- November 19, 2015
Why do we need Lithuania?
Supporters of the conciliatory policy in relations with Lithuania who currently dominate the public discussion say that the “hard” policy did not help Polish interests in Lithuania in any way. The falsehood of this claim lies in the fact that Poland has actually never conducted “hard” policy in relations with Lithuania.
The article was originally published in the “Do Rzeczy” weekly, issue 43/142, 19th – 24th October 2015
With masochistic stubbornness, for 25 years Polish elites have been trying to win the appreciation of their Lithuanian counterparts of the idea of “strategic partnership” which is supposed to connect our countries and nations. When the Deputy Marshal of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński arrived in Vilnius on 2nd September during the unprecedented strike of the pupils of the Polish schools to assure them of his “solidarity and support” for his compatriots, he could not help appealing plaintively to the Lithuanians: “Let us not destroy what connects us” On 10th September during a discussion in Sejm about the worsening state of the Polish schooling in Lithuania a new MP Michał Dworczyk apparently had to state that “Poland and Lithuania are natural partners”, even despite the fact that “the situation of the Polish schooling in Lithuania has been slowly but steadily worsening since the 1990s.” Dworczyk also said that he is perfectly aware that the Lithuanian elites de facto want to destroy the Polish schools in their current form and to limit the use of the Polish language as the language of instruction to only two subjects. He noted sarcastically that during the Soviet era young Poles were allowed to learn in Polish from kindergarten to final high school exams. Dworczyk has been involved in the matters of the Poles from the Eastern Borderlands for years and is a possible candidate for the post of the deputy minister of foreign affairs in the future PiS government. He is right. But what is the point of his comments if the only practical conclusion he and other Polish politics draw is to continue imposing themselves and “the natural partnership” on the Lithuanians. The other voices from the main political and media current sound equally pathetic and are equally similar to the voice of a heartbroken maiden – how can you do it to us? – the Polish politicians ask the Lithuanians this question all the time.
Indifference towards the Poles
At least nowadays they are able to notice that the “natural partner” does not always behave like a partner. It is a success because it was not always the case. The date of the official beginning of the Polish – Lithuanian diplomatic relations, 5th September 1991, becomes symbolic. It took place a day after the Lithuanian government’s attempt – which contradicted even their own law – to disband local government of the Vilnius and the Šalčininkai regions. It was a punishment for the local activists for trying to fight for the national territorial autonomy of their councils. Nota bene, Warsaw has never expressed its support for the autonomy programme of the Poles from the Vilnius region. The policy of institutional discrimination which has been conducted ex post by the Lithuanian government for the last 25 years is a confirmation of our compatriots’ worst fears and of their decision to fight for autonomy.
From the suspension of councils to March 1993 almost authoritarian power lay in hands of governmental commissars. They occupied themselves mostly with reprivatizing of land in such way that it could be bought by Lithuanians coming from different parts of the country, instead of Poles, to whom the land belonged previously and from whom it was taken away by the Soviet authorities. Zbigniew Kurcz, an expert on the issue from the University of Wrocław described their activity as “internal colonisation” calculated to change the national makeup of the region by administrative means and compared it to the “Prussian deportations. The reprivatisation was often cruel – on 27th April 1993 commissar Arturas Merkys invited soldiers to the village Gudele and the soldiers dispersed the local Polish peasants by firing warning shots into the air. The villagers were protesting against unfair management of their land belonging to their ancestors before collectivisation. Initially, the Polish government listed the restitution of the local councils of the Vilnius and the Šalčininkai regions as one of their postulates but they were not too consistent because on 13th January 1992 the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Krzysztof Skubiszewski came to Vilnius and signed the “Declaration of Friendship and Cooperation”. In the years 1992 – 1996 the Polish ambassador to Lithuania was Jan Widacki who saw the Polish minority as the main culprit of the conflict between the two countries and who did not miss any occasion to criticise them.
According to the Giedroyc ideology which dominated the Polish elites’ thinking about the East for years, Poles in the Vilnius region were presented as an obstacle on the road to the desired good Polish-Lithuanian relations. The necessity of “strategic partnership” was treated as a dogma then. Only in the end of the last decade did Warsaw start to speak louder about the discrimination of our compatriots in the Vilnius region. Reality showed the shallowness of the conviction about the “naturalness” of the alliance with Lithuania even too clearly. The Lithuanian elites were more interested in working with Scandinavian countries, they did not want the Polish help in their contacts with the West. The trend remained even more visible after our countries’ accession to the EU and the NATO. The Lithuanians were ostentatiously ignoring Poland. On 6th April 2010, during Lech Kaczyński’s visit to Vilnius, the Lithuanian Parliament rejected the bill allowing to spell Polish surnames in their original form, which in the light of the problems of the Polish school or unfair reprivatisation is the least complicated of issues concerning the Polish minority.
The Tusk’s government changed its rhetoric only after this insult and when the 2011 act – worsening the conditions of functioning of Polish schools – led to strikes organised by the local Poles on the streets of Vilnius. The then Prime Minister came to Vilnius on 4th September 2011, when the first strike of the Polish pupils was still in progress, and said that “the relations of Poland and Lithuania are going to be as good as the relations of the Lithuanian government and the Polish minority”. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski used even stronger words: he declared that he will never “set foot in Lithuania” unless their government ceases to discriminate against the Poles. The truth is that it was just a show. Tusk actually pacified the Polish strike then, the strike which with the help of consistent leaders could defend the Polish schools from the harmful amendment to the act being the source of their problems. Poland was still giving Lithuania all it needed.
Humouring the Lithuanians
Poland is one of guarantors of Lithuanian security on the most elementary level; elementary for every country. Lithuania does not have any fighter aircraft, that is why its airspace, as well as Latvian and Estonian ones, is defended as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Since 2004 the Polish Army has already formed six teams within the Polish Military Contingent “Orlik” who used the base at Šiauliai to patrol the Lithuanian sky. Only Germans were more involved in the mission, they formed eight teams. Since 30th April 2014 we have already deployed two teams.
In 2006 PKN Orlen acquired the Mažeikiai refinery from the Russian company Jukos (53.7% of shares for $1.49bn) and the Lithuanian government (30.66% for $852 million). The then Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński was a star of one of the signings in Vilnius. After buying the shares from less important shareholders the Polish company became the sole proprietor. In Poland nobody even bothered to hide the fact that the whole investment had a political aspect to it as well – to keep the Russians away from Lithuania which was treated as a part of “strategic partnership” and even suggested by the Lithuanians themselves but at the same time the Russians were in no rush to invest in Mažeikiai. They did not however miss the occasion to make their competitors’ life harder – Transneft cut off the oil transmission to Mažeikiai via the northern branch of the Druzhba oil pipeline. The Russians’ justification was the unprofitability of the “repair”. Thanks to WikiLeaks we know that it was ordered by the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
More surprising was the “thank-you” of the Lithuanian Railways (Lietuvos Geležinkeliai) which in 2008 dismantled the railway tracks from the refinery to Latvia where the local carrier bought the fuel art affordable prices. As a result, the refinery had to use the services of the Lithuanian Railways who imposed their own tariff on the Lithuanian branch of Orlen. The tariff was described by Polish experts as 30% higher from the standard one. The cost increased because the route became twice as long as before. When Orlen announced the beginning of the construction of a pipeline to the Klaipėda harbour, the Lithuanian government protested against such way of ending the monopoly of their railways. The company in Mažeikiai has been a real problem for the Polish oil giant for years. Between 2007 and 2013 it managed to achieve a positive financial result only once. For political reasons, Poland decided to help Lithuania by financing a huge company, hiring 2 000 people. Orlen Lietuva is now the biggest taxpayer in the country, it is responsible for 3.5% of Lithuania’s GDP and for the major part of the Lithuanian Railways’ revenue. Hardly anyone remembers that the refinery was established during the Soviet era not for the local consumers but for the units of the Red Army located in the republic. “Now we can see that it was not a profitable investment. We must accept the fact that the lost money is now impossible to regain. We must do everything not to increase the losses” – Sławomir Jędrzejczyk, the Vice-Chairman of Orlen said a year ago.
Poland did everything to increase the energy security not only in the context of Mažeikiai. When it comes to electrical grids, Lithuania still remains a part of the USSR. Poland spend 1 billion zloty to build the “energy bridge” which will connect the Lithuanian grid to ours. The EU added PLN800 million to the project and Lithuania invested much less. The bridge is not only the infrastructural safety measure in case the Russians would try to turn off the switch. Even Polish politicians and managers say that we are going to import the energy to cover the solve the problems in power supply in the Warmian – Masurian Voivodship. The Lithuanians will even make profit on our concern about their energy security. The building of the energy bridge is probably going to be completed this year and is one of few big infrastructural projects which we managed to complete on time.
We also have to look at the issue of development of Via Baltica and Rail Baltica – a road and a railway linking Lithuania with Poland and the rest of Europe by means of a real transport corridor. While for the Lithuanian economy it is of vital importance, for us the direction pointing to Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn is secondary, if not tertiary.
Imprisoned by dogmas
This short overview of some indeed costly and strategic Polish investments clearly contradicts the claims of the current opposition indicating the worsening of Polish – Lithuanian relations under Tusk and Sikorski. Apart from phraseology, Poland played the role of a good uncle pampering his naughty nephew. Even despite the fact that the nephew seems to be a spoiled brat showing his disregard not only on the level of political practice but also does it ostentatiously, on the level of political declarations and gestures. Yet another government has put Poland very low on its priority list of their foreign policy. In her speech from June 2013 the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė described the permission to speak Polish in public as a “potential threat to the country’s integrity”. The speech was called “ really anti-Polish” even by a famous Lithuanian journalist Rimvydas Valatka. She cynically accused the Polish government of limiting the schooling opportunities for the Lithuanian minority in our country and she has been declining offers to attend the celebrations of our Independence Day for three years.
So why is Poland still imposing its partnership on Lithuania despite constant insults and discrimination of the Polish minority in the country? Nobody knows why so you don’t have to worry, nobody will ask – a quotation from “Teddy Bear” ( in Polish: “Miś”) by Stanisław Bareja. Dogmatism based on traumas which have never been worked through is more visible in the Lithuanian question than in any other issue of our Eastern policy. Compliant policy towards our neighbour is a simple projection of the Giedroyc ideology, created during the Cold War, which makes us waste Polish political and material resources to support Lithuania, Belarus or Ukraine, or rather to support the anti-Russian currents in those countries. It assumes that Poland is existentially and directly threatened by Russia and that the three post-Soviet republics are going to act as a buffer zone separating us from the threat provided that they will take the anti-Russian stance. Both assumptions do not have much in common with reality. Russia is currently conducting a limited military operation which aims to keep Ukraine as a buffer zone while the Kiev post-Revolution government wishes to integrate with the structures of the West. It used the Moldavian variant, taking a small territorial pledge which anchored Ukraine in the buffer zone for good.
What is even more nonsensical is treating Lithuania as a strategic ally or even a buffer against Russia. It cannot play the latter role because it does not separate us from the Kaliningrad Oblast or the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation whose exit to the Middle European Plain leads through the Smolensk Gate and territory of Belarus. Lithuania is as big as two Polish voivodships and its population is decreasing rapidly – since 2001 it has decreased by 16.8% to 2.9 million inhabitants – the same as the population of the Lower Silesian voivodship. The Lithuanian army of more than 10 000 soldiers (including volunteers) with no air force and armour has been classified at 103rd place of 106 national armies listed by the last year’s globalpower.com ranking.
Lithuania is a country with no real industrial base, whose nominal GDP barely exceeds $48bn. This country is not even a future market. Trade with Lithuania earned us PLN 3 415 million which places the country at 22nd place among our partners: 20th in export (1.4%) and 29th in import (0.7%). At the same time Poland was Lithuania’s third most important trading partner after Russia and Germany, both in context of import and export. On the political level, Lithuania with 0.7% of the EU population (the Baltic countries combined make up 1.5%) has virtually no say in the decision-making process within the EU. The political battle over illegal immigrants, finished with dishonourable capitulation of the Ewa Kopacz’s government clearly showed that Lithuania does not feel like a part of Central Europe. The Lithuanian government have not joined the Visegrad Group which was the core of the opposition to the German plan of dividing the immigrant quota between the EU member states.
Lithuania is not a part of Central Europe
The immigration crisis refers us back to my words from June: “ from the geopolitical point of view a thing called Central-Eastern Europe does not exist”.
There are two separate regions, they differ in terms of their conditions, interests and assumptions of their main actors functioning there. The Baltic states, including Lithuania, conduct anti-Russian policy and focus on looking for their protector in the West. They want to be protected from Moscow, seen by them as a threat. They do not seek protection in Warsaw, but in Washington, Berlin and Brussels. When Lithuania introduced the euro at the beginning of this years, the politicians treated it as a security warrant and a promise of integration with the structures of the West. At the same time, all countries of Central Europe, apart from Poland, define their interests in a different way. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary do not treat Russia as an existential threat, their leaders even try to maintain satisfactory relations with Moscow to balance their position in the EU. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, is especially successful in this respect.
Both Orban and our southern neighbours draw political conclusions from that obvious statement that we no longer belong to the Comecon and the Warsaw Pact, but we do belong to the NATO and the EU. The migration crisis is the most current but very clear proof of the unfortunate direction these structures are taking in Central Europe – towards complete monopolisation of the region by Germany and its West European allies. The Czechs, the Slovaks and the Hungarians understand something seemingly obvious – that the real threat to the sovereignty and integrity of our countries is not Vladimir Putin but institutions of the EU under the unofficial leadership of Angela Merkel. In this respect, the optics and politics of Lithuania (or other Baltic states), stemming from their different characteristics conditioned by their negligible potential and geographical location, is completely different from the policy of the countries of Central Europe.
From the geopolitical point of view, the Baltic region, including Lithuania, is different from Central Europe. If the Polish elites describe their interests and policy in a way similar to the one supported by the Baltic states, it is a result of their complexes and ideologisation in the spirit of the Giedroyc ideology. It has caused and still causes our isolation in the Visegrad group which is the core of the region. That statement can be an answer to the claims of the Promethean circles, especially those closely tied to Law and Justice (in Polish: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) who present the compliant policy towards Lithuania and the return to the concept of “strategic partnership” in categories of regaining credibility in the region and aiming for the position of its “natural leader”. The truth shows us the opposite. In fact, all other members of the Visegrad Group want to keep out from Ukraine or the Baltic countries in order not to become the cannon fodder of the new Washington strategy of repelling Moscow. Policy based on the Giedroyc ideology makes us an outsider, not a leader of Central Europe.
Impossible to defend Lithuania
There is also another aspect which seems impossible to comprehend both for the Polish and for the Lithuanian elites. In case of any real conflict with Russia which is the obsession of Warsaw politicians and journalists, the Baltic states will be given up for lost not only by Berlin and Paris, unwilling to take part in a conflict, but also by Washington.
The Polish media often quoted the information from a prestigious bi-monthly “Foreign Policy” which is that the Pentagon is preparing plans of a military conflict with Moscow for the first time since 1991, and that the most probable scenario is the Russian attack on the Baltic region. However, just a few days later “FP” reported that for the last 15 months the staff of the US Army and the US Air Force have conducted 16 military simulations to consider different scenarios of the fight with Russia in the region. The USA lost all of them. “The conclusion was simple: we are unable to defend the Baltic state” – said one of the officers in charge of simulations. The chairman of the Stratfor (known as “the shadow of the CIA”) George Friedman often says things which would be inappropriate for the American politicians and officials. In his 2010 book “The Next Decade” he said that “the policy of the Baltic states is strategically offensive and tactically defensive which becomes a burden”. He claims that their geographical location “does not allow for successful defence”. That is why he suggests that the US government should only “feign their support” in order to “checkmate” Russia to “acquire the highest concessions possible in exchange for leaving the region”. Interestingly enough, even Friedman refers to irrational emotions of the Poles in terms of the Baltic states and his piece of advice for the future US presidents is: “taking the Poles’ sensitivity, into consideration, postpone the manoeuvre as long as possible”. He predicts the same scenario for equally fetishised Georgia.
Pieces and pawns
After analysing objective determinants, we arrive at the conclusion that Lithuania needs Poland in every aspect of its life – from the existential security needs to economic and political relations. At the same time Poland does not need Lithuania – the latter country has nothing to offer. Despite that fact, Warsaw has been the main advocate of the country for the last 25 years in the international arena and has been satisfying its needs for free in all of the aforementioned areas. It is Poland that plays with more important pieces on the chessboard, Lithuania has only pawns. Yet the Polish government has never decided to make use of its superiority in the only issue that should be of interest for them in Lithuania.
About 200 000 Poles form a dense group living in the Vilnius area, they constitute the majority of inhabitants in two regions and a number of communes in seven other regions. They are usually former citizens of the Second Polish Republic and their children whose families have been present in the region for ages. They bravely maintain their Polish national identity, despite the fact that Poland was not able to save them from the apocalypse of the Second World War, the Communist totalitarianism and from institutionalised discrimination in independent Lithuania. That is why Poland is especially responsible for them. They are the target of the policy de facto aiming at assimilation. The aforementioned administrative colonisation of the region, marginalisation of the Poles’ native language, even through Lithuanisation of their surnames, and limitation of Polish schooling are elements of this policy. The policy of baby steps, but a consistent one. The new minister of education and science Audronė Pitrėnienė decided in July that further introduction of Lithuanian as the language of instruction into Polish schools would be preferable (only 3 subjects are taught in Lithuanian so far). The role model for the Lithuanian politicians is Latvia with its education policy where in the schools of national minorities only 2 subjects are taught in their native language. In fact, they want to destroy Polish schooling in its current form which existed in the Vilnius region even during the Soviet era.
In the wake of a demographic catastrophe, can we afford to lose huge groups of patriotic Polish people, not far away from our own border? What is the point of dreaming about big geopolitical games if the basic resource of the national community – its people – is decreasing? It may sound dry, even too dry, but I have decided not to introduce the moral dimension of national solidarity, without which the national community cannot live, and I did it on purpose. Even at the level of the crude analysis of profits and losses, so often applied by our politicians, sacrificing the Poles of the Vilnius region at the altar of relations with Lithuania has no point.
There is no issue more important for Poland in context of Lithuania than defending of its compatriots. Except for that one issue, there are no serious issues to consider. At the same time Lithuania needs Poland in many fundamental matters. When in March 2012 I was watching a big manifestation of the Vilnius Poles against the amendment of the Education Act which is the main source of their problems, the then Deputy Chairman of the Association of Poles in Lithuania Stanisław Pieszko made a simple suggestion of truly hard policy towards Lithuania. “We should link everything to the issue of the Polish national minority.”- he said in an interview published by the quarterly “Myśl.pl”. This is true, when one day the Polish fighter planes leave the Šiauliai base, Orlen stops its oil production and the Masuria region has another problems with power supply, the Lithuanians will feel the real effects of their discriminatory policy. So far, they do not feel any.
The article was published on kresy.pl
Translated by Natalia Skowronek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.