respond positively to these signals.
Tłumaczenie Ewelina Zarembska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Ewelina Zarembska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.