From combating tables in Polish language to enduring attacks from Poles in the European Parliament Lithuania has been in the spotlight with it's treatment of the Polish minority. We discussed this issue with Aleksander Fuksiewicz, an analyst of the Institute of Public Affairs (Warsaw).
- How do you evaluate the Lithuanian government's decision to fine a Pole for street signs in his native language on the houses in a Lithuanian town? The fine amount is 12.500 euros.
This is not an easy question. If you ask me what I think personally about this - the dicisionis just absurd. I mean, we are two countries in the European Union and we shouldn't fight with each other. We should cooperate. Moreover, there are standards in the EU how you should treat your minority. And freedom of using your own language is absolutely one of the basic rights of the minority. So from my personal point of view I would say that those are just stupid regulations. But obviously looking at Polish-Lithuanian relations, it's clear that they're always complicated and you cannot have easy solutions and easy answers.
When we were doing projects and researches I went to Vilnius to have some interviews, but I also talked to Polish experts here in Poland. For instance, many people were stressing that in Poland we should remember that Lithuania is a very small country in comparison to Poland. It is also a country that has some problems - many people are emigrating, they are worried a lot about the weakness of their culture and maybe the weakness of their language. So many people in Poland say that we should be very sensitive to their problems or their emotions. Some people are even saying that maybe sometimes we should compare Polish-Lithuanian relations to Polish-German relations. If someone in Germany says something critical about Poland, Poland is very emotionally criticizing it. And here it's like the opposite - Poland is bigger that it's opponent, so Poland is the one who should limit itself. To conclude, I wouldn't support the policy of Lithuanian government, but on the other hand in knowing something about these relations you have to at least try to understand it.
- During the debates in European Parliament the President of Lithuania called the leader of Lithuanian Poles Waldemar Tomaszewski the enemy of Lithuanian state. Why did she say that?
Well, I don't want to go into details because I don't know them good enough. But I certainly can say what other people told me in Lithuania. They told be that Tomaszewski - or Tomaszewskis as they call him there - is a very controversial politician. He built all his political power on fighting for the rights of minorities and talking about it all the time. So he is very controversial so Lithuanians and for Poles as well. As far as I understood, many Poles criticize him because he is not the person to have compromise with - he's the one who's fighting all the time. Nevertheless they say that he's the person who somehow united Polish minority is Lithuania. Still he's controversial to Lithuanians, that's why probably the Lithuanian president is criticizing him. But, as I mentioned, I haven't heard the speech so I'm unaware of the details.
- But is it acceptable, in your opinion, for a leader of a democratic state like Lithuania to use such words as an enemy of the state towards a MEP?
No, it's not. I it shouldn't be. But I can also observe politics in Poland and sometimes it can really be very aggressive. In Poland you can also hear politicians saying things like that. Not president thought, but lower politicians may. It's happens. And, no, in my personal opinion, it's unacceptable especially if you're the president of the country and you should unite all citizens no matter if they're Lithuanians or Poles.
- How should Poland react to the oppression of Poles who live Lithuania? Since there's more than 230.00 of them.
This is also a tricky question and there's no good answer. First of all, I'm not sure I would use the word oppression because our research showed that at least half of Poles in Lithuania don't really feel oppressed. There are many people who speak Lithuanian language, they go to Lithuanian schools, even vote for Lithuanian political parties and don't have any problems, so it is not like a war is starting tomorrow or something like that. Still looking back from 1989 the relations between Lithuania and Poland were almost perfect for many reasons, but then all the problems started. It's nothing new, it continues for 20 years. The Polish government has tried everything. It tried to be polite, it tried to be more aggressive. Our current foreign minister has tried to put pressure on Lithuania two years ago and was criticized a lot because of that. Because we're a big country, we shouldn't use that kind of words, we should be more gentle.
I don't think that Poland can do anything actually. If I'd be a Lithuanian Pole, I would try to "europeanize" the problem. It would be good if there would be European politicians speaking about the rights of Polish minority rather than just Polish politicians. Because now you always have this Polish-Lithuanian conflict which doesn't seem to be understandable for the rest of Europe. People see just two counties fighting each other and that's not the case. The case is that Poland doesn't have any problems with Lithuania as such - it's the problems of Polish minority. There are European standards that should be followed by each country and the EU must somehow make Lithuania follow them as well.
- The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania has already sent letters with information about minority problems in Lithuania to the President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz and the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso. How do you estimate this action?
This is a good strategy to engage European institutions into the problem. And it could be more successful if they put pressure on Lithuania rather than Poland does it.
- You assume that it can be effective?
I don't want to judge but at least it's more probable that it'll be successful rather than the protests of the Polish government.
- And how do you evaluate the actions of the Lithuanian president in general concerning the minorities' rights?
President of Lithuania is a strange person for Poland. She speaks Polish very well, she knows Poland, she was always invited to Polish Independence Day. At the beginning everyone perceived her as a friend of Poland. Then she started saying all those thing about the Polish minority probably because of her internal political reasons. So now she looks controversial from here in Poland. I recently heard that she is one of the candidates to be next President of the European Commission. Taking into consideration how much the Polish government doesn't like her, I think, she wouldn't be a successful candidate.
- Should the Prime Minister or the President of Poland somehow react to her actions?
I'm not sure. As I said, the Polish government has tried many actions in the past - it didn't help. When it's not protesting - it doesn't help either. Better strategy is to underlay that this is an internal problem of Lithuania because it's about Poles but they're Lithuanian Poles. They aren't citizens of Poland, they're citizens of Lithuania. Instead of making it bilateral problem Poland should rather focus on making it Lithuanian problem and try to engage European politicians. It's better if European politicians criticize Lithuania.