2012: Fighting against emigration and a critical election

@ DELFI

The recent parliamentary election was a critical event in Lithuania, claim all Polish experts, who are into Lithuanian affairs. According to them, the new centre-left government could improve the mutual relations with Poland. 

The greatest Lithuanian victory was the next democratic election. Conventionally, it is a standard in democracy, but how underestimated. It seems to be for ever and is taken for granted by us. However, let us look at Ukraine and the recent election that took place in this country. And how many objections there are, concerning bribery, dishonesty, and forgery. And how much of the certainty that one cannot lose power for such a stupid thing like election – says Krzysztof Szczepanik, the journalist and author of the portal www.europamaxima.eu, associate editor at www.olsztyn.com.pl, and a co-worker of many Polish media. 

Emigration and the lack of trust in the ruling class 

Among the biggest setbacks of the former government the experts asked by DELHI enumerate coping with the crisis, emigration, and the cooling of the relations with Poland. “Certainly, one of the failures is the still too slow process of recovery from the economic crisis that has hit Lithuania in 2008/2009. The GDP growth in 2012 was too low, both in comparison with the previous (not so bad) one, as well as with neighboring Latvia, which is growing again – after three poor years – the at the fastest rate in Europe. The government of Kubilius was unable to convince the public that he has the prescription for getting out of the economic hole” — thinks Thomas Otocki, a journalist of “Radio Wnet”, and a writer at “Polityka Wschodnia”. In his opinion, the conservative coalition has significantly undermined public confidence towards the ruling elite. He compared the government of Kubilius to the Polish AWS in Poland at the end of the 90s last century.

Also, emigration is still a big problem in Lithuania. “A serious social problem remains the large emigration to the countries of the “old EU”, the aging population and the vanishing of “small towns” – notes Thomas Otocki. “But let us remember that, after all, we live (I in Poland, and you in Lithuania) in free countries. Everyone chooses a place to live. And it is difficult to blame any government that neglected something, and that is why people are leaving. After all, if it were so simple, even the neighbors of Lithuania would not have a problem with immigration, because their governments could take care of the interests of its citizens. And yet it is not. It turns out that although the whole Eastern Europe is slowly getting rich, it is still far from the Western democracies. Because, unfortunately, economic processes take place much more slowly than the political ones. The proof of this is even the fact that there is still a big difference in the richness of the western and eastern Germany, which was part of the former socialist states. And yet, this is one state” —  notes  Szczepanik.

Unnecessary emotions

Polish Radio journalist, Igor Isaev believe that unnecesary emotions  have a very negative impact on the Polish – Lithuanian relations. “The worst event of the last year in the Polish-Lithuanian relations was, I think, the use of “diplomatic heaviest weapon” regarding the question of education – that is the fact that the subject of the Polish minority totally dominated the speeches of politicians at the presidential and governmental level, in the relationship on the line Vilnius-Warsaw. As a consequence, there was not so much space left for a common regional energy policy – especially in the year which is a breakthrough in the fight against the monopoly of Gazprom in Central Europe. As far as I am concerned, the emotions prevailed over  pragmatism, in this regard — says Isaev.

However, Dominik Wilczewski, a political scientist, believes that the failure to resolve the problems of the Polish minority is a political defeat of Lithuania. “The failure are the still unresolved problems of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The major failure for the Lithuanian fans this year will certainly be the eighth place of the basketball team at the Olympic Games in London — adds Wilczewski.

The Peter Kępiński of “General Weekly” does not see any major or minor losses of Lithuania in the last year. “Lithuania has not suffered any deafeats neither does it win anything Losses”. It seems that the biggest success was the fact that in the face of a deepening crisis – not only in Western Europe – Lithuania maintained its economic balance. In the political matters, certainly, some kind of success was the creation (not without problems) of the new government – believes Kępiński.

Critical elections

According to experst, the Autumn’s parliamentary elections is crucial both for the internal situation of Lithuania and for relations with the Poland. The entrance to the Parliament and Government of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania can repair relations with the Polish, and improve the relations between the Lithuanian authorities and the Polish minority. “Maybe so successful election of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania will finally boost an understanding of the situation on the part of Lithuanians, who will realize that Poland is not an enemy, but the only proven friend. And as for the discord between us in the recent history? What neighbours do not have any? — thinks Christopher Szczepanik.

According to Kępiński, the success of AWPL was strongly influenced by the change of the image of the party. “Definitely, a positive move on the part of AWPL was the fact that for the first time Waldemar Tomaszewski composed his program not only for the Poles, but also for all residents of Lithuania. This is a very positive sign that bodes good for the future. There was also a positive response to their success in the Lithuanian media — balanced, objective, generally favorable.  It is also very up-lifting that that the new government, in its announcements, seems to be more open to  solve the Polish problems, and finally forget about them — says “Dziennik Wschodni”.

According to Christopher Szczepanik, Poland and Lithuania are bound to each toher, but  immediate neighbors have always some disputes between themselves, but not with countries across the seas and the forests. However, in his opinion, Lithuania’s north direction is misleading. And what could the Vilnius win by searching for a strategic partner somewhere beyond the sea (even if  only beyond the Baltic)? For Sweden, there will always be some closer Scandinavian neighbours. Even Poland (now because of the economic potential) has much more in common with Sweden than Lithuania —  convinced Szczepanik. What has had an influence on the relations between the two countries were the relations between the Lithuanian majority and the Polish minority, which should be standardized. “So as to make the Poles from Vilnius remember that they live in not Poland, but in Lithuania, but also to make the Lithuanians be well aware that it was is not the Poles from Vilnius who came to Lithuania, but that Lithuania came to them” — said Szczepanik.

Apart from political affairs, a huge success of Lithuania in the last year was the victory of Rūty  Meilutytė in the swimming competition at the Olympic Games in London.

Actions, not declarations

Isaev Igor notes that the election in Poland changed the outlook on Lithuania. “The situation – at the level of media and political narrative – greatly improved. At least by the Vistula River. I cannot omit here the special add-on to one of the last issues of “Dziennik Wschodni”, the 8 articles was devoted entirely to the relations between the Polish and Lithuanian. A hope of improvement clearly emerges from the words of the well-known journalists in Poland – he emphasizes. According to Isayev, it is not enough to improve relations.

“It is absolutely crucial that we do not disappoint the hopes by focusing on the negative side, as well as that we do not use absolute statements like: “everything is OK between us”- I think this is one of the biggest challenges for the current left-wing government, and especially for AWPL. The current gap in the relationship between the Vilnius and the Warsaw cannot be solved only by the statements of Linkevicius, Narkiewicz or Tomaszewski – a the long-term strategy is needed. If these strategies are not developed and implemented, it will be hard to look for further improvement factors of our relationship. Noone simply believes in their existence — adds Isaev.

Clashes in the coalition and the Polish “demands”

According to Thomas Otocki, it was a good move of AWPL to propose Jaroslaw Neverovičius as a candidate for the energy minister. “I will not be original if I say that a breakthrough in this field has been made along with the October election, when AWPL exceeded the 5-percent electoral threshold, and thr politicians from Warsaw began to warmly express themsleves about Lithuania (and those of Lithuania – about the Polish minority). I would describe the electoral success as the best message in the Polish-Lithuanian relations – Poles can finally show that they are not “wild tribes”, and that they can govern in the same way as everyone else. A great move in this sense is the appointment of  the competent Jaroslaw Neverovičius as the energy minister —  the journalist believes.

Otocki sees some risks in the current ruling coalition and excessive “demands” coming from Warsaw. “There are quarrels in the coalition, which could backfire on AWPL. The celebrated Polish-Lithuanian reconciliation can burst like a soap bubble, after a possible creation of an alternative political arrangement, which would not involve AWPL. Like it was in 2001 when the Polish minority “governed” for only a few months. Another threat to the Polish-Lithuanian relations may be the excessive “demands” of the Warsaw – if, for example, the leftist government decides to to meet only one or two of the Polish demands, and the cabinet of Donald Tusk with minisiter Sikorski requests for a compelte resolution of all problematic issues. But I hope that the government of Civic Platform in Poland will act sensibly in this field — says Otocki.

However, according to Dominic Wilczewski, a greater responsibility for the Polish – Lithuanian relations rests on the Lithuanian side. “How they will shape the Polish-Lithuanian relations in 2013 is mainly dependent on the fate of the government of Butkevičius: first – whether he survives till the end of the year, and second, whether the Lithuanian politicians have enough good will to solve the problems” – thinks the blogger and political analyst.

Thomas Otocki also does not rule out any “surprises” on the part of the Lithuanian nationalists. “Finally, the threat is still strong that the nationalist sentiments in the ranks of the opposition  (Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats) and the coalition parties (” Order and Justice “). Will there appear some new Lithuanian “Rejtans”, willing to stop the reform, while solving the problems of the Polish in Lithuania, and will the government Butkevičius prove once again that it is too weak to handle the”Polish case”? The departure of the Union of Lithuanian nationalists of Songailo, which is no longer in the parliament, allows us to look at things optimistically, but I personally prefer to be safe than sorry- he explained.

Energy issues and the stability of the coalition

The biggest challenge for the new government in 2013 will be energy issues. A major impact on policy of Lithuania will be the stability in the coalition and relations with the president of Lithuania

“First of all, the maintenance of the government, and to take key decisions related to the construction of a nuclear power plant. Equally important is the question of adoption of the Euro currency – when? I think the answers to these questions – as well as the security of the country before the crisis – which in 2013 will probably be even worse – are critical tasks for the government of Lithuania — think Kępiński.

The stability of the new coalition will benefit Lithuania. In this configuration, it will be easier for the government to makedecisions regarding nuclear energy and the construction of a gas terminal in Klaipeda — convinced Christopher Szczepanik. Szczepanik, however, is not worried too much about the second wave of the crisis. “Something tells me that it is too often announced that the crisis was dangerous. Remember, the crisis of 2008 ran unexpectedly. Similarly, it was similar with the now ancient crisis in 1929. So what else than economics: perhaps, the Lithuanian football players can be promoted in the year 2013 (of course, with the Polish ones) to the Brazilian World Cup finals. I wish them all the best — adds Szczepanik.

EU presidency and the image of Lithuania

In foreign policy, the relations with the Baltic States and Poland are very important. “When it comes to foreign affairs, it is a big challenge for Lithuania to organize their relations in the Baltic region, since in the Riga and Tallinn there are center-right goverments, reluctant to Uspaskichowi and the Lithuanian left, as well as to cultivate the relations with Scandinavia and Germany, and last but not least, fix the relations with Poland, which were broken in the conservative-liberal era. The great test for the Lithuanian presidency will be in the European Union. We all remember how much before the event the government of Donald Tusk was “grinding” everything, and Butkevičius also will be willing to show hi best side, especially when the presidency will be closely watchted the neighbours from the north —  thinks Otocki.

EU presidency will have a big impact on the image of Lithuania in the world. “The main challenge seems to be the EU presidency in the second half of the year. Lithuania may take advantage of the opportunity to present itself as a modern European state and an efficient organizer. The challenge remains the still uneasy economic situation, the Polish minority issues and tough neighborhood with the “last dictatorship in Europe” – Belarus – thinks Wilczewski.

Source: http://pl.delfi.lt/opinie/opinie/rok-2012-walka-z-emigracja-i-przelomowe-wybory.d?id=60317543

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

 

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