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  Poland‘s policy twists and Lithuania

Viktor Denisenko
2016 02 23

Lithuanian - Polish relationship has recently become quite ambivalent. On the one hand, both countries are members of the European Union and NATO responding negatively to Russia‘s aggression against Ukraine and treating Russia as a danger to the stability of the entire region. On the other hand, bilateral relations are aggravated by Poland‘s reprimands concerning the situation of local Polish community in Lithuania: spelling of Polish names in Lithuanian identity documents etc.

The question arises on how the situation could change after changes in the supreme power in Poland last year. Let‘s remind how Poland itself treats consolidation of power of the Law and Justice (LJ) Party and how this affected the country‘s life. Thus, when candidate of the LJ party won presidential elections and afterwards elections to the Parliament, conservative and nationally oriented policy has strengthened. Warsaw has taken the road which has been pursued by Budapest for some time with its Prime Minister Viktor Orban, or even Moscow with Vladimir Putin. The nature of political changes is more control (first of all in the public area, i.e. in the media), retreat to the internal political agenda, absolutist approach toward the so called traditional values and radically negative attitude toward migrants etc. All the above sparked the conflict between Warsaw and Brussels.

Earlier Poland was also demonstrating big ambitions in the European Union. Trying to take a more important place in Europe‘s policy it‘s been oriented toward Germany, the EU‘s engine. Today big ambitions are still there, but priorities have changed: now the main political idea is struggle against „Brussels dictatorship“ and enhancement of national citizenship. Hardly anything else could be expected from the LJ party especially knowing the image and declared principles of this political power.

What does this mean for Lithuania? First of all Vilnius has always treated relations with Warsaw as strategic relations. This was logical taking into account general historical experience and similar circumstances in the fight for freedom (Lithuania‘s from the Soviet Union, Poland’s from the so called Eastern bloc). Another important aspect is that both countries have chosen integration to the West and were able to tackle all painful historical disagreements. On the other hand, it doesn‘t seem that for Poland strategic partnership with Lithuania is as important as it is for Vilnius. From the geopolitical point of view these states are of different weight categories, thus it is natural that not long ago Warsaw was more oriented toward Berlin rather than Vilnius.  

For Lithuania political changes in Poland are not very favourable. Taking account of aggressive Russia‘s actions against Ukraine and militant statements of the Kremlin, Vilnius is interested in strong and united European Union and NATO. However the current Poland‘s position contributes to splitting the unity of the EU Member States. For instance, Warsaw‘s attitude toward migrants only increases the complicated crisis today faced by Europe. Poland gives preference not to the EU‘s but to the national interests, and certain EU Member States, such as Hungary or the United Kingdom might support this approach. This might also aggravate the burden falling on other states trying to solve the problem of migrants together. Thus, Warsaw aims to depart from the EU‘s problems an treats them as non-Polish  problems. Lithuania could also hardly expect solidarity of Poland, since this concept (at least so far) is not characteristic of Poland‘s political discourse.

Another important aspect is Poland‘s role in ensuring Lithuania‘s security. In 2010 it was clear that in the NATO‘s plan on the defence of the Baltic States, Poland was treated as a buffer zone for deployment of the U.S. and other NATO forces in the anticipated zone of conflict, and as an important military power of NATO in this region.

It seems that so far Poland‘s policy in the sphere of defence  hasn‘t changed. Warsaw has no major illusions concerning Russia and clearly sees consequences of its military aggression against Ukraine. Hardly could the current political life of Poland show more sympathies to the Kremlin, moreover that after the LJ party came into power, the efforts have been taken to once again actualise the death of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski (representative of this political power) in the aircraft crash near Smolensk. But the issue of security is also based on solidarity, and it is not clear on how actively Poland could contribute to the defence of Lithuania (or any other Baltic State).

Bilateral relations are also complicated. The LJ party is famous for its strict conservative attitude, therefore it is assumed that its representatives will inevitably raise tough questions which have not been solved for many years. It should be noted that after elections to the Polish Parliament, Valdemar Tomashevski, the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, was noticed in the LJ party‘s headquarters; he transformed the aforementioned complicated issues into his political capital. According to information, Valdemar Tomashevski was invited to the LJ headquarters by the authorities of this party.

Without any doubt, Lithuania is interested in the efficient and trustworthy neighbourhood with Poland, for this interest is determined by security, stability and economic cooperation aspects. However, it might be difficult to develop an effective dialogue with the current Polish Government as is the case with any radical power, and this was demonstrated by the conflict between Warsaw and Brussels. Conservative nature of the LJ party could hardly lead to a compromise which is necessary in solving complicated issues of bilateral relations between Lithuania and Poland. On the other hand, it is important to note that attitude of Lithuania and Poland to security issues is still the same. Today this might serve as a platform for the development of dialogue. 

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