• March 22, 2013
  • 193

How to „reset” the Polish-Lithuanian relations?


The most important aim of Lithuanian foreign policy has been to increase the political independence of the country through strengthening its position in the structures of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Lithuania has been a member of both, NATO and EU, for almost ten years, but post-Soviet infrastructure of geopolitical space keeps limiting its possibilities. Therefore, relations with Poland are strategic in the process of integration of Lithuania with the West. Lithuania also remains important for Poland, in the process of weakening the influence of the East and guaranteeing a stable, safe neighbourhood.

Strategic interest of both countries should be analogous, then, but for the past few years in the discussion between both sides, if there was a discussion at all, the majority of statements have looked like ultimatums. Trying to understand the reasons of such a situation and also the dynamics and the scenario of further development of the Polish-Lithuanian relations, one has to look at historical, geopolitical, and strategic factors, which have quite a significant influence on these matters.

And there were many paradoxical moments in the mutual relations, after Lithuania and Poland regained independence. For instance, how could one explain this situation: during the term of office of the conservative president Lech Kaczyński, Lithuania and Poland were partners in strategic matters, and when Donald Tusk’s liberals came to the power, there came a crisis in the relations (it must be emphasised that “Law and Justice”, the party of the Kaczyński brothers, has been much more conservative and nationalistic than “The Civic Platform”, Donald Tusk’s party)? Another important question: why in the course of the past few years, when there were many wars of words in the Internet, the strategically important for Lithuania project of a power bridge between Lithuania and Poland was finally launched?

When the relations between Lithuania and Poland were bad and when they were good?

It is not a secret that Lithuania is still not free from the post-Soviet infrastructure of space. This is confirmed by the fact that until today the gas is bought from one supplier, who has confirmed his monopoly. Energetic dependence of Lithuania became even greater when, fulfilling our obligations, we closed the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. At present, Lithuania buys about 70% of energy from Russia. So, strengthening of the Lithuanian independence is tightly connected with the integration of the energetic system of the country with the system of the Western Europe.

In this sphere of interest the Polish factor has been extremely important, because this country has been an eye, with which Lithuania can look at the European Union. To put it differently, it is only through Poland that Lithuania can technically connect itself with the European energy market and the continental power grid. And to be more precise, for a full integration of Lithuania and the power market of the EU, not only bridges and a common market are needed, but also a switch from the system of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (BRELL) to grids of the continental Europe. To synchronise it all, two power bridges between Poland and Lithuania are necessary.

The aims of the power bridges and the synchronisation of power systems of Poland and Lithuania were formulated as early as in the first decade of independence, but the fulfilment of the plans was speeded up as late as in 2008 – 2009. It was then that the agreement on building a power bridge was signed and a company, whose aim is the realisation of the enterprise, was created and the project itself was included into the plan of creating the Baltic energy market. It was a breakthrough, after which the Lithuanian-Polish power bridge plan (“LitPol Link 1”) has been realised according to the schedule.

Until 2008, in the period when the matter of national minorities was not a political concern to the extent to which it is today, the most important infrastructure projects, the goal of which was the creation of fundaments for the integration with the Western Europe, were only written on sheets of paper. The breakthrough took place when these projects were added to the list of priority projects of the European Union, after the appearance of the goal of eliminating energetic islands from the EU, after financial aid was received and after the Polish idea of strengthening its power system in the north-east region of the country has appeared. The realisation of the projects was disturbed neither by the “cold peace” in the mutual relations, nor by the Polish demands related to coming to terms with old problems. They were not disturbed even by the signals sent by the leader of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski, who implied that such an ambiguous situation, when shared projects are being realised and the problems of national minorities have remained unresolved, cannot last long.

The factors that contributed to the breakthrough on the field of the power safety (and the breakthrough took place despite the politicised maters of national minorities that appeared in the mutual relations) are: the Lithuanian ability to include its own national interest into the schedule of the EU projects (which means bringing the matter of energetic safety that is important for the country up to a European level), the authorisation for the European Commission to monitor the process of constructing the power market and the new Polish interest in this sector – the strengthening of the power system in the north-eastern part of the country.

Actually, a similar mechanism worked when the NATO was taking a decision about the defence plans of Baltic countries. Without taking into consideration the proposals of some Polish deciding agents, related to binding the abovementioned decision with the problem of national minorities, with the help of NATO allies (the USA in particular) we managed not to connect this important Lithuanian interest with the mutual Polish-Lithuanian relations. By doing so, Lithuania has managed to increase the political presence of NATO in the region.

Models of Polish regional policy and their influence on relations with Lithuania

Foreign policy has a major influence on the relations between Poland and Lithuania. Especially when we are talking about the Polish regional policy in the Central- Eastern Europe and the place that Warsaw has chosen to occupy in the European safety system. We can try to distinguish two directions that the Polish foreign policy takes.

The first one: advantageous conditions for the development of the Polish-Lithuanian partnership appear when Poland sees itself as a geopolitical leader of the Central-Easter Europe, who, basing on transatlantic alliances and partnership with Anglo-Saxon countries (particularly with the USA), builds a system of European safety and realises the policy of limiting the possibilities that Russia can have. In the case of this scenario, Lithuania and Poland become connected by the common view on the matters of safety and common geopolitical interest: building a system of European safety, the Russian factor, Eastern policy of the EU, the place that USA occupies in Europe etc. Strategic matters begin to dominate over mutual problems and differences in the way of interpreting historical facts.

This vision is ideally complemented by the concept of cooperation between the neighbours, supported by Jerzy Giedroyc, which had major influence on the way in which Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine were perceived by a great part of the Polish political elite. In the case of this model, differences of interpretation of the situation of the national minorities have no influence on the cooperation in strategic matters. Such a vision of foreign policy was prevailing in Poland in time of Aleksander Kwaśniewski’s term of office and also Lech Kaczyński’s tenure. Strengthening of  this vision of foreign policy can be the only excuse and explanation for the fact that in Lech Kaczyński’s schedule of work the matters connected with problems of the national minorities were not mentioned. On the contrary – strategic geopolitical plans were the dominant elements, for instance the fact that the Polish “Orlen” joined the „Mažeikių nafta”, which was motivated by geopolitical matters – namely the intention to diminish the influence of Russia and to energetically consolidate the Central-East Europe.

The second one: the vision of Great Poland as a participant of the concert of European powers. Poland sees itself as one of the five major geopolitical actors (together with Germany, France and, maybe, Russia) and it decides about the balance of power in Europe. This way is best reflected in Radosław Sikorski’s reaction to the speech of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, about the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union. The present Minister of Foreign Affairs in Poland said that Poland can replace the United Kingdom and “belong in the group of either three or five countries that have much to say in the EU”. One can only ask, rhetorically, what would Lech Kaczyński say in this situation? He probably would be far from supporting the British critique of the EU.

In this vision, the neighbours of the Great Poland are its satellite countries, and because of the differences in the ways in which the national safety and the idea of the Great Poland are perceived, main strategic geopolitical matters (the Russian factor, the Easter policy of the EU) lose their importance. Their place is taken by historical discourse and the problems of national minorities. To put it in a different way, the place that Lithuania occupies in the Polish foreign policy slowly changes, because Warsaw starts perceiving itself as a fully-fledged participant of the concert of European powers and this vision is complemented by the idea of the Great Poland. This causes the politicised matters of national minorities and differences of interpretation of historical facts to dominate in the mutual relations.

Currents of Lithuanian geopolitical idea

Not only the directions of Polish foreign policy but also the Lithuanian geopolitical thought, in which we also can distinguish two distinct options, influences the mutual relations. These options are based on different traditions of Lithuanian statehood (the divorce of Poland and Lithuania that took place at the beginning of the 20th century means also the beginning of competition between two difference models of the state) and they suggest totally different “recipes” for relations with Poland.

The first one: liberal concept of the union, showing Poland as a bridge to Europe. The historical basis of this idea is the conviction that the way of creating a one-nation country, chosen on the 16th February, has eliminated from this process a large part of the old Polish-speaking but politically Lithuanian elite. The traditions of statehood of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the old notion of citizenship have fallen. Supporters of this idea state that choosing this option in the interwar period led to the fact that Lithuania became a geopolitical hostage of Russia and in this way it was an obstacle in the process of building the foundations of the safety system in Europe. They often add that a federation of Lithuania and Poland in the interwar time could have been a civilizational support for the Western Europe in the Eastern geopolitical sphere, and Lithuanian nationalism has deprived Europe of this possibility.

These points of reference draw the scheme of relations with Poland that are consistent with the liberal tradition of the Union. It is Russia who is the most interested in the appearance of a geopolitical break between Poland and Lithuania. For Lithuania, Poland is more important (as a bridge to Europe) than Lithuania is for Poland, therefore Vilnius should be more concerned with improving the mutual relations. This leads to the fact that the matter of spelling of proper names and names of cities and villages in the language of national minorities should be left for the consideration of the minorities, and fulfilling their demands should be a proof that Lithuania meets the European standards. Besides, “freezing” and politicising these problems helped the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWLP) to activate the Polish minority in Lithuania, so in the case when Lithuania fulfils the demands of minorities, AWLP loses the possibility of consolidating its electorate. In turn, after resolving the difficult problems, Lithuanian-Polish relations would go up to a new level, and this, in future perspective, would allow us to go back to strategic partnership.

The second one: the conservative nationalistic idea or the idea of relations between two independent states. The basis of this thought is the conviction that rebuilding a one-nation Lithuania on the 16th February was historically unavoidable. The national conflict between Lithuanians and Poles was then based on the social structure. It is not a secret that in that time Lithuanians belonged to the lowest social class. In Lithuania, instead of typical social classes, there were nations, which means that national identity equalled social class. In this way, relations of Poles and Lithuanians were most importantly associated with social differences. In the moment when the points of interest of particular social groups became different, the same thing happened to national concerns.

This means that it would be impossible for the contemporary modern nation, and with it – the country, to appear without standing against Poles. In spite of everything, in a one-nation Lithuania it was possible to create the idea of statehood, which first motivated the post-war opposition movement and then the Reform Movement of Lithuania (Sąjūdis). Supporters of this idea doubt whether in March 1990 it would be possible to regain Lithuanian independence if, in 1918, we had agreed to the role of Lithuania as a region of the reborn Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Taking into consideration the difficult history of mutual relations and the fact that after USRR fell, in the process of building new foundations for these relations (and to be more precise– negotiating the Treaty between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Lithuania about friendly relations and cooperation between neighbours) it was decided to give each other the right to ascribe different value to the past and not to impose the only true interpretations, this conservative thought pays much attention to the rule of independence in the geopolitical puzzle.

According to this idea, a lesson of the interwar period should be learned– it was then that Lithuania became a geopolitical hostage of Russia. But Poland should also learn the lesson. The Lithuanian relations with Poland, although they are associated with different interpretations of history, are strategically important for both, Lithuanian politics and the whole system of European safety.

According to this conservative concept, the biggest obstacle on the way to good mutual relations is the AWPL. It is an organisation, which, in the Vilnius region, has created the atmosphere of an occupied castle, it has enlarged the problems of national minorities and now it makes political profit by maintaining the conflict in the field of national relations. The conservative national concept is against compromises in the matters that have been politicised by the AWLP because compromises may cause an avalanche of new demands.

Resolving the problems is possible only when there will be reasons to believe that fulfilling one demand will satisfy those who pose them all. But taking into consideration the fact that the activity of the AWLP is ideologically possible only in the situation, when there are nationalistic conflicts, resolving these matters will not be convenient for the organisation, so removing one problem will always lead to other ones. In such a situation, this closed circle could be broken only if the AWLP would not be associated with Poland. To say it in a different way, the AWLP’s acceptation would have to be unnecessary to “reset” the Polish-Lithuanian relations. But is such a situation possible?

Source: http://pl.delfi.lt/opinie/opinie/jak-zrestartowac-stosunki-polsko-litewskie.d?id=60964461

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

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