• March 3, 2017
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The Polish Discussion Club on reset with Poland: What unites us for the most part is Putin

What causes problems as regards relations with Poland, how to solve them, what Lithuania and Poland have in common today and what is the role of Polish national minorities in these relations – these were the issues discussed by Tomas Tomilinas, vicechairman of the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union, and Andrius Kubilius, former Prime Minister who were invited by the Polish Discussion Club.

“Generally speaking, I have never been particularly interested in relations between Polish national minorities and so-called majority. I have not engaged in these matters. I wanted to show through my own example that everybody finds it easy to live in Lithuania – Russian-speaking persons, Polish-speaking persons and also other people. I wanted to show that it is possible to achieve something, to climb the career ladder and have no problems. However, since I am a “local” I can see that something goes wrong with our relations” – said Tomas Tomilinas.

“Poland is the second major investor in Lithuania after Sweden. Although current relations are cool, we may boast about particularly good economic relations. Poland carries out considerable investments. Problems arise at the level of politics. During election we declared, as a party, that we want to start from scratch because previous authorities – and others – caused havoc. We should refrain from making commitments which we are not able to fulfil because society has not changed yet. Promises related to surnames and street names were not realized and there are still some Seimas members who are not convinced that these decisions are good. I think that these matters should be put aside and dealt with at a working level. Some attempts should be also made to convince colleagues that these matters do not pose danger for Lithuania. Serious talks should be held on other subjects – historical, economic – which may result in better relations” – stressed Tomilinas.

He stated that not all decision taken by Polish authorities would have to be approved, but some solutions might be implemented in Lithuania, after all.

“Relations with Poland could be improved, if conservatives were less engaged in these processes – conservatives in a broad meaning since we can differentiate between conservatives of Kubilius and conservatives of Tomaszewski, for example. Nationality is the only thing that makes difference. This ideology should be respected, but there is too much of it in Lithuania. We need more reasonable liberals, peasants and social democrats to make progress” – concluded Tomilinas.

“Every Seimas starts from declarations and attempts to make reset with Poland. It might seem that there are only a few problems to solve, but I think that there are certain systemic obstacles, and we will stay in the same place unless we overcome them. Personally, I would like to make reset in relations between Lithuanians and Lithuanian Poles rather than in relations with Poland itself. We should put our own house in order first. Why is it so important to take care of these matters? Not all Poles living in Lithuania feel good here and this is a real problem as regards relations with Warsaw. On the other hand, this matter may become a target of the Kremlin hybrid activities” – noted Andrius Kubilius.

The former Prime Minister stated that these were the reasons why he had run for election in single-seat constituency in Šalčininkai. He knew that he had no real chance of winning. He originated the national minorities scheme and established the parliamentary group of 3 May.

“Many problems arise because there is an excess of rural political culture in Lithuania, and generally speaking, our thinking is overloaded with rural factors. I was born in Vilnius and I belong to the second generation which “has nothing to do with a plough.” After the second world war Lithuanian rural community was turned into urban community. In the case of Polish community the effect was reverse. A vast majority of prominent people who acted as an anchor for urban culture in Lithuania, left this place due to repatriation process. All these matters are engraved on our mind” – said Kubilius.

“I see that Polish political elite has a complex which stems from the fact that Poland is bigger. In terms of size Poland should occupy a better position. It should govern Europe together with France and Germany. Bearing that in mind, it is hard to determine what should be done with a little neighbouring country which is “disobedient”, to make matters worse” – he claimed.

In the case of Lithuania the problem stems from Lithuanian historical thought which is derived from the times of Simonas Daukantas. According to this thought, everything that happened after the Union of Lublin was signed is bad for Lithuania.

“We see Lithuania from the Lithuanian perspective only. We narrowed our point of view” – remarked Kubilius.

Both politicians acknowledge that a factor that unites the countries is geopolitical threat from Russia.

“What unites us for the most part is Putin. It is thanks to him that we have German soldiers in here. NATO strengthens its position in the eastern flank. In this respect good relations with Poland are very important. We are also not fully aware of another issue – Ukraine. The aim is to take joint action to introduce reforms in Ukraine, but also to make the West aware of the fact that Putin cannot gain geopolitical victory in Ukraine. No one except Lithuania and Poland will do that” – said Andrius Kubilius.

“I agree that the greatest threat is Putin. However, the most effective means to stop Putin is social progress. Our efforts should be universal rather than targeted at a particular social group because poverty is equally high in the Šalčininkai region and in Pagėgiai” – said Tomas Tomilinas.

“As far as propositions for national minorities are concerned, the concept of Polish school in Lithuania should be a macro-level solution. The strategy should support Polish education. We should see it as something positive for Lithuania and in no way reduce the number of schools” – added Tomilinas.

“I am increasingly hearing Lithuanians say that they prefer to send their children to a Jewish junior high school in Vilnius beacuse this is simply a good school. Now I would like to know when Lithuanians will decide to send their children to the Junior High School of John Paul II in Vilnius. For now it seems impossible, but the problem lies not only in the attitude of Lithuanians, but also in the quality of Polish education” – stated Kubilius.

Interlocutors agreed that another practical solution supporting Polish-Lithuanian relations is the teaching of Polish language in Lithuanian schools.

They also discussed the issue of traditional “Polish postulates” and the chances to implement them. When asked about original spelling of names in 2010, during a visit of President Lech Kaczyński in Lithuania, Kubilius, the then Prime Minister, acknowledged that he had not expected such results.

“Apparently, we did not calculate, we did not control our emotions. Kaczyński came unexpectedly. I knew that there will be relatively few votes “for” in our party, but I also assumed that other Seimas members – liberals, the Labour Party, social democrats – would endorse the initiative. Suddenly it turned out that there were 10 votes “for”. This was an unexpected blow which showed that these matters are accompanied by strong emotions in Lithuania” – concluded Kubilius.

Tomas Tomilinas said that in the current Seimas, and in the Peasant and Greens Union itself, there are many persons who are against original spelling of names, for example.

“The stances of the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Seimas are very favourable. However, there is also a conservative wing in the Seimas and we have to respect their opinions in a democratic system” – he stressed.

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

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