It seems like a lifetime ago when The Economist wrote about the Poland’s turn to real-politik, its attempt to try and play in the same league with the “big boys”. Back then, this turn gave much fuel for thought on the prospects of the Lithuania’s and Poland’s relations. Today, that fuel and those thoughts seem only too trivial, for a teeny problem got worse, then started a snowball effect that got out of control and then got even worse. Now, it is a blame game even before the snowball stopped rolling.
The Western media (if it cares) rightfully exclaims “disaster”. Meanwhile, as many locals would probably agree, both Lithuanian and Polish media have better things to write about — governmental crisis in Lithuania or the investigation of the tragedy in Smolensk in Poland, for example. Only an occasional scandal makes the big headlines. This does not make the problems go away, of course. What it does is it makes them a little less likely to dramatically escalate further.
Tomas Jermalavičius (en) makes an excellent reference to hardcore electorates to whose opinions politicians are bound both in Vilnius and in Warszaw. A common trait and problem in post-communist countries, last time it was upcoming elections in Warszaw, today it is Lithuania’s turn. Here a ruling coalition struggles to maintain at least an orderly front with all the pre-election activities behind the scenes. It would not be unthinkable that our President, who is commonly very involved in domestic politics, is rather busy mending her recently diminished support statistics. She, undoubtedly, is not the only one and the sight is not unseen elswhere. Polls take the high ground while so much of political life turns slightly chaotic.
What actually is unthinkable is to look at this as some sort of power struggle in the region between Poland and Lithuania, as Jerzy Haszczyński (pl) suggests. What such claims are — and I am not exaggerating — is as close as makes no difference absurd in its purest. I think, since we are already speculating wildly, there is a better explanation for this recent and already infamous Dalia Grybauskaitė’s act of diplomatic (self)destruction. In order to see that, however, we need the whole story.
The problem at the core of this meaningless, counterproductive and now — outright destructive bickering is the alleged continuous failure, from Lithuania’s side, to comply with responsibilities undertaken by signing the “Treaty between the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of Poland on friendly relations and good neighbourly cooperation” in 1994. To such heights it escalated after polish minorities’ leaders in Lithuania bursted into hysteria (lt) due to the ammendments to the Law on Educations in 2010. It did not make any sense then, nor does it now. But the fresh and enthusiastic Donald Tusk’s government took the bait. And now they are hanging themselves with the line.
One of the first moves of Tusk’s government without late Lech Kaczyński’s take on politics was to limit the diplomatic talks. Radoslaw Sykorski decided not to visit Lithuania untill things would be fixed. Things that weren’t broken in the first place. Visiting the leaders of the Polish minority was still acceptable. I wonder, what ass these people are pulling their diplomatic protocol from. Obviously, some wording was changed that was supposed to calm the rattling in the Vilnius region down. Didn’t help. Since then it was only “the worsening situation of the Poles in Lithuania” and the whole thing with the treaty.
Let me ask you a hypothetical question: does having a job somehow worsen one’s situation? Being able to compete in a job market? No, I thought so. Statistically the Polish-inhabited regions in Lithuania have noticeably higher unemployment rate. The unemployed are being supported by SoDra, State Social Insurance Fund Board that is on constant verge of bankrupcy. It ought to be a mutual interest – better knowledge of the Lithuanian language might help to lessen unemployment in the Polish community of Lithuania and reduce the strain on social security system somewhat. However, the Polish minority’s political projects do not work under the assumption that things might be getting better. An enemy in a form of Lithuanian Government is needed. And any excuse will do.
Warszaw, as I mentioned, took the bait offered by the Polish minority in Lithuania. Angrily and agressively. PKN Orlen and energy projects got entangled into this mess together with diplomatic relations. However, bullying did not work. All efforts to “subdue” the Lithuanians failed. Finally, Bronisław Komorowski, it seems, took on the job of damage control (the Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius did it earlier on), Sykorski, though, did not seem too much into it. An address to the Polish Sejm and a combination of lies and threats later, Grybauskaitė turned down an offer for a summit in Warszaw. And here we are.
So what did actually go wrong? Besides the initial fact that nothing was really wrong or missing, that is. Well, first of all, news of the aforementioned events formed a strongly negative public opinion towards the Poles and Poland. Even the initial incentive from the Lithuanian intellectuals, urging not to give in to negativity lost its momentum as it fell on deaf ears, having to struggle with every new step of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland. The simple ridiculousness of Tomaszewski’s public statements and proven or rather self evident redundancy of the party he is leading as a political force eventually cornered any public positive sentiment towards the Poles. This does not mean, however, that the Lithuanians hate the Polish people now. Just that they would not wish to live next to one (as the polls showed back in 2011). Any ideas on which government did more damage to the Polish minority in Lithuania?
Never mind that. We are not afraid of 200 thousand Poles polonising Lithuania, as Jan Widacki suggests in “Przegląd”. Civilisation did not abandon Lithuania and sane mind did not abandon its people. Despite the polls. The attitude could be summed up, I think, like this: “something has gotten into the Polish government and hell knows when it is going to end”. The numbers in the polls, on the other hand, did not abandon the scheming minds of elected officials in this country. Thus, either unknowingly or unwisely, Tusk and his gang decided to go bullying against a president who, in contrast to Valdas Adamkus, posed specifically as a strong figure and did pay loads of attention to the popularity polls.
Grybauskaitė did (and still does) reasonably well in domestic politics (where she did and does not traditionally belong, if you asked me), though displayed a lack of coherent plan on what to do with the rest of the countries. Poland – relationship with whom were strongly maintained on a presidential level – gave her focus in times of need. So she followed the polls and gave Poland a finger, so to speak. Even though it is tempting to go schooling the President (lt) right now I would hope that she did not forfeit anything of vital importance for a jest. That does still mean that the jest was childish, juvenile, immature. Or plainly stupid. Yet, I am kept calm more than some by sanguine and sane voice of Kubilius (lt). I would guess the same thing happened to Tusk’s Government, who now feel the responsibility for their electorate to tame the wild pagans in the North East. And the longer they try, the harder the fall will be. It seems to me that already they only have options that are labeled “insane” left.
Contrary to Kaczyński and Adamkus, the today’s elected officials of both countries failed to keep up a good front despite of differences of opinion or ongoing diplomatic negotiations. It is sad to see that this regional alliance was only based on two intelligent people rather than a more widespread mutual understanding. Since, due to incompetence, vanity and silly stubbornness bilateral relations spilled over into the international realm, both countries will pay the price. A toll on Lithuania is somewhat limited to hopefully temporary diplomatic stigma and some damage that was inflicted directly by Poland. Plans on becoming a regional leader should concern the Polish side. If they are not dead yet with an attitude like this they soon will be dead, gone and forgotten. For there is one strong armed leader in the region. And she, contrary to our historic brothers and neighbours, at least has gas and oil.
P.S. A note to all writing about this… em… situation: restrain yourselves from using historic references. It is a bad tone to do that in Eastern Europe. Too many grudges. If you haven’t learned the lesson yet, do it quickly. Saying that today’s situation reminds you of some particular point in history of the two nations is like a minister, beginning the wedding ceremony by saying: „a couple hours ago, as I was molesting groom’s adolescent nephew…”. Just don’t do that.