- July 15, 2013
Tadeusz Aziewicz: I want Polish minority to have comfort similarly to Kashubians in Pomerania
“I take the declarations of the Lithuanian president with sadness because the declarations are overly sharp, although it is not up to a Polish MP to criticise the Lithuanian president,” said Polish MP Tadeusz Aziewicz during the study visit of Lithuanian journalists organised by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Gdynia last week.
Is the Polish government planning any action to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Lithuanian-Polish Friendship and Cooperation Treaty, which will fall on April 26 next year?
I know that in May a meeting of the presidiums of the parliamentary assembly of Poland and Lithuania took place. During the meeting it was agreed that the work of the assembly will be resumed at the end of this year. Obviously, resuming the work of the assembly makes sense only if the two parties reach a consensus in the context of the assessment and fulfilment of mutual obligations. Unfortunately, this poses a problem. We are seeking to reach a consensus in areas that are troublesome for both parties, such as the rights of national minorities. We have greeted the declarations of the new government of opening up for problems with joy. Something like this seemed impossible during the previous term. We are waiting for a positive punch line. I think we are on the right track.
What do you mean by “a positive punch line”?
We count on speedy preparation and passing of the National Minorities Act. Such declarations have already been made. Therefore, we are waiting for a punch line. The main issues recur. They include the school system, the spelling of surnames, the bilingual names of streets, and the restitution of land. We are also open to do anything to improve the lives of the Polish minority. I took the news about painting out several boards in Puńsk with great sadness. Such actions should not be taking place. We hope that the perpetrators will be soon caught. And by the way, I must boast of the fact that, in one of the estates in Gdynia, we have a street named after Antanas Baranauskas. A few years ago I talked the president of the city of Gdynia into it. This street is the pride of our city.
In point 16 of the Treaty signed 19 years ago, there is a regulation that the issue of the spelling of surnames is to be laid down by an additional legal act. However, during the last twenty years nothing has been done on this point. What could be the reasons for that?
There was no consensus on this point. I would not like to indicate the position taken by the Polish side, I would rather it were a common stand. I have taken part in meetings within the scope of sessions of the parliamentary assembly of both nations and the Group for Difficult Issues, which has recently met in the village of Białowieża. We could not reach a consensus. The main objection voiced by the Polish side was that the Lithuanian side arranges about certain cases and issues declarations that are not finalised. At some point, the majority understood that there is no point in holding meetings if we do not deliver on our promises. The conclusion was that we start the work within the scope of the Group for Difficult Issues if the group prepares a common stand. Then the assembly will convene for the first time in so long.
What declarations have been made by the Lithuanian side but have not been finalised?
Let’s take the declaration concerning the spelling of surnames. A good example was the visit of President Lech Kaczyński, who had expected a voting in the Seimas in accordance with the declarations, however, the Seimas voted differently.
The situation after the elections has changed. We assume that, by free and democratic vote, Lithuanians have agreed that the Polish national minority should have a contingent in the Seimas. In its coalition agreement the new government included a lot of the postulates launched by the Polish minority, so we assume that we live in a different present. I still hope that the assembly will convene in autumn and start working on a normal basis.
Vincas Kudirka, the author of the Lithuanian hymn, studied in the town of Sejny. There was an idea to raise a plate commemorating him. Unfortunately, the town’s mayor has not approved of doing so for three years.
It is worth raising the problems. Initiative is justified and necessary. Nothing is in the way of raising such a plate. We will be trying to solve the problem by way of dialogue. One has to set new examples and show that dialogue is possible. Gdynia is such an example. There is no reason for fearing anyone as regards the spelling, whereas there is one in the context of authorities. In May I hosted here a group of the leaders of the Polish-Lithuanian parliamentary group. We travelled through Kashubia, where there lives an ethnic minority. We have bilingual plates and boards in places inhabited mainly by clusters of Kashubians. We showed the guests how this functions here in Pomerania and that this does not shock anyone. We treat it as a tourist trump card of the voivodeship – something that attracts tourists and shows our variety.
In Lithuania the state authorities changed, but only partially. Dalia Grybauskaitė is now president, leading a campaign basing on certain anti-Polish sentiments. The attitude of Radosław Sikorski, the Polish Foreign Minister, is perceived in Lithuania as anti-Lithuanian. We also have Prime Ministers Donald Tusk and Algirdas Butkevičius, who are willing to talk. What to do in this situation?
In Poland we are aware that the part of the politicians who are willing to compromise is now in the government, but not holding the office of president. Democracy has its own rights. In a democratic state it happens that opinions that are not representative for the whole society start to predominate. Sometimes one has to be able to wait out as well as understand a neighbour that is a democratic state. During elections we hear opinions that create anxiety, but this does not mean that they will be realised. I can only say that the Polish-Lithuanian group has always been the group of Lithuania’s friends in the Polish Sejm. In the times that were the most difficult for the mutual Polish-Lithuanian relations, we looked for anything common for both nations. We supported intellectuals from Poland and Lithuania who subscribed their names to various appeals made to both sides. Bogdan Borusewicz, the Speaker of the Senate, is a great friend of Lithuania and a strict critic of Polish and Lithuanian MPs in the context of the difficulties in reaching a consensus.
Some time ago Polish EU Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski said that the mutual Lithuanian-Polish relations and the issues concerning national minorities are not the topics of the European agenda and, consequently, they should not be raised during Lithuania’s presidency in the European Council. This was confirmed by the Polish Speaker of the Senate, Bogdan Borusewicz. Could the Lithuanian presidency be still a place where such problems were raised?
First of all, I keep my fingers crossed for the Lithuanian presidency. It would be good if some gestures of good will were made towards the Polish minority since this minority would like to have comfort similar to the one it has in other EU countries. We do not want to disturb the course of the Lithuanian presidency. It is very important for us to succeed in this point. I take the declarations of the Lithuanian president with sadness because the declarations are overly sharp, although it is not up to a Polish MP to criticise the Lithuanian president. I hope that it will all come right and go in the right direction.
How could you comment upon President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s statement made for The Financial Times which says that some external forces have “artificially activated” the minority in Lithuania?
It is rather the responsibility of those who are influenced by such inspirations. If my intuition tells me that someone manipulates me, my sense of self-worth should tell me not to yield, but to show openness and an inclination to agree to a compromise.
According to Bogdan Borusewicz, Polish-Lithuanian relations have improved significantly, which has contributed to the presence in the government of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. Do you agree with that?
I appreciate the choice made by the Lithuanian society because it is Lithuanians who, by free and democratic vote, transferred the right number of seats in Parliament to the Polish minority. This is worth noticing because these are the opinions of ordinary citizens. I consider this to be a very positive sign that the Lithuanian society wants to extend the rights of the Polish minority and wants the presence of Polish politicians in the Seimas. We take it to be a great success of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and also a positive change in the mutual relations.
Bodgan Borusewicz also mentioned that the representatives of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania are present in the government and they now cannot devolve their responsibilities on Warsaw. How could you comment upon this?
It depends on how the sentiments are placed. It is always naturally better if problems are solved within the borders of a state. I would be very glad if we, as Poland, did not have to make comments on the Polish minority and if the Polish minority had comfort similarly to Kashubians in Pomerania. If there is some progress in this area, I am very glad.
Poland’s Eastern policy led by President Lech Kaczyński was a type of the so-called “Jagiellonian policy.” Minister Radosław Sikorski said that Poland should depart from doing this type of politics. He stressed that Poland should adopt “real policy” in its relations with Russia and Germany. What is your opinion on this point? Since you come from Vilnius, should “Jagiellonian policy” not be close to you?
Of course, sentiments are important, especially here in Pomerania. Lithuania has a lot of friends. In general, we like Lithuania and Lithuanians. Whenever we talk about Lithuania in the voivodeship, there is a lot of good will and emotions. As far as politics is concerned, it is like business. What is based on a real community of interests works out. A sentiment alone is not enough. I firmly believe that there are common interests for Poland and Lithuania. The tragedy of both nations lies in that they have such beautiful experiences from the past. This is us, after all, who created the European Union in the times when no one thought in categories that are common today. Historic events arouse so many toxic emotions that they sometimes hinder rational dialogue. When one talks with ordinary people, it turns out that these emotions are not there. It is the most important challenge to shake off the baggage of the past. As for Lithuania, from my point of view, I think that it is worth getting rid of anxieties concerning Poland. We all respect the borders and the fact that Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania. We want to visit the city and enjoy it because Vilnius is the heritage of the whole Europe. We have no bad intentions.
Tadeusz Aziewicz – a Polish politician, a local activist, and an MP for the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Term Sejm. In the Sixth and Seventh Term Sejm – the chairman of the Treasury Committee, the chairman of the Polish-Lithuanian parliamentary group, and a member of the Assembly of the Parliaments of Poland and Lithuania.
Tłumaczenie by Elwira Łykus w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Elwira Łykus within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.