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Poland cheeses off Lithuania twice in a single week

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

Radoslaw Sikorski, the former Foreign Minister and parliamentary speaker of Poland

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Poland has irked Lithuania twice over the course of a single week. First, it was Poland’s TVP.info news portal posted Monday, August 7,an audio clip of the clandestine recording of a conversation between Poland’s former Foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski and the-then Orlen CEO Jacek Krawiec, where unfriendly plans against Lithuania are voiced.

In the foul language-rich conversation, the Polish cabinet member told the Orlen chief that he wanted «to teach Lithuanians a lesson» and asked him to collude.

Previously, Poland‘s Interior Ministry unveiled a plan to picture the Gate of Dawn, a much-visited Catholic shrine in Vilnius Old City, in new Polish passports. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius was quick to denounce the idea as «improper», arguing that the new Polish passports should not feature images of the Gate of Dawn, a very popular site among Polish tourists, due to «the historic reasons» among other things.

Idea garnered much support

With the centennial of Polish independence nearing, Lithuania’s neighbour plans to release a new passport design and has asked the public to opine in an online survey what image for the occasion should appear in them. Among 13 options there was also an image of the church of Gate of Dawn. The image raked up the second-largest number in the e-polling.

Although most analysts in Lithuania and, to a lesser extent, in Poland did not embrace the idea of having the image in the new Polish passports, nonetheless Virginijus Savukynas, a popular TV history programme host, has spoken fiercely for the proposal, arguing that it, for Lithuania, could be the best public relations opportunity «ever» to mend so-and-so relations with Poland.

However, Lithuania‘s Foreign minister Linas Linkevičius weighed in quickly, saying that images of the Gate of Dawn should not be used in the new Polish passports.

«It is not normal to use images of a foreign country, especially knowing that our history features different pages. It is even more sensitive, when it comes to Vilnius and the fate of the region. Therefore, the circumstances should be taken into consideration,» Linkevičius told Lietuvos Žinios daily.

Following reports about the initiative for the Polish passports, the charge d’affaires of Poland had been summoned to the ministry.

«We updated him on the situation and warned that this should not be the case. We will see how things evolve, as we see more coverage in the Polish press. This has to do with more than Vilnius, this has to do with Ukraine. We know that the position of Ukrainians is similar. We are keeping an eye on the situation, we have already notified Poland about our stance and views,» the Lithuanian diplomacy chief said.

Seimas speaker wary of fallout

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s Seimas (Parliament) Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis expressed cautiousness that «no» to Poland over the image can bend relations with the closest neighbour.

«We hope that the Polish side makes a decision that will not set the states against each other, especially about this fact,» he told Žinių Radijas news radio.

Lithuania is very sensitive when it comes to the Lithuanian passport and citizenship. Lithuania’s Poles have long been asking Lithuanian authorities to allow to write their names in their Lithuanian passports using letters of Polish alphabet, but Lithuania’s answer is «no».

Lithuanian émigré community, meanwhile, has long been attempting to have dual citizenship passed, so that the abundant expats can retain their Lithuanian citizenship, but, again, Lithuania has not come forward with the idea.

Institute of Lithuanian Passport

In the latest bid, several Lithuanian parliamentarians proposed to establish the institute of Lithuanian Passport, saying it should solve the dragged-out quest for dual citizenship.

According to the proposal, this would provide an alternative to emigrants of Lithuanian origin who do not have Lithuanian citizenship. The passport would provide emigrants with nearly all rights enjoyed by citizens, except for the right to run for and vote in elections, however, would still be able to be candidates for municipal councils.

According to the bill, holders of such passports would enjoy facilitated procedures for restoring or acquiring the Lithuanian citizenship, as well as regain the citizenship. Furthermore, holders of the passports would be able to arrive and reside and work in Lithuania, as well as have access to education, studies and research privileges.

However, PT Saulius Skvernelis expressed scepticism over the initiative.

«The card may benefit someone who consciously gave up his citizenship or was forced to choose another citizenship, however, it is not a card or a document that determines a person’s connection to his home country. As a matter of fact, we should solve the problem by managing to close the decade-long story of dual citizenship,» he said.

Polish minister’s improper language

Then the audio clip in which former Polish Foreign minister Sikorski belittles Lithuania surfaced this Monday.

The secretly recorded conversation between Sikorski, and Orlen’s Jacek Krawiec showed that Poland was seriously considering selling the Mažeikiai oil refinery in Lithuania, and in later discussions of possible closure Sikorski urged Krawiec «to teach Lithuanians a lesson».

«I want to teach Lithuanians a lesson, so that they don’t think that s***ting on Poland won’t cost anything,» Sikorski  allegedly said.

The date of the conversation is not specified; however, earlier reports suggest that Sikorski’s conversations were secretly recorded during private meetings in Warsaw restaurants in 2013 and 2014.

Poland has been for years criticizing the Lithuanian government for its failure to solve problems of Orlen Lietuva and allegedly poor conditions for its operations. The dispute was settled in early June this year, when the state-run company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways) and Orlen Lietuva signed a contract on freight tariffs after lengthy negotiations.

Foreign minister: conversation downgrades Lithuania

Reacting to the revelation, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said that secret recordings involving Poland’s former foreign minister «downgrade Lithuania» and is a warning for Polish politicians to view the bilateral relations «more realistically».

«The words stated by former Polish diplomacy chief Radoslaw Sikorski in a private conversation “were not far from reality ” in light of communication with some Polish politicians at the time. This is also a warning for others that they should be more realistic about the situation. This may discipline the thinking and actions of these people – I believe it makes sense and I also see possible positive effects on the evolution (of our relations),» said the Lithuanian foreign minister.

«I believe the leaks are a very serious warning for those who imagine that relations between countries can be based on the sizes of the countries, as it was in this case, and that only the interests that have power should be taken into consideration (…). The sad fact is that then administration and some of its representatives – I really do not want to generalize – viewed Lithuania without sincerity, and the relations that we developed with such difficulty, are still making progress, however, without the efforts of these politicians,» he added.

Cooperation has to be equal

Lithuania’s cooperation with Poland should be equal, and the instructions or demands to buy friendship are unacceptable, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė said on Tuesday, August 8.

«I have always believed that bilateral cooperation, regardless of the size of countries, should be equal. We have aimed to maintain sincere and constructive relations with Poland. This is exactly what we expect from them. Lithuania finds unacceptable any instructions or demands made by any country to buy friendship,» Grybauskaitė emphasised.

Minister genuflecting to Russia?

Approached by BNN, Rokas Tračevskis, an expert on Lithuanian and Polish relations, underlined that the content of the 2014 conversations did not «surprise him at all».

«It seems they were recorded in 2014, to believe the Polish media. The era of Sikorski ministership marks a time when the Russian Foreign minister Sergeij Lavrov was the only venerable guest in one of many annual Poland-based diplomat convention in Warsaw. During it, I recall, Sikorsky subserviently would walk with the Russian counterpart to the balcony to have a cigarette. Lithuania has never flirted with Putin’s Kremlin as much as Poland and Sikorski did back then,» Tračevskis told BNN. «However, now, Sikorski calls the Russian regime «fascist».

The analyst believes if Sikorski ever makes it back to power, it would not play into the hands of Lithuania.

«The current situation (of Lithuanian and Polish relations) is nearly ideal to Lithuania:  Poland sees not only Russia as its nemesis, but also Germany and Brussels, thence it has less desire to terrorise Lithuania in the Sikorski style,» Tračevskis accentuated. «It seems that Jaroslawas Kaczyńskis (Polish PM) better understands Lithuania‘s importance to Poland‘s geopolitics, however, many Polish ultranationalists spawn in his party (Law and Justice party), therefore a possibility of anti-Lithuania excitements remains. The example of the image of the church of Gate of Dawn shows it,» he added.

Tračevskis also brought up from the countries‘ recent history another fact showing that Sikorski has some personal reasons to keep grudge against Lithuania.

In his words, the Warsaw-Vilnius conflict started in 2009 when NATO elected its new secretary general. It was almost a consensus reached by NATO countries that Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark should be elected to the position.

«However, Sikorski also wanted that post. Emanuelis Zingeris, the-then deputy chairman (now the chairman) of the Lithuanian parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee, and Ažubalis, then the chairman of the same committee, stated out of the blue to Poland’s media that Lithuania will support Sikorski’s candidacy because Poland is Lithuania’s strategic partner. However, having turned ear to the opinion of the absolute majority of NATO allies, Lithuania gave its vote to Rasmussen. Sikorski took it as a personal insult,» the analyst claims.

Ref: 020/111.111.103.4878


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