• August 12, 2014
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Żurawski: Attaching the Ribbon of Saint George can be perceived as an own goal

Żurawski: “The Polish minority in Lithuania is a separate political subject. It has its own political aim, leaders and it is not controlled by Warsaw,” said Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski Ph.D. in the conversation with zw.lt.

How will u comment on the current situation of Poles in Lithuania (their fruitless fight for bilingual nomenclature, the spelling of names and so on) and dilomatic actions of Poland connected with this issue in last dozen years?

We have four subjects in this game: Lithuanian state, Polish minority in Vilnius Region, Polish state and Russia – a separate factor that additionally makes things complicated. Lithuania has the policy whose result is antagonising Polish minority in Lithuania, There were also mistakes of Poles, for example the attempt to create Polish autonomy in Vilnius Region at the beginning of the 90s. It is not about the fact that they made this attempt. The autonomy as a political aim of Poles in Vilnius Region is morally accepted but their co-operation with Soviets at that time – no.

The issue about which political elites in Poland and political elites of Polish minority in Vilnius Region are not made aware of is the fact that Polish minority in Lithuania is a separate political subject – it has its own political aims, own leadrs and they are not controlled by Warsaw. It also has completely different political horizons – the group faces a different type of challenges than Poland. The leaders of Polish community do not have to deal with the relations with the USA, Ukraine, Russia, etc. They deal with issues connected with the situation of Poles in Lithuania. From the point of view of Warsaw, there is a conflict between Lithuania and Polish minority in Lithuania, which is a fact regardless of politics and the role of Poland. The government in Warsaw cannot decide about making an agreement or the continuation of this conflict. Only the authorities of the Republic of Lithuania and Polish community in Vilnius Region can decide about this. From the point of view of Warsaw, the question is not should this conflict be continued or not? The question is what policy should Poland have with regard to the fact that this conflict exists. For Lithuanian Poles, it is the most important political challenge. For Poland it is one of many challenges that it has to face and with respect to our compatriots in Vilnius Region, it would be dishonest to say that it is the most important challenge for Poland.

In what way should Poland deal with the conflict of Polish minority in Lithuania with the authorities if the Republic of Lithuania?

The experience of the last twenty-something years showed the lack of effectiveness of diplomatic pressure of Poland on Lithuanian government. It is not the result of the mistakes of Polish government but the issue of the lack of effective pressure instrument. Political planning in this field should be based on the assumption that Lithuania (at least in this generation) in the issue of the rights of Polish minority on its territory leads the policy that results from bad will. If only Lithuanian ruling elites will have physical possibilities not to grant any political concessions to Poles in Lithuania, they will not grant them. Making diplomatic gestures in this matter will not help much. One effective instrument of pressure of Poland on Lithuania is army pressure which is not possible because of obvious reasons. Because we are the members of European Union, economic pressure is also not possible. Because of that, some areas of conflicts (the spelling of names, the presence of Polish language in public space, reprivatisation, the manipulation of the borders of constituencies) are beyond the reach of Poland. At least direct.

The field that can be successful is the position of Polish media and education in Lithuania. Poland has the potential to solve this cultural conflict without much effort.The moajority of our citizens does not remember that Poland is ten times bigger than Lithuania. In my opinion, the conflict with Lithuanians should not be solved by diplomatic mediations that because of the lack of pressure instrument and the bad will of Lithuanians are bound to fail. The key to success are direct investments in media, Polish education and other cultural initiatives in Vilnius Region. It should not be limited to TV Polonia and the support for Polish press. Polish medial presence in Lithuania must be mass and many sided from high to popular culture. The equipment for Polish schools and scholarship system for students and teachers – the conditions of work must be better. Poland has to give serious, not symbolic money for those aims.It would be a more realistic policy than the most fierce even verbal Polish accusations towards Lithuania on all possible international forums. It is not about talking or complaining but about achieving the improvement of the situation of Lithuanian Poles. We do not need words that would let, if they were strict, their speaker walk in the glory of a defender of Polishness in Vilnius Region but we need financial sources that Poland has and has the moral duty to give money for this purpose.

What effect will it have on the relations of the two countries – Poland and Lithuania?

When u take part in a geopolitical game, it must be indicated that Poland should not be the country that accuses Lithuania of breaking human rights in Lithuania in front of international institutions (the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, etc.). There is the danger that Poland will create the common front with Russia in accusing all three Baltic states of breaking the laws of national minorities. Russian propaganda apparatus is many times stronger than Polish and Lithuanian. It means that no matter what intentions we have, finally, in the public eye we will support the Russian thesis of breaking the rights of national minorities in the Baltic states. The dispute of Poland and also the dispute of national minorities with Lithuanian state is not only the threat of involuntarily becoming the ally of Russia against Lithuania and the threat of a serious conflict with Lithuania and at least complications in the relations with Latvia and Estonia, which is in the interest of Russia. Legal proceedings in European courts do not change the situation of Poles in Lithuania. They only create the atmosphere of propaganda that Russia will be able to use to attack Latvia and Estonia showing that Russia in the rest of Baltic States takes part in what Poles in Lithuania complain about. The public eye knows little about European reality and will not notice the fundamental difference between the right claims of Poles in Vilnius Region, which are autochthonic community there, and Soviet usurpation of colonists from Riga, Tallin and Narva.

What does it mean in practice?

This is the conflict of two or maybe four NATO states. In this situation, Russia could be the arbiter in the relations of Poland and Lithuania and also the defender of Polish minority in Lithuania. It is an old tradition od Moscow imperialism. Russia has always “liberated and taken care” of conquered land and people. What would happen if Igor Grykin, who governs Russian diversants in Donbas (from 31 December 2013 the colonel of Federal Security Service, the veteran of wars in Transnistria, Yugoslavia and Chechnya) appeared in Vilnius Region accompanied by “green people” of Putin and he said he is a local Pole and started the fight for “the autonomy of Polish regions”. He was “a rebelious inhabitant” of Transnistria and later Crimea and now Donbas, maybe Vilnius Region if Crimea will give such an order. What will happen then? Polish public eye would not know how to react in such a situation: to act together with Russia against Lithuania or act together with Lithuanians against Poles in Vilnius Region. In this way, there could be a big mess that only Moscow would benefit from. So we should do everything not to authenticate such a scenario by propaganda. Russia tries to rebuild the empire and the Baltic states, by virtue of internal conflict, can be used for this purpose. Moreover, the Baltic states are a universal indicator as far as the tenacity of NATO is concerned.

Were the last events in Ukraine this type of a test?

Ukraine does not belong to NATO. In the case of the aggression in Crimea, Kremlin did not test the tenacity of NATO. The answer of the West to the aggression of Russia towards sovereign country in Europe. The result of the test was positive to Kremlin and that is why we have another test which is the aggression in Donbas. What will be the result, still we do not know. If Moscow achieves success, another test will be checking the reaction of NATO to aggression of one of its members – new, little and “not important”. It can have the form of the appearance of “green people”, for example in Narva, Latgale and Vilnius Region.

In connection with the above facts, should we be afraid of a direct attack of Russia?

The danger will be stronger if Americans get involved in some great dispute somewhere else (for example in the war for Taiwan, war between Koreas and the conflict in the Middle East, etc.). The main guarantee of the safety in the region are the United States. It is a global empire, which means that it can be involved militarily in some other region. Then Russia will have a free hand in Europe. This all is very changeable in time and it relflects on the stability of international safety in the region. Poles in Vilnius Region does not have to think about this all, whereas Poland should.

In what way should burning problems of Polish minority in Lithuania be reconciled with the issues of internal safety in the region?

The danger from Russia determines the scale of delicacy of Polish policy towards Lithuania. In the meantime, being aware of the hostile attitude of Lithuania to Poles in Lithuania, Poland cannot weaken the co-operation with the armies of the Baltic states. Relating to this, the opinion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski in which he considered the withdrawal of Poland from the Baltic Air Policing mission is absolutely unacceptable. We can consider if the base of this mission should be in Šiauliai (from which Lithuania will have economic benefits) or in Estonia. Lithuanians should see that if the rights of Polish minority in Lithuania will be broken, it will cause economic losses: the loss of NATO base, jobs and investments.

The preparations to establish international Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian military unit are going on. Does the ratification of LITPOLUKRBAT means our direct participation in Ukrainian-Russian military conflict?

Now when the imperial policy of Kremlin is more active, Lithuania regains the interest of the military co-operation between Poland and Lithuania. In 2008, on the initiative of Lithuania, Lithuanian–Polish Peace Force Battalion (LITPOLBAT). I think that we should use this occasion and bring the co-operation back. The establishment of Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade does not mean our direct participation in the fight in the East of Ukraine – this is not a military alliance. This is the instrument of attracting Ukrainians to the co-operation with the West. It can be shown by the example of Lithuania: in 2003, Poland was already in NATO and Lithuania was not. Then Poland supported American intervention in Iraq. It is not about the fact that we had some project what to do with Iraq. It was not the policy towards Iraq. It was the policy towards the USA. The thing happened before the second wave of expanding NATO by another countries of Central Europe. Poles went to Iraq and under their command Lithuanians and Estonians also went. You must differentiate between the place of demostration towards the USA of allied utility of new countries in NATO and candidates for the alliance from the company in which we demostrated. What counts was with whom we went there. Now we have a very similar situation. The common Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian unit will serve as the demonstration of the fact that Ukrainians are able to co-operation with NATO countries.

Coming back to the beginning of the contemporary conflict of the authorities of independent Lithuania and Polish community in Vilnius Region, I would like to ask why the national activity of Poles in Lithuania on the wave Revolutions of 1989 in the influential communities of Polish intellectualists (gathered around “Kultura” and “Gazeta Wyborcza”) and some Polish polititians was perceived negatively?

Lithuania was the first part of Soviet Union which showed the will of independence. Acting against Soviets was the stimulation of the centrifugal movements inside separatistic republics (for example Osetia and Abkhazia towards Goergia; Transnistria and Gagauzia towards Moldova; Nagorno-Karabakh towards Azerbaijan). They were afraid that Poles in Lithuania may follow this type of Soviet policy regardless of what intentions they will have. Avoiding the conflict between Poland and Lithuania in the light of the demands of the autonomy for Vilnius Region would require a great mind and morality from Lithuanians to accept this Polish activity in Lithuania. Regarding the tradition od Lithuania, which was built at the turn of 19th and 20th century on the basis of anti-Polish legend, not any other (anti-German or anti-Russian) was improbable in psychological and social terms. That is why Polish elites were afraid that Kremlin will gain all conditions in Lithuania to manipulate and take advantage of Polish minority. The minority would supposedly be against the disintegration of USSR, whereas the disintegration of USSR was in our interest.

During last several years, the rhetorics of ruling elites of Poland to Lithuanian authorities has definitely changed and still it could be pretended that “nothing happened” and Polish minority in Vilnius Region has too high demands.

After signing the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty in 1994 it could be assumed that Lithuanians mature to fulfil the resolutions of the Treaty. Today after 20 years, it is hard to keep on pretending that the fulfilment of the resolutions of the Treaty requires time. The scale of intenational co-operation between Poland and Lithuania in the strategic dimension – without solving the problems of Polish minority in Lithuania – as it was before will not come back. Polish public eye at the beginning of the 90s was very supportive for Lithuania on its way to liberty. After the events of January 1991 in Vilnius, there was the conviction that if we first broke the external Soviet camp and Lithuanians first broke the internal one, so this bond if two nations is still alive. When there were fatalities under the TV tower, Poles realised that for the first time in the struggle of both nations with the imperialism of Kremlas Russians were killing people in Vilnius, not killing them in Warsaw at the same time. This scale of sympathy of pro-Lithuanians will not come back soon. Lithuanians wasted this. Every new government of Poland deciding for the strategic co-operation in Lithuania will have to account for the issue of Poles in Vilnius Region. It will make the co-operation with Lithuania much more difficult if Lithuanian ruling elites will not make any concessions. Those elites will probably not resign hoping that Poland will not co-operate with them in the strategic politics towards Russia because Poland has to. This is the truth. Regardless of what policy Lithuanians lead towards Polish minority and Lithuania, Poland has to co-operate with Lithuania for safety. Otherwise, Poland would act for the benefit of Russia, which means that against itself. It seems that Lithuania is not interested in other co-operation with Poland than the field of safety.

At the moment, the articles about the tragedy in Volhynia are very popular. I notice a great difference as far as the memory of the 2nd World War in contemporary Poland is concerned. The knowledge of Ponary or the participation of Lithuanians in the 2nd World War is little. What is the reason for this?

The fact is that in the Polish society there is no memory of the Lithuanian action of extermination against Poles. There is the memory of German, Russian and Ukrainian crimes but not Lithuanian. In my opinion it results from the lack of knowledge. As far as the Volhynia issues are concerned, in Poland, there is the lack of understanding of the fact that the memory of the conflict between Ukraine and Poland is the memory of two provinces for Ukraine: Volhynia and Galisia. This memory in Równo, Tarnopol, Lviv and Stanyslaviv is completely different from this in Kharkiv, Dniepropietrowsk and Kiev. In Poland this memory is the same in Przemyśl, Szczecin. Naturally, the number of casualties of Lithuanian atrocities was uncomparably lower than those of German, Russian or Ukrainian. In addition, Lithuania is small. In the case of Ukraine, people can scare Poles by the supporters of Stepan Bandera who wanted to get Przemyśl and Chełm but it is hard to say without lampooning that Lithuania will attack us and take away Sejna and Suwałki.

Some actions of the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania caused a lot of controversy, for example attaching the so called “gieorgijewskoj lentoczka” or the support for Russian autonomy in Crimea. How was is received in Poland?

Poles in Lithuania should not even create pretence that they are the instrument of Russian authorities. O id Waldemar Tomaszewski attache the Ribbon of St George, it can be perceived as an own goal. In this situation, neither Polish state nor Polish public eye are not able to support it. Lithuanians gain a great propaganda ammunition. What if Tomaszewski will get a few per cent votes more in the Eurpean Parliamenr Elections? European Parliament is a discussion club in which nothing important will ever be born. The problems of Polish minority in Lithuania can be solved only in Vilnius.

Przemysław Żurawski ver Grajewski Phd (born in 1963) – a Polish expert in international issues and especially the issues connected with the safety. The associate professor in the Faculty of International Studies od the University of Łódź, the lecturr of Belarussian European Humanities University on the emigration in Vilnius and a member of European Institute in Łódź. He worked in the Ministry of National Defence. He was an expert in European Parliament responsible for monitoring eastern the policy of eastern Europe. He is a regular commentator in TVP Info.

Translated by Marta Wojtowicz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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