Relations between Lithuania and Poland have come to the fore last week as Lithuania’s new prime minister, Algirdas Butkevicius met with his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk in Warsaw, to discuss deepening ties of friendship between the two countries. A gathering which reflects a meeting last week of the Foreign Ministers of Poland and Lithuania with similar objectives on their agenda. Tusk impressed the importance of improving cooperation between the two nations, saying, “relations between Poland and Lithuania can and and should be better than good.”
Polish-Lithuanian relations became strained under Lithuania’s previous leader Andrius Kubilius, who lost the general election in October of last year. Tensions were sparked over the treatment of the Polish minority population in Lithuania, including reforms that weakened the autonomy of Polish and other minority schools – enacting compulsory examinations in Lithuanian in several subjects – and debates over whether Polish civilians should be entitled to use Polish in the spelling of official documents. The Polish minority population has also been campaigning for bi-lingual street signs in areas with Polish communities of significant size.
It is a legacy of ethnic tension that compelled Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius to apologize to Warsaw last week, saying:
“It is a big disgrace…It takes talking and confidence. It was a painful lesson. Our governments now want major changes on the issue of national minorities, however, it is not not clear whether a successful outcome will follow. Let’s help each other. I believe it is a shared goal. On behalf of our government, I’m saying we really want to change this.”
In turns, Linkevicius mentioned concerns over Lithuanians living in Poland, claiming that there is insufficient education funding, which has led to the closure of Lithuanian-language schools and lack of Lithuanian-language textbooks.
Regional history–between Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine–is one marred by centuries of war, conquest, and ethnic cleansing, stemming from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the reconstruction of independent nations in the 20th century, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, which brought challenges to the region in defining their borders to suit ethnic populations and cultural histories. With Ukraine and Belarus finally solidifying an on-going dispute in 2009, for example.
The renewed commitment to fellowship and support between the nations and their respective ethnic minority populations also raises questions about similar situations in the Eastern Partnership countries–for example, Moldova and Transnistria, and Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both are situations of long-standing, unresolved ethnic conflict, with minority populations dwelling on both sides of each country’s borders. In both cases, the international community is lending support to problem solving groups–“The 5 plus 2” proposal for Transnistria, and the OSCE Minsk Group for Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabakh conflict– in order to help mitigate resolution proposals. The success of such groups have yet to be tested–but the need and commitment to reaching such resolutions are echoed throughout the region.
What do you think would create lasting resolutions
between Moldova and Transnistria, or Armenia and Azerbaijan?
sources: The Lithuanian Tribune