An interview with Marius Laurinavičius, Lithuanian political analyst. Interviewer: Bartosz Marcinkowski.
BARTOSZ MARCINKOWSKI: In Poland, Polish-Lithuanian relations are generally assessed as poor. Is such a pessimistic view really accurate? Or maybe there are some bright sides to the relations between Poland and Lithuania?
MARIUS LAURINAVIČIUS: It is a pity that there is such a situation between countries which should be the most reliable of partners and the most active fighters against the threats that Poland and Lithuania currently face.
On the other hand the newly signed deal on the first gas interconnector between Poland and Lithuania could be considered as a fresh hope of building a real strategic partnership between two countries one day. We should not forget that purchase of Mazeikiu nafta oil refinery by PKN Orlen was viewed in the same light as the real strategic partnership between Lithuania and Poland and it turned into an issue of disagreement rather than mutually beneficial co-operation. So, for me it is very clear that a lot of effort and goodwill from both sides are still needed for a real game-changing effect. But I would like to be an optimist, because from the strategic point of view I do not see any alternative for a real strategic partnership between Poland and Lithuania.
The new Polish president, Andrzej Duda, paid his first foreign visit to Estonia, a Baltic state. How was this move perceived in Lithuania?
It is a very natural outcome of the ongoing “cold peace” that Lithuania has with Poland. We all remember these times when Polish President Bronisław Komorowski visited Lithuania as his first foreign visit.
Poland and Lithuania are natural allies. However, politicians both in Poland and Lithuania cannot overcome small political details for the sake of a real strategic partnership. Poland is a big country, it is one of the great players in the EU. But in order to be a great player you have to be a regional leader. Poland is not. You cannot say now, for example, that Poland has good relations with the Visegrad countries. This is due to Russian influence as well, I have no doubt.
If you want to have the most reliable partner in the face of a threat from Russia, it is Lithuania. Estonia, of course, should be a partner in this fight against Russia’s aggressive foreign policy but looking at initiatives undertaken by the Baltic states, it is almost always Lithuania. If Poland wants to become an active regional leader and achieve its own goals, it simply needs Lithuania.
But the same applies to Lithuania, if we want to live in a safer place, we need to co-operate with Poland, we need to make even some concessions.
But the problem is that some countries in our region would not be very happy to see Poland. I can easily imagine Lithuania among them.
I do not think so. We would be happy to see such development and it is not only my personal opinion but rather a mainstream one. We would be happy to have Poland as a real leader of the region.
But the potential troublemaking factor here is the Polish minority in Lithuania. The guilt is on both sides. On the one hand, Poland still does not want to recognise it is largely an artificial problem. True, Lithuania did not fulfil some promises we gave to Poland. We did not succeed in dealing properly with some very simple issues, like writing of Polish surnames or street names. On the other hand, we cannot understand in Lithuania how Poland can still listen to the so-called leader of Polish minority in Lithuania, Waldemar Tomaszewski, the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. He openly manifests his pro-Kremlin sympathies by, for example, wearing the ribbon of St George on his jacket. We know who he is. If someone says he defends the interests of the Polish minority, we have many doubts.
Lithuanian politicians play this card and some say: “Poland is not interested in developing good relations with Lithuania, it is interested in good relations with Russia.” It makes many people in Lithuania think twice before thinking about establishing good relations with Poland.
On October 25th, there is parliamentary election in Poland. Looking from the Lithuania point of view, what would be better for your country – if Civic Platform kept power or a change in power and the government of Law and Justice?
There is a naïve hope in Lithuania – it was also present during the election of the new president – that everything will positively change overnight if a party like Law and Justice comes to power in Poland. But it is naïve to think this way and Duda’s first visit to Estonia proved that.
We need to do our own homework and solve at least some problems that are damaging our relations. Without that, even the possible return to power of Law and Justice will not change anything. But many people here in Lithuania think that the key to change in our relations is in the upcoming elections in Poland.
What would be a good step from the Polish side to improve mutual relations between the two countries?
First of all, we need Poland to stop supporting people like Tomaszewski. Second, we need Poland to start acting like a regional leader. I imagine Poland inviting Lithuania, but not only, to some regional initiatives. Also, it would be a good gesture if Poland would work on such projects as the Eastern Partnership, not only with Sweden, but with Lithuania as well. Then we would see that Poland is active again and that would improve our relations.
Marius Laurinavičius is Senior Fellow in Residence at the Center for European Policy Analysis and a Security Research Scholar at the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation.
Bartosz Marcinkowski is an assistant editor with New Eastern Europe.
An interview was conducted during the first Vilnius Democracy Forum held on September 14-15, 2015 in Vilnius, Lithuania. An event was organised by Eastern Europe Studies Centre.