• January 20, 2014
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Situation in Lithuania is again heading towards escalation of the conflict, Tadeusz Aziewicz says

© Fot. aziewicz.pl

‘The conflict which still returns in the political life of Lithuania and affects the relations between our countries is rooted much deeper than I thought. Maybe it really has a civilization character,’ said Tadeusz Aziewicz, member of the Polish Parliament and Parliamentary Assembly of the Polish Sejm and Senate and the Lithuanian Parliament in the interview for zw.lt.

In April we will be celebrating an anniversary of signing the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty. What are your feelings during this anniversary and what do you think this year will bring to Polish-Lithuanian relationships? 

I would be very glad if it turns out to be the year of breakthrough and if we could manage to solve at least some of the problems that we have been talking about for many years. However, previous experiences do not account for optimism. Latest events, I mean the so-called Daszkiewicz case (Bolesław Daszkiewicz, director of administration of the solecznicki region is to pay a penalty for his failure to comply warrants of the court), do not confirm the good will of the current coalition government which had claimed in their programme to take actions leading to the improvement, not deterioration of the situation of Polish minority in Lithuania.

Honestly, a few years ago I had a feeling that solving major problems in Polish-Lithuanian relations is real and relatively close. I thought that there will be people of good will on both sides and together we will be able to solve at least some matters of dispute. Currently my optimism is significantly smaller. I have an impression that instead of getting better, the situation is becoming more complicated. Of course we cannot resign. Tomas Venclova, whom I very much respect, says that ‘solving Polish-Lithuanian problems is a very long horizon and maybe it is even a hopeless case, but even then, we need to try.’

Tomas Vencloca is an outstanding poet, an intellectualist, an essayist and a philosopher. Politics, however, is judged according to its effectiveness. What solution to the situation do you see, as a politician? 

If a politician wants to solve problems resulting from tension between nations, what can he do? First of all – talk, and especially listen and try to understand all sides. Reconcile people. Even in these extremely difficult conditions. I have an impression that polarization in Lithuania is getting bigger with time, not smaller. As friends of Lithuania in Polish Parliament we have to do cautious politics and not be tempted to use shortcuts or judge people as good or bad.

Earlier we have been talking about the memorial of Lennon in Zarzecze, which interested the Polish delegacy, so let’s repeat after him: ‘we have to give peace a chance one more time.’

I can see that the situation in Lithuania is again heading towards escalation of the conflict and cannons are already going up. If we manage to overcome difficulties and lead both sides to a constructive conversation, it will already be a reason for satisfaction. Of course previously ambitions were higher, also mine. I saw many people of good will on the Lithuanian side. It seemed that a real progress can be achieved fast. Unfortunately the conflict which still returns in the political life of Lithuania and affects the relations between our countries is rooted much deeper than I thought. Maybe it really has a civilization character? Maybe there is a need for a bigger social change in Lithuania and Poland. One thing is certain – we can never resign, and a politician should always be an optimist. A good diagnosis pointing to the source of the problem is very important… 

Precisely, where is this source in your opinion? 

I am more and more convinced that we deal with a rather permanent state of collective consciousness, and politics is its mirror. If it is so, then it proves right the thesis about a longer march, so long that it continues until a civilization change occurs. Maybe positive effects of Lithuania and Poland being members of the European Union will change the situation. These changes are already visible, but perhaps we want too much and too soon. The economy also has an influence. It is particularly visible in Lithuania, since the social tension is raised during the crisis.

You said that you have to listen and talk. However, there are opinions, especially among the right-wing politicians, that the time of conversations is over and that we need to use more powerful tools of influence. What do you think about such approach to the subject?

I think it is bad. I was raised in respect for liberal democracy where conversation, listening and exchanging arguments is a basis for the coexistence of people. All shortcuts, especially in national matters, in history ended up bad. Far be it from me to evoke Balkan events, but the responsibility of politicians in such difficult and delicate issues has to have a special character. We can easily turn people against each other. Awake demons who then live their own lives. Later each of the players is acting rationally, but only from the point of view of their own goals. This rationality sometimes leads to tragedies and very drastic actions. Since the beginning of my work in Polish-Lithuanian group I was always a dove, not a falcon. I always believed that we need to talk and seek compromises. Of course a compromise requires a partner on the other side – if there is no partner, a compromise is a difficult thing.

Adam Michnik once said that Polish-Lithuanian issues need to be dealt with by intellectuals. What is your opinion on this proposition?

I appreciate intellectuals, who sometimes see further, but I am very careful when it comes to their reign as a substitute of a democratic choice. Intellectuals very often function in a reality which is beautiful but distanced from the life of ordinary citizens. Perhaps sometimes they can give a good diagnosis to a problem, but it gets worse when it comes to actual solutions. It is good that decisions are made by people who have a democratic mandate. A different kind of sensitivity is needed for this – openness towards problems and feelings of ordinary people and an ability to communicate with them. It is impossible without those things. If citizens of Lithuania will be afraid of Poland which, in their opinion, wants to take the subjectivity away from them, we will not be able to do anything good here.

Is the Polish-Lithuanian conflict a part of the European conflict in your opinion? There are conflicts between Hungary and Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, Greece and Macedonia. Greeks do not even allow the name ‘Macedonians’. There are also problems with immigrants, and the EU is not always able to deal with those conflicts… 

The European Union may be the best project in the history of civilization, but it definitely is not perfect. Naturally, a bigger EU has more problems than the smaller one had, especially because countries that had joined have shorter experience of functioning in democracy. It causes certain perturbations. Generally, however, national problems get worse in situations of crisis. Bad experiences of Greece, or even Britain, originated from an economical problem. It happens that sometimes the wind is worse and sometimes it is better. My generation has an experience of such good wind – ‘blowing towards God.’ Results that occurred were beyond my imagination at that moment. Later on, when communism was over, it seemed like we were dealing with the end of history. If the great enemy is gone, it can only get better. Problems, however, will always occur and the role of politicians is to face them.

Democracy is not an ideal system either. Currently most politicians are trying to interpret preferences of the electorate and adjust their message to it. We have less and less leaders who feel strong with the power of vision, personality and charisma and want to take a difficult role of shaping the opinion of people, and if need be, convincing them to unpopular opinions and decisions. If people follow a wrong path, we need to show them another one and explain that it is better. In my opinion, when it comes to Polish-Lithuanian relations, we are at a moment when we need to warn because I feel that escalation of the conflict is very close.

You have mentioned that you hoped that the conflict will be solved quickly… 

Results of the parliament elections in Lithuania had an effect on that… 

… now there is AWPL (the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania)in the coalition, which is also responsible for actions of the coalition. 

AWPL is a formation of Lithuanian politicians of Polish origins. It participates in the democratic process just like others. The problem of AWPL is the fact that its postulates from the election are not realized. It certainly leads to tensions in the coalition. I am not an AWPL spokesman, but I am concerned about the subjectivity of our fellow citizens. I look at the case as a Polish politician and a friend of Lithuania. I believe that Poland and Lithuania have an obvious common interest in their mutual cooperation, not conflict.

Politicians very often claim that Poland and Lithuania are stuck with each other, they have common interests. Could you point them out?

For instance, there is a small detail that we are the eastern border of NATO and the European Union. I do not want to point a finger at a potential opponent, but it is obvious that if he attacks Vilnius, Polish soldiers will fight to defend the independence of Lithuania. I believe that it is better for both countries if they speak in one voice in the arena of NATO and the EU. Poland supported Lithuania when it tried to joint these organizations. However, there is no point in escaping from the reality – today normalization of mutual relations depends on a real improvement in the situation of Polish minority. There certainly are groups of interest concerned with strengthening negative emotions. It has always been so, but after so many years from regaining the Lithuanian independence it is a poor explanation. Today we definitely deal with the lack of courage or political will. The case of Daszkiewicz constantly cropped up during my discussions with Lithuanian friends. I understand that his legal situation is not easy, but if controversial decisions have been made at the request of a government member towards the end of the Lithuanian presidency, then it is difficult to talk about the will of a compromise solution to the issue of bilingual street names. In other cases, not connected with the Polish minority, it is easier for us to reach an agreement. Poland is involved as the biggest investor in Lithuania, although even today we hear opinions that question the economical reasons for Orlen buying the refinery in Możejki. I am glad that today the chairman of Orlen talks about better relations with the Lithuanian government. If a new pipeline will be build, profitability of the Lithuanian refinery will increase. It is within the interest of our syndicate, but also Lithuanian workers and the country that charges taxes. I appreciate it as well. I think that Lithuania could use its big neighbor to a greater extend, as a market and a potential investor. On the other hand, Lithuania is attractive for Poland, for example as a bridge for doing business with Baltic countries and Russia. We also have a lot to do together in the field of infrastructure. 

Recently we were celebrating another anniversary of January 13th 1991, when Lithuanian citizens fought for their independence. Polish-Lithuanian conflict was also present there, an issue of autonomy occurred. After 23 years issues connected with national minority are standing on the way again. Which period was more difficult in your opinion? 

At the time when Lithuania struggled for independence, its fight caused very positive emotions in our country. I was in Vilnius at that time. On the streets I saw great determination of people. It is impossible to forget such things. This experience brought me a great respect for the Lithuanian nation. It happens that in special, historical moments people are able to go beyond themselves. It also happened in Poland during the time of Solidarity (Solidarność). Now, with all those years of peaceful and stable life behind us, when there are so few situations requiring heroism, I guess it is more difficult to break away from human littleness and particularism, but I still believe that we can make it.

Source: http://zw.lt/opinie/tadeusz-aziewicz-sytuacja-na-litwie-znowu-zmierza-w-kierunku-eskalacji-konfliktu/

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

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