?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 Where Do We Belong Now? - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

Where Do We Belong Now?

February 23, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

Lithuania and Poland have many centuries of common history. From the Lublin Union in 1569 to the third partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, which was the kiss of death to both nations until the restoration of their independence after the First World War; both nations had a shared culture and a strong tradition of political liberty. Lithuanian history is inseparable from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a unique political entity that preceded the EU in more than one way.

To cut a long story short, once, Lithuania and Poland were more than friends and allies; they were brothers and sisters. Yet in 1918 their paths would diverge. Without a shadow of a doubt, the humiliating defeat inflicted by Poland on the Red Army after World War I paved the way for the independence of Lithuania and also for the official recognition of the Baltic States by Soviet Russia, ruled by Vladimir Lenin. Yet that same Poland of Jozef Klemens Pilsudski, himself of Lithuanian background, encouraged and backed the occupation of Vilnius in 1920, thus ruining the relations of two nations.

Keeping in mind the love-hate relationship between the two nations, it was a miracle that such great Polish intellectuals as Jerzy Giedroyc and Czeslaw Milosz were able to resist the logic of animosity bridging Polish and Lithuanian cultures and sensitivities. If we can find a good example of how culture precedes politics in restoring a dialogue in the troubled water of historical memory, that would be “A Dialogue about a City,” a masterpiece of epistolary genre, a dialogue on Vilnius between Czeslaw Milosz and Tomas Venclova, included in Venclova’s collection of essays, Forms of Hope (1999).

A great Polish poet, who was born in Lithuania and who has always been one of the most powerful symbols of the great political and cultural legacy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and his Lithuanian friend, another poet and literary scholar, Venclova, showed the possibility of a sensitive and revealing dialogue of two modes and regimes of historical memory. In the 1990s, Lithuania and Poland restored friendly and close relations which at one point were described even as a strategic partnership. As a matter of fact, Poland strongly supported and backed Lithuania’s accession both to NATO and the EU, a fact which should never be forgotten.

Therefore, the question arises here: What happened to the friendship of Lithuania and Poland over the past several years, one that quite a few commentators now describe as a state of affairs as the worst after 1990? In a way, the crisis in the relations between Poland and Lithuania appears as something that might and should have been easily avoided if Lithuanian politicians had only acted in a more responsible way. The decision of the Lithuanian Parliament not to allow using the letter “w” in Polish names as un-Lithuanian dealt a blow to the friendship between the two countries.

The crisis is complicated by some additional factors that do not contribute to softening of the tension. True, some noisy Lithuanian MPs, biased against the use of minority languages, turned what was merely a technical and philological problem into a huge political scandal. Incidentally, Lithuanian women married to foreigners became hostages of this rather preposterous argument as well, as they would be unable to use “w” in their family names if they adopt their husband’s name with that unfortunate character.

Yet this is not a black-and-white issue, as it may seem at first glance. Nothing can justify the stubbornness, insensitivity, and provincialism of some Lithuanian politicians. The failure to adopt “w” for the sake of more respect for a large and historic minority of Lithuania was a ludicrous move, something that does not merit serious discussion. Yet the other side is also far from perfect, as far as this much ado about nothing is concerned.

That Lithuania has always discriminated against its Polish minority, as some Polish politicians and commentators suggest, is an overstatement. However flawed were the actions and arguments of Lithuanian MPs, the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, obviously overreacted, portraying Lithuania as his great disappointment or as a country into which he is not going to step, and the like.

Some members of the European Parliament went so far as to imply Lithuania’s failure to comply with European standards regarding minority education policy, which is nonsense on stilts. No matter how critical we could and should be about some real problems regarding human rights in Lithuania, minority educational policies were always the bright side of Lithuania, which is easy to prove.

Yet this crisis became a reminder of a simple fact that Lithuania miscast itself as a strategic partner of Poland. Needless to say, we must get things done and we will improve our relations. But the irritated tone of politicians, bordering on contempt, was an eye-opener concerning the naive and self-deceptive visions of the strategic partnership between a big nation with a population of 38 million people and its tiny neighbor barely exceeding 3 million people.

The reset of the political relations between Poland and Russia, along with the substantial improvement of German-Polish and, notably, Franco-Polish relations since President Jacques Chirac’s historic remark about the missed opportunity to shut up and keep quiet, sends a message that the time of Realpolitik has returned in Europe. All in all, it is a wake-up call for Lithuania to get as close to the Baltic and Nordic countries as possible. After all, this is where we truly belong.


Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D.. is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.

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