It has been over a year since the last attempt at mending the broken relations with the Poles inside and outside the country. Back then, they tried to include the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania into the ruling coalition and start a course for a “reset” of the dialogue with Warsaw. But now, the Lithuanian politicians have done the same mistake. The support of the huge penal fee for using Polish names in toponymy, the unceasing pressure on the Polish minority – the leading politicians of Lithuania have not only provoked a demarche by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania but also a harsh reaction in neighboring Poland.
Vilnius District Court sentenced head of the Šalčininkai District Municipality Boleslav Daškevič to an unprecedentedly high penal fee for refusing to take down bilingual street name signs. Daškevič must pay 43 000 litas (12 500 euro) overall – 100 litas (30 euro) for every day of ignoring the court’s decision.
The one who brought the case of the 79% Pole populated Šalčininkai District to court was none other than a member of the local Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats cell Audrius Skaistys. It were the conservators (and President Dalia Grybauskaite) who during Andrius Kubilius’ cabinet brought the Lithuania-Poland relations to a permanent political conflict. “Until recently Polish-Lithuanian relations were characterized as the worst in Europe. You can even say that there is a political conflict between the two countries.” said political analyst Marcin Wakar adjunct the Scientific Research Centre of Wojciech Kętrzyński in Olsztyn.
The social democrats who ran for elections in 2012 tried to change this, including promises of fixing the relations with Poland and the Polish community within Lithuania. And when they came to power they honestly tried to keep that promise: accepted the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania into the ruling coalition, gave a minister post to its head Jaroslav Neverovič, voted for the law simplifying the Lithuanian language exam for children from national minority schools.
However, the aggressive anti-Polish course supported by President Grybauskaite and the remaining influence of the conservatives (albeit now in opposition) was stronger, as it is obvious now. Including in official Warsaw.
“The Lithuanian language is now a hostage of political agreements of the ruling coalition. The debated Lithuanian language exam has grown into other demands that divide the country” declared Grybauskaite in her address of the Lithuanian Seimas last summer. In the end, the simplified exam rules were cancelled back out and in turn the recent decisions of the Vilnius court on the initiative of a local conservative activist have received the “highest” approval.
Even the patriarch of Lithuanian independence Vytautas Landsbergis himself spoke in support of the draconian fine to the head of the Polish self-administration. The father of Lithuanian democracy spoke against the law of national minorities calling it a “mockery of Lithuania”, encouraging “citizen unloyalty” and “inciting animosity”. Moreover Landsbergis proposed a few “corrections to civil service so that unloyal people who willingly discredit country laws just wouldn’t be allowed to hold government posts, including self-administration.”
In response to these words of the patriarch of Lithuanian politics the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania fraction blatantly walked out of the Seimas meeting when Landsbergis took the podium to read his celebratory speech for the events of the Vilnius TV tower on 13th of January 1991.
Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs joined in on the conflict clearly telling Vilnius that what they are doing to the Poles can’t be strictly Lithuania’s internal case. “Members of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania left the hall in protest against financial repressions for using their own language.” – wrote Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski in his Twitter and shared a link to the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania’s press release. Leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania Valdemar Tomaševski caused a massive scandal during the Europarliament discussion of Dalia Grybauskaite’s final report on Lithania’s EU presidency. The politician told the europarliamentaries that there are language-based repressions in Lithuania, that national minorities even when around 80% of the local population are forbidden to use their native language. In Europe smaller nationalities and national minorities have the right to live freely but “There is no Europe like that in my country” said the leader of Lithuanian Poles to the accompanying applause. Tomaševski was supported by Polands europarliamentary Tomasz Poręba who declared:
Lithuania discriminated the Polish national minorities and this fact did not look good during its presiding in the EU.
Dalia Grybauskaite strikes back. “About Lithuanian Poles. Lithuania supports all international norms. There isn’t a single international organization which states that there is national minority discrimination in Lithuania. I want to personally address Valdemar Tomaševski: I think that your personal political goal is to give Lithuania a bad name on the international arena, here in Europarliament and anywhere you can” replied the Lithuanian president in a hysteric manner.
In the end it’s the same old story in Polish-Lithuanian relations as if there were no attempts at a “reset”. Poland has a conflict with Lithuania, Lithuanian government has one with its own Polish community.
The intense collapse of the shy successes in the “reset” department couldn’t be stopped even by the initiator of the policy social democrat Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius. First the PM called the fine given to Boleslav Daškevič unreasonably high but then quickly said that demarches like the one the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania undertook on the 13th of January are unacceptable. So the election promises on which the social democrats “surrendered” to the conservatives has grown by one more.
Upon closer inspection this drawn-out conflict with Poland and the Polish community has no rational plan or political common sense.
The interstate conflict with Poland contradicts Lithuania’s national interests even in the way Grybauskaite and her conservatives see it. Vilnius and Warsaw have the same views on Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries. But Poland can realize its foreign policy course on its own while Lithuania in order to succeed it its vain missionary attempts on the post-Soviet space can’t go in without help from its Southern neighbor. “Lithuania on its own, without the support and approval of Poland can accomplish very little when deciding questions of the Eastern Partnership during its presiding in the EU. Lithuania’s voice when deciding the questions of Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova will be heard only if it’s supported by Poland which has a lot more influential friends in EU than Lithuania” said quite honestly in spring of 2013 by the ex-ambassador of Lithuania to Kiev Vytautas Plečkaitis when asking his compatriots not to quarrel with Poles for the sake of Lithuanian interests.
Rational planning in Lithuanian politicians’ actions can be seen when looking at their internal policy interests rather than their foreign policy.
Then it all becomes clear: a few months before the presidential elections and the parliamentary elections you need to stimulate the electors into going to vote for the aforementioned Landsbergis, his friends, former assistants, press secretaries, his grandson and, of course, for Grybauskaite. The rightwing convervatives can’t think of nothing new, so they use the same worn-out trick: uniting against an external and internal “enemy”. The position of enemy #1 is still reserved for Russia of course, but as insurance it gets bundled with Poland and Lithuanian Poles.
Translated by Pavel Shamshiev.