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Polish – Lithuanian reset

21.07.2015 | By Bartosz Światłowski

The Lithuanian policy makers who carefully watch the shifts in the Polish political scene face the choice: continue inertia evolving into hostility, which predominated over recent years in the policy pursued by the governing parties (Civic Platform and Polish People’s Party), or try to reconstruct geostrategic ties, which would demand formal and legal concessions but at the same time constitute a turning point on the road to nowhere.

The text Mariusz Antonowicz’s, a political scientist, published on the portal Znad Wilii has provoked polemics not just because of the errors and  simplifications it contains but also due to the fact that the Author is a representative of important, interesting, and young part of the Polish minority in Lithuania. In his post-electoral analysis Mariusz Antonowicz discusses the reasons of the Civic Platform presidential candidate’s defeat and outlines foreign policy priorities of its main political opponent – Law and Justice, the party that may soon be in charge of the Polish foreign affairs. Despite a number of suppositions, the first part of analysis is generally correct as it is focused on the main features of the electoral campaign. Yet in the second part author repeats most common commentaries after Western journalists, who tend to perceive Central European right-wing parties as nationalist and xenophobic. This is disappointing as Lithuanians should be more knowledgeable about Polish affairs just as Polish people are anticipated to be knowledgeable about past and modern Lithuania.

In Antonowicz’s view, the electoral campaign of Andrzej Duda was “aggressive and extremely populist” and the candidate of Law and Justice is “a rather unknown party’s MP.” Unfortunately, Author does not explain what he means by saying “populist:” does he mean economy-related promises, alliance with trade unions or the idea of lowering a retirement age? Campaign belligerence also went through different stages and at the final one Andrzej Duda  called for national reconciliation over political divisions. His staff highlighted the need for building a national harmony and no matter whether it was a pre-electoral, time-serving game or a firm conviction of the presidential candidate this fact should have been mentioned.

            Yet international strategies developed by Law and Justice provoke even greater controversies in the Author’s view. The Vilnius political scientist associates the nation-focused  or – as he puts it – nationalist attitude adopted by Law and Justice politicians with the sympathies and support lent to the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. Antonowicz does not mince his words: “Yet, on the other hand, there are factors that Lithuanian politicians and commentators failed to see. Instead, they naively preferred to talk about a return to the policy pursued by the late Lech Kaczynski.” In his view, Law and Justice is the party considerably more radical and nationalist than the Civic Platform. Antonowicz goes on to say that “the statements made by Andrzej Duda seem to be moderate compared to those made by other party activists but he is still quite radical on a number of issues, including support lent to the policy pursued by Viktor Orban in Hungary.” Likewise it is again impossible to prove Duda’s radicalism in his identification with a number of proposals offered by Viktor Orban. Antonowicz seems to misinterpret the Law and Justice’s tactical approach toward the largest representation of Polish minority in Lithuania. Their closer contacts do not result from some structural, ontological nationalism of Polish conservatives (anybody who knows a bit Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s views on the National Democratic Party led by Roman Dmowski would never claim such relations are maintained) but rather filling the gap left by the Civic Platform. Aversion or open hostility aroused in Lithuania by Radoslaw Sikorski did not result from his care about Polish minority’s interests in Soletchniky and Vilnius districts but rather his personal vices and untamed megalomania. Regarding a broader program context, linking minority issues and the security or energy policy questions is short-sightedness and proves the Polish side’s reluctance to rebuild close relations with Vilnius. Sikorski chose a pointless policy of verbal attacks, which confirmed his aversion to the eastern policy as being of critical importance for Polish interests. The Piast policy – so much promoted by the former minister – actually froze Polish – Lithuanian relations. Lithuania’s status in the foreign policy pursued by Civic Platform is also a marker of their intentions regarding all eastern issues – interests of the Baltic States and Ukraine were abandoned in favor of improved Polish – Russian relations necessary to maintain the highest priority of Germany and France in the Warsaw’s foreign policy. No contradiction was allowed in this respect. Another problem is how Warsaw exploited the Polish – German alliance. The Normandy format and earlier failure of the energy union revealed Warsaw’s inability to exploit the union to accomplish critical Polish interests. This is the outcome of the specific Polish political scene, where the government adopted the submissive and not subjective attitude toward the Berlin concept of the strategy for saving Europe. This does not mean that Germany should no longer play a crucial role in the realistic concept of the Polish foreign policy, including, and perhaps primarily, the one in which Poland will be the leader in Central Europe.

            Noteworthily, regarding friendly relations between Law and Justice and Mr Tomaszewski (leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania), a negative aspect – i.e. his pro-Russian attitude – may prevail in a long-term perspective. This is going to be a substantially more persistent aspect whose recognition may prove political rationality of Warsaw’s policy. Both the late President Lech Kaczynski and the President elect Andrzej Duda with his closest aides (primarily Krzysztof Szczerski) have harbored no illusions about the Kremlin’s hostile intentions. From the Lithuanian perspective, the opinion about this issue could play a decisive role given the situation in eastern Ukraine. Regardless of her less or more patent motivations, President Dalia Grybauskaite used to show her reserve or scepticism about the Polish government’s policy based on her negative assessment of Warsaw’s foreign policy pursued after 2010. The concept offered by Lech Kaczyński’s former aides creating the political background of President Elect, who support the demands made by Zbigniew Jedzinski, is absurd. Obviously, this problem requires seeking political groups not linked with Waldemar Tomaszewski but also active, such as Liberal Movement led by Eligijus Masiulis. By no means should Polish right-wing parties be attributed with the nationalist deviation just because they are more radical than the Civic Platform, more interested in the welfare of Polish minorities or more socially conservative. This is a fundamental error.

            There is one more key difference between Law and Justice and Civic Platform crucial from Vilnius’ perspective. The question concerns not the contents of political declarations (such as those issued about Ukraine) that is similar to a large extent, but how the party program assumptions are executed. The late President Kaczynski – as well as political groups associated with the Law and Justice and responsible for foreign affairs – have always manifested the unchanging geopolitical sensitivity that demands considering the interests of all small European countries, particularly Lithuania. Moreover, the relevance of Russian threat was downplayed in the Civic Platform’s policy: it was either not recognized or found less significant than the development of trading relations. On the other hand, the geographical location of Lithuania determines the country’s still updating policy. As a small and Russia’s neighboring country, Lithuania must seek the possibly most long-lasting and full membership in the UE and NATO. Geopolitics has definitely not died there and any ideas of the “golden province” should arouse concerns about the country’s independence. The Lithuanian policy makers who carefully watch the shifts in the Polish political scene face the choice: continue inertia evolving into hostility, which predominated over recent years in the policy pursued by the governing parties (Civic Platform and Polish People’s Party), or try to reconstruct geostrategic ties, which would demand formal and legal concessions but at the same time constitute a turning point on the road to nowhere.

            From the Polish perspective, the attitude taken by Vilnius sometimes seems incomprehensible. Obstructing amendments in the regulations on spelling or worrying educational reforms should certainly be found minor in Vilnius, given big international challenges of critical importance for the state security Lithuania faces. Despite a good will demonstrated by Lithuanian political leaders on numerous occasions (such as the statement recently made by Andrius Kubilius), political ability to overcome the social resistance and defiance regarding the compromise policy toward Polish demands is still quite poor. Vilnius may not expect Poland to abandon efforts aimed to protect the rights of Lithuanian Poles. On the other hand, to do this effectively, active cultural policy promoting a positive image of Poland in the Lithuanian society is necessary. Politicians from the Polish ruling coalition tend to ignore Lithuanian issues, which is by no means justified. Such disinterest in the neighboring country’s problems proves small-town mentality of the foreign policy makers in recent years. A list of crucial or even critical problems common for Poland and Lithuania is long and includes elimination of the energetic isolation of Lithuania, development of NATO membership by the location of American troops, Polish-Lithuanian-Ukraine brigade, economic cooperation, development of transport infrastructure, a carefully devised program concerning changes in the voting system in the UE Council or the end of perspective for big EU funds allocated to our countries. A wind of changes has recently blown in Warsaw but Vilnius also recognize the need for political revival. The results of recent local government elections show that the Paksas’ Party or Labor Party have lost, while liberals have won more votes. The latter ones have set up the committee for national minorities, which along with a number of other initiatives, including a similar project devised by Social Democrats, injection of new blood into the Conservative Party or the declaration made by Valentinas Mazuronis, lay the ground for the restoration of good political relations between the two countries. Noteworthily, the central-right governments in Warsaw and Vilnius, which may come to power next year, might provide conditions for the reform of bilateral relations. The axiom that is the must is the need for mutual sympathy and avoiding seeing the other party from the angle of the widely-held, most frequently unreal categories. Young and new politicians will mold relations between the two countries. We should demand more from us than our predecessors.

 photo: https://www.facebook.com/andrzejduda

About Author

Bartosz Światłowski

Master’s degree in international relations (Jagiellonian University) bachelor in social policy (Jagiellonian University) and international relations (Tischner European University). Analysts in Diplomacy and Politics Foundation. Speaks Polish, English and Spanish.