‘We assume that we have been friendly to Lithuania for 20 years, but our friendship has not been reciprocated,” Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski said in the exclusive interview to daily Lietuvos rytas, which was published on 22 July. The interview was conducted by the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Lietuvos rytas daily. According to the paper, the Lithuanian politicians are maintaining that relations between the two nations remain good, and that the problems occur from ambitions or even deliberate attempts by “some politicians” to add fuel to the flames. It is not a secret that Lithuania sees the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski as the “key problem” that have made the relations between the two countries frosty.
Lietuvos rytas asked Sikorski about his opinion on the situation.
Let’s start from recent events. Why the Polish politicians – who are currently holding the EU Presidency – have not reacted to the accident when Austria ignored EU solidarity principles and in a hurry released Mikhail Golovatov, a suspect in the 13 January, 1991 massacre?
We, as a country holding the EU presidency made a statement on 20 July.
Still, the statement sounded more like a bureaucratic statement. We have not heard a single Polish politician – a minister, Prime Minister, or President – making a statement on this.
Ok, you will hear it now. We support the idea that justice should be administered to all war crimes suspects and other international criminals.
I cannot give you an evaluation of particular legal cases. Such cases are always complicated. All I can do is express my solidarity with your desire to lawfully evaluate those who had been killing the Lithuanians who fought for freedom.
I am sure you aware that in January 1991, Lithuania received more than just Poland’s verbal support. Many Poles went to Vilnius; I personally visited Vilnius. I was writing to the US press, in order to support you, which I think had helped you as well.
Hence, you should not doubt our solidarity, but legal steps can be taken only based on the circumstances of a particular case. And you know these circumstances better than I do.
In that case, let us talk about Lithuanian-Polish relations. Lithuanian politicians maintain that relations with Poland remain very good, even after the recent tension.
If Lithuanian politicians think like that, we certainly can live with the current relations. I think that we have done a lot to make sure that the relations are as good as possible.
I would like to remind you that the first foreign country that Donald Tusk visited after becoming the Prime Minister of Poland was Lithuania; I advised him to pick Vilnius as the European capital for his first visit and accompanied him on his visit.
We wished to confirm once again how important the bilateral relations were for us. I have visited Vilnius twice since then.
We cooperate in many areas. However, we know that there are problems as well. Both we and you know what these problems are.
Nevertheless, problems are not the only thing we have heard about from Warsaw. For example, the Polish Senate chairperson publically stated that Lithuanian-Polish relations were so bad that it was not possible to make them any worse. Do you agree with his opinion?
I have not heard such a statement, but we are disappointed indeed.
We assumed that the fact that our President Lech Kaczynski had visited Lithuania 16 times in four years, and our Prime Minister chose Vilnius to be the first European capital for his visit, was a sign that we appreciate Lithuania as an exceptionally close and friendly country.
And we hoped that Lithuania would solve at least one of the problems we have raised in the past 20 years. However, nothing of the sort has happened so far. This is why we are disappointed.
But sometimes Lithuania does not understand what Poland actually wants from it. The new Law on Education brought a wave of discontent. However, Lithuanian politicians, claim that the education situation of the Lithuanian Poles is the best in the world. Furthermore, the factual data proves that.
I am not questioning that.
Does this mean that you are not questioning the statement that the education situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania is the best in the world?
Lithuania indeed has the biggest number of Polish schools among all foreign countries that have Polish communities.
I do not intend to question that. We are worried about the direction of the policy: we are worried because we do not know whether such situation of the Polish community will be preserved, especially the situation with the schools, and whether the situation would improve or worsen.
However, I would like to repeat that we hoped that after the 20 years Lithuania would start solving at least one of the problems we have raised. These are property restitution, name spelling, and bilingual spelling of place names. However, instead of solving these problems, a new problem has appeared.
And despite what I personally believe, thanks to the Lithuanian democracy, the Lithuania’s Polish community is becoming more politically influential in the country. It organizes protests and it has collected tens of thousands of signatures, asking the president not to sign the Law on Education. Unfortunately, the community was not heard.
In our opinion, from political point of view, this is not a good trend.
Still, you personally, and Poland as a country, are sure that you know what this problem is?
Despite what some Lithuania’s ethnic Polish politicians are saying, the Polish community is protesting against the Law on Education only because of the short transition period after which graduation examinations will be the same for all schools.
Let me tell you more. We do not have anything against Lithuania’s requirement for all citizens to know the Lithuanian language well. This is absolutely understandable.
When we are talking with the Lithuanian Poles we keep reminding them that they have to be loyal Lithuanian citizens. And they have to be “successful citizens,” this is why they have to know the Lithuanian language, which means they need to keenly study this language at school.
But there are demographic changes, they are happening everywhere, not only in Lithuania. And, sometimes, when there are not enough students, schools have to be merged.
This is happening in Poland as well. However, we in Poland solve such problems at the local community level. The local government, which has to use the funds rationally, makes the decisions.
In Lithuania, however, if I understand it correctly, the Polish community is now worried that if there is a need to make a decision whether to close down a Lithuanian or a Polish school, the Polish school would be closed down by default. If they are correct, it is not surprising that they feel being discriminated.
However, if the local government was authorized to make such decisions, and if the decisions were based solely on financial effectiveness principles, I do not think anyone would protest against such decisions.
There is certainly nothing radical about your words. However, as you perhaps know, both in Lithuania and in Poland you are being perceived as a “hard line” proponent. Why is that?
Let me tell you one thing: for 20 years we have been trying to achieve some kind of reciprocity.
Of course, we understand that Poland is a bigger country than Lithuania and that this is why it has to be more ‘sensitive’.
Moreover, we understand that there is historical legacy, and that this legacy is not as romantic as it may seem to some of the Poles. Our understanding about our “great common past” differs from yours.
However, we assumed that after we had supported you in your fight for independence and in your aspirations to join NATO and the EU, and after our countries had been so close in seeking common foreign policy goals for so many years, you would finally gain enough trust in our good will and good intentions.
We hoped that then you would start treating the Polish minority as Lithuanian citizens of Polish origin who should be provided with all normal rights and privileges that all national minorities have in all European countries, and that you would stop treating them as “the fifth column.”
After all, there should not be such problems at all between the countries that used to be so close in the past. Nevertheless, such problems do exist.
We believe that we have been friendly with you for 20 years, but the issues that are important to us have not been solved. We do not understand why.
But the Lithuanians living in Poland also have grievances.
For example, they said that only every tenth Lithuanian in Poland could use the minority rights that Warsaw is so widely advertising and that allegedly do not exist in Lithuania. Such rights do not apply to the localities populated by less than 20 per cent of national minority representatives.
I certainly cannot do anything about the fact that only 5,000 Lithuanians live in Poland.
However, this is also a part of the Lithuanian-Polish relations. And when the Lithuanians begin complaining about their situation in Poland, it becomes much more difficult to seek new rights for the Poles in Lithuania.
Our goal is to satisfy all needs of the Lithuanian minority in Poland.
However, they complain that they have not received sufficient support from the Polish Government.
Let me know what exactly they are lacking and they will receive my support. However, the crux of the matter is that we are not holding the Lithuanian minority hostage. You should not think that we would do something if you do something.
We have a different way of dealing with it: we are doing our best in order to help the national minorities because we are proud that they exist in our country, and we want them to be happy to be Polish citizens, even if they are of a different national origin. It shows our level of civilization from how we behave with national minorities.
I assume that Lithuania will find it much easier to understand such a position. However, this is the first time we are hearing this from Poland. Most of the statements that are coming from Poland have been aggressive. The Polish media has quoted saying that you would not visit Vilnius until the “W” letter problem is solved.
When did I say that?
The Polish media has quoted you.
You should be very careful about what the media announces. I have visited Vilnius as Foreign Minister three times already.
Do you deny saying that?
I would like to see some sort of progress before we return to the previous relations indeed. I indeed believe that hiding problems does not contribute to friendship. We have a feeling that we are using all communication measures we can, but Lithuania still does not honour its own promises.
This is why if somebody tells me: “Come to Vilnius, we will explain it to you.” My reply is: “You have been explaining things for 20 years, now it is time for you to show what it is exactly that you had in mind.”
You keep talking about the 20-year period and about Poland’s disappointment.
However, Lithuania also has reasons to be disappointed about this 20-year period, at least on several points. For example, with Poland’s actions, or, to be more exact, lack of them.
I have in mind the so-called strategic projects that have still not been implemented: the power bridge, Via Baltica, and Rail Baltica.
Speaking of road building, Lithuania should not feel discriminated. The current government is the first to start seriously taking care of highway constructions in Poland.
Now we are spending the biggest amounts of money in Poland’s history on road building.
However, our priority is to connect Warsaw with Poznan, Wroclaw, Gdansk, and Szczecin. We simply did not have a base infrastructure.
You have really good highways, for example, between Vilnius and Klaipeda. We do not have that yet. The same situation goes with the railways.
If you were interested in the Polish politics, you would have known how much criticism our transport minister has received because of the condition of our railways.
This is why I believe that you will agree with me that we need to solve these problems first, and that only after that we can be ready to engage in international projects.
And what about the power bridge then?
This has always been linked to Lithuania’s plans to build a nuclear power plant. And these plans are still at discussion level.
However, if you are saying that you want us to invest in mutually beneficial energy projects – the nuclear power plant or power bridges – some people in Poland could remind you that we already did that.
We undertook the biggest investment in Poland’s history — the Mazeikiai oil refinery. And that investment was mainly politically motivated.
Out of friendship for Lithuania, Lech Kaczynski basically forced our refinery to pay the price which, as everybody agrees now, was too high.
And what happened then? Two countries made the work of the refinery we had bought very difficult.
One of them was Russia, which shut down the oil pipeline, and the other was Lithuania, which demolished the railway track.
All these things do not contribute to our trust in Lithuania. If we decide to invest again, we cannot be sure we will be treated in an honest way.
Currently Lithuania is worried about Poland’s close relations with Russia. Lithuania is afraid that this could be happening “at its expense.”
I am not entirely sure about my assumption that Lithuania is afraid of Russia. If Lithuania was indeed afraid of Russia you would allocate for your defence much more than half of what the NATO standards require.
Poland is well aware that its border is a NATO border, this is why it allocates 1.95 per cent of its GDP to defence, and not 0.88 per cent as Lithuania does.
As for our relations with Moscow, the position is as follows: we take one step at a time and wait for a response.
By the way, we would like to apply the same logics in our relations with Lithuania.