- April 25, 2014
20th anniversary of signing the Treaty between Poland and Lithuania
The Treaty on friendly relations and good neighborly cooperation of the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Lithuania signed on April 26th, 1994 is still an agreement of unfulfilled hopes for one of the party and an agreement of unrealistic expectations for the other party.
The agreement drawn up and signed in Vilnius has been concluded for a period of 15 years. After the lapse of this period, that is in 2009, the Treaty shall be automatically extended for the next period of five years since, as it has been stipulated in the document, none of the parties terminated it “upon notification not later than one year before expiration of the term of the agreement”. Over the last year, none of the parties announced the termination of the Treaty, thus it will be still in force.
Zbigniew Siemienowicz, who was the Seimas deputy when the Treaty was signed, believes that today’s Polish-Lithuanian relations resemble the relations these two countries had before the agreement was signed. We still discuss the issues that were supposed to be settled under the document signed in 1994. Nevertheless, bilateral relations were at that time more adverse than today to making agreements.
–– The situation at that time was not especially good as people still remembered that the Polish people did not vote in favor of independence of Lithuania. We were regarded as people who do not identify with Lithuanian statehood. However, we were willing to improve this situation. Both sides wanted to make headway in order to be able to move forward together – Zbigniew Siemienowicz says during a conversation with “Kurier”. The former deputy points out that at that time there were also the movements opposing the Treaty and they were even more radical that today. For this reason the President Algirdas Brazauskas initially wanted to include a stipulation in the Treaty that the Polish side recognizes “the occupation of Vilnius”, but he finally gave up his demands. However, in the document Vilnius was referred to as the capital of Lithuania.
–– Most politicians were at that time more resistant to the radicals’ persuasions and understood that striving for European structures together with Poland will enable them to move forward. The aim was to join the European Union and NATO. That served them as a lodestar – Siemienowicz says.
This common aim got them to conclude the Treaty. Nonetheless the signed document was not precise. It left room for interpretation of provisions and obligations. It was not protected by the enforcement mechanism.
–– That is why today everybody interprets the Treaty provisions in their own way and there is no mechanism that would verify these interpretations – Siemienowicz points out. According to him, the problems with enforcing the provisions of 1994 appeared after Lithuania had joined the EU and NATO and the anti-Polish card, which was a significant element of the political debate in the interwar period and in the history of independent Lithuania, reemerged in Lithuania. According to Siemienowicz, the origins of this situation and the way Poles are treated should be sought in the Lithuanian educational system.
–– If since early years of school the society has been made believe that we are occupants, and this is how Poles are referred to in the textbooks, then we are also treated in this very way by the Lithuanian community – the former deputy says. According to him, this situation can be changed in the face of the current international situation which is tense and puts Lithuania’s security in danger. The former deputy also believes that this forces Lithuanian politicians to think pragmatically and to take actions to improve relations with Poland.
However, Zbigniew Siemienowicz does not expect that the change of the situation and the next years of the Treaty being in force will result in improving the situation. In spite of that, he believes that it would be unreasonable to reject the Treaty.
–– Today we have at least obligations. After rejecting the document we would have nothing – Siemienowicz says. “Kurier” also asked the former Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Povilas Gylys, who is now the Seimas deputy, to assess the enforcement of the Treaty provisions and to share his remarks on the issue. Nonetheless he refused to comment on it justifying it with his tight schedule.
The Treaty including 27 sections can be divided thematically into three parts. They deal with bilateral relations, the parties’ obligations within the protection of rights of national minorities, that is the Lithuanian minority in Poland and the Polish minority in Lithuania, as well as the declarative part which includes no exact obligations within the Treaty.
The first part that deals primarily with reciprocal recognition of sovereignty of the contracting parties guaranteed that security would be provided and the parties would respect territorial entirety of the countries and would not interfere in the partner’s internal matters. 20 years later, several another articles on the rights of national minorities are still topical for the Polish minority in Lithuania.
Tłumaczenie by Martyna Kołtun w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Martyna Kołtun within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.