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Debate on Polish-Lithuanian relations. "Truths, Conjectures, Interpretations"

President Valdas Adamkus emphasized that the "war of words" must not be allowed to impact the political-economic cooperation between the two countries. The present tensions do not seem a result of political prejudices and resentments but rather of an irresponsible pursuit of domestic interests. 

 

On 18 April 2013 the Warsaw University Library  was the venue of a debate on the mutual relations between  Poland and Lithuania, combined with the official presentation of a report on the mutual perception of Poles and Lithuanians. The public opinion survey was commissioned by the Professor Bronisław Geremek Centre Foundation and it was executed by the Institute of Public Affairs in collaboration with the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University.

 

The debate participants:

Valdas Adamkus - Former President of the Republic of Lithuania

Tomasz Nałęcz - adviser to the President of the RP on history and national heritage  

Vladas Sirutavičius - scientific worker at the History Institute of Vilnius University

Rimvydas Valatka - writer, signatory of the Act of Restoration of the State of Lithuania

Jan Widacki - lawyer, diplomat, former Ambassador of the RP in Vilnius

 

The debate was moderated by Renata Mieńkowska-Norkiene from the Institute of Political Science of Warsaw University.  

In an introductory lecture, President Valdas Adamkus  reviewed Polish-Lithuanian relations since 1989. He underscored that even before the international recognition of independent Lithuania  it was Polish politicians,  appreciating the  true value of democracy and freedom,  who extended support to the young state ; they included  Bronisław Geremek, Jacek Kuroń, Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Adam Michnik . Symbolic of these actions was the agreement reached by Solidarity and Sajūdis concerning the Polish-Lithuanian border. In that early period the leaders of the two countries understood the crucial importance of the core problem, namely that of the status of Vilnius. Polish politicians laid that issue to rest by declaring that Vilnius irrevocably belonged to Lithuania.

Bronisław Geremek , still in his capacity as head of the foreign affairs committee of the Polish Sejm, repeatedly held talks with the leaders of the then  unrecognized Lithuanian state - something that drew  protests from  Soviet diplomats. Poland recognized the independence of Lithuania on 26 August 1991 and on 5 September that year the two states established diplomatic relations. However, a declaration on friendly relations and good-neighborly cooperation was signed only after tough negotiations; Bronisław Geremek participated in the talks as a representative of the Democratic Union.

All the interested parties need to understand  that joint work for the advancement of common interests  guarantees political and economic success. That is something emphatically confirmed  by the accession negotiations  with NATO and the European Union as well as the cooperation of the countries of our region during the Ukrainian "Orange Revolution".

President Valdas Adamkus underscored that the "war of words" " must not be allowed to impact the political-economic cooperation between the two countries. The present tensions do not seem a result of political prejudices and resentments but rather of an irresponsible pursuit of domestic interests. Minority issues must not hinder the implementation of strategic visions. Thus, we should hope that the attainment of a political accommodation - also with regard to controversial and difficult issues - is a realistic prospect.

Bronisław Geremek used to say that Lithuania's independence guaranteed the freedom and independence of Poland. Accordingly, we should keep meeting, holding discussions, utilizing the potential of the Eastern Partnership, learning each other's languages  and strengthening regional cooperation.

* * *

Jacek Kucharczyk and Agnieszka Łada presented the results of the  research  behind the report Side by Side. Mutual Perception of Poles and Lithuanians, prepared by the Institute of Public Affairs. The report  is based on a broad-ranging survey conducted in the two countries. One of the conclusions is that political quarrels have limited influence on the mutual perception of the two societies  - "friendliness outweighs resentments", though knowledge of the other  neighbor is usually  superficial and personal contacts with the other country are  often nonexistent. The research revealed that Poles and Lithuanians know little about each other  - something that facilitates the consolidation of  stereotypes. The report also  demonstrated how media reports and political disputes impact the general climate of Polish-Lithuanian relations. One of the most interesting indicators cited in the report  showed that Poles in Poland recognized the problem of discrimination to a greater degree than Poles living in Lithuania.

* * * 

In the initial part of the debate the participants focused on the issue of politicization of mutual relations through the use  of historical arguments.  Indeed, history has had great  bearing  on Polish-Lithuanian relations over the last twenty years, since arguments derived from historical disputes are a handy weapon in the struggle for influence. Regrettably, the process has led to a polarization of positions and absence of  critical self- reflection. We undoubtedly need more pragmatism and rationality. Tomasz Nałęcz stressed that the research behind the report "proved an autonomization of the world of politics with regard to the feelings and needs of citizens" and that the problem in Polish-Lithuanian relations consisted in the fact that some politicians "succumbed to the temptation of poaching with impunity in a situation of security and peace", with an eye to the electoral arithmetic and possible benefits for themselves.

It is obvious that the  latest Polish-Lithuanian conflicts are an effect of the abandonment of a regular and sensible dialog.  Mythologization of history, absence of direct, mutual contacts, and "knowledge" concocted by the media - all this makes a lethal brew that provokes antagonisms, even in the diplomatic sphere. Jan Widacki remarked that a foreign minister should not make  declarations to the effect  that  talks at state level made no sense until  relations improved.

Rimvydas Valatka  opined that the situation was in fact substantially worse than the research suggested.  He felt that Polish-Lithuanian relations had never been  good and their gradual deterioration was  a natural and logical consequence  of socio-political mistakes. - "How are we supposed to find agreement if in Lithuania we don't learn Polish yet we teach Russian in schools? How are we to seek new solutions if all the political  parties  in Lithuania are national in character, regardless of their programmes? Truly, there is no way you can fight myths," - he emphasized.

Meanwhile, political pragmatism points to the need for compromise, since Polish-Lithuanian antagonisms are being exploited by the Russians , who are pursuing their own policies that are  hardly permeated with the spirit of democratic dialog. From this point of view the accord between the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania  and the Russian Alliance  might cause resentment among Lithuanians  but should also be viewed in terms of real politik. - "Such is the nature of the democratically determined election thresholds with regard  to national minorities in Lithuania," - remarked Tomasz Nałęcz.

The debate participants agreed that a gradual resolution of Polish-Lithuanian misunderstandings  would be facilitated  by a constant, critical  analysis of one's own actions and a willingness to seek responsibility on one's own side rather than blaming the neighbor. "Look for holes in your own jacket and not someone else's," said Professor Piotr Winczorek. The debate showed that Polish-Lithuanian relations evoked diverse emotions, which, in a way, affirmed their importance.

 Jacek Głażewski

  

Litwini o Polakach, Polacy o Litwinach (Lithuanians about Poles, Poles about Lithuanians) - article in the weekly Polityka

Interview with Former President Valdas Adakmus - Gazeta Wyborcza