Poland cannot become the hostage of the Polish minority neither in Lithuania nor in other countries – stated the Deputy Marshal of the Polish Sejm Ryszard Terlecki in an exclusive interview. According to him, current Polish government radically changed the direction of its foreign policy efforts and wants to strengthen cooperation efforts in the region. He also promised that Lithuania's Polish diaspora's problems will be solved jointly with Lithuania's government.
Mr Deputy Marshal, for a long time the relationship between Lithuania and Poland was stagnating, however, now we are seeing signs of warming. How are you yourself seeing the current state of relations between the two states?
Firstly, I think that progress has been made in regards to relationship between the two countries, and this has been ongoing over the last two years. I think that during those two years, a continuous expansion of these relationships took place. I believe this is a very positive and beneficial development both for Poland and, hopefully, Lithuania.
We would like to continue this. Currently, we are experimenting with an additional attempt to expand the cooperation efforts through parliamentary groups. After a several years break we were able to renew the Lithuania-Poland parliamentary assembly. Steps were taken on both sides, both in the Lithuanian and in the Polish parliament. In the nearest future, the working group will meet to prepare the agenda, and the members of assembly will meet in Poland later this year. We think this is very important, because the relationships between our governments are developing well.
You mention the last two years. Are these changes related to the changes in the Polish government or are there other reasons?
When we came to power, we found Poland's ministry of foreign affairs in a situation where discussions with Lithuania were held only about concrete actions, primarily related to Poles living in Lithuania. Because there was limited progress on this issue, further discussions and contacts were held back. It is undoubtedly one possible type of approach.
However, we said that if we do not talk, there will be no further progress. Therefore, let us do things differently, let us start a dialogue, and maybe we will be able to achieve what we want. I think that we are currently moving in that direction, though, of course, as it is most often with problems related to national minorities, issues remain. However, we hope, that these problems will be solved and will not become a barrier between the two nations.
Do you think that the approach to intergovernmental relationships where the questions around national minorities were most important was effective?
We still don't see progress in many areas, however in other areas positive changes are already present. We hold the view that the main questions for Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania revolve around regional cooperation, which would strengthen the region relative to Western Europe, which is much more abundant and rich, but less interested in our problems. Cooperation would also allow to protect values that are important to us.
Some like saying that that we do not fully define the values we are protecting, however what we are defending is the basis of our culture, for example Christianity. It embodies our attachment to freedom and sovereignty. Our sense of national identity is very strong, possibly stronger than that of Western Europe, where the thinking revolves around a single state, a single European nation. To us this is still inconceivable. We are united by many things and we should seek out elements that brings us closer and solve problems that are yet to be solved within that context.
For a long time, we saw chilly relationships between Lithuania and Poland, but we now notice the same from Warsaw towards Lithuania's polish politicians. Did problems related to them previously did not exist, or were those problems simply ignored?
Poland cannot be the hostage of its minority. For example, in Lithuania or other countries, polish minority organisations must consider the interests of Poland. However, Poland will not leave Poles in other countries without care or support. That is why we have to weight these two interests – from one side, interests of those of Poles who say that they are still expecting a lot from Lithuania's government, and on the other hand the fact that unless we speak to each other, situation will not improve.
These problems have been discussed for some time now, however no one is implementing concrete solutions. Do you see this changing and do you see efforts being made on Lithuania's side?
In any case, Lithuanian government is talking about it. Perhaps it is now being sincere about it and perhaps things will now change. In the near future, Polish education minister will be visiting Vilnius. She will speak about concrete issues related to educating, which is one of the most sensitive problems for Poles in Lithuania. Vice-minister of foreign affairs will also be visiting and I believe we will achieve some progress.
Previous polish government led a different foreign policy, which was based on cooperation with most important political players in Europe, while everyone else was left in the shadows. We are proposing something else. We are suggesting an extensive intensification of cooperation in the region. All of this is taking place in environment of certain level of danger, firstly in Ukraine. This is a very different approach to foreign policy, which needs to be taken into account by polish organisations abroad.
Is it correct to think that without a dialog, there will be no solution to the problems related to regional cooperation?
Yes. We have this impression that Poles in Lithuania live fairly well and the problems they face do not have a substantial negative impact on their lives. However, in Poland this is being presented as an ongoing conflict, constant persecution or interference. When our parliamentarians arrive to Lithuania and see this situation themselves, they do not completely approve this kind of presentation of relationships between Poles and Lithuanians.
Previous president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, it seems, truly loved Lithuania. Is the outlook of the current government extends this policy?
During his term in office, he visited Lithuania 16 times. This proves quite a bit. Just like his general trip to Tbilisi with then Lithuania's president Valdas Adamkus does as well. All the actions he has taken, he most likely paid for them, in our view, with his life. (L. Kaczynski died in a plane accident in Smolensk). Therefore, we associate ourselves with that policy. It is close to us and we want to continue it.