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25 May 2015

Eastern Policy of the Third Polish Republic - the beginnings

Bronislaw Geremek's presentation of 2004, published for the first time: part 1 


On the 15th May 2004, Warsaw University hosted a meeting of Professor Bronisław Geremek with students of the elite scientific society “Collegium Invisibile”. It was organized - as a part of the seminar cycle “student-tutor”  - by one of the “Intersection Project” Editorial Board’s members, Lukasz Adamski, Professor Geremek’s student at that time. During the seminar, Professor Geremek commented on Mr Adamski’s presentation about  the German-Ukrainian relations. He also answered some of the questions from the audience. Several topics were discussed: EU Eastern Policy, questions of relations between history and politics, as well as Polish eastern policy after 1989, which had been conducted by Polish governments, with Mr Geremek’s active participation.

Later, Bronisław Geremek authorized the transcript, and transferred the rights of its use for possible publication to Mr Adamski.

We are presenting the transcript of this conversation, which is being published for the first time, to the readers of the “Intersection”. Prof. Geremek’s influence on Polish and European politics, as well as his significant position in European intellectual circles, makes the text an important historical source that complements our knowledge of the backstage of the Polish-Soviet relations 1989-1991. At the same time, the conversation provokes reflections on the relevance of the comments uttered eleven years ago.

The editors have not made any editorial amendments to the content and style of Professor Geremek’s statement. We  limited our intervention only to a division of the transcript into three separate articles, being thematically related one to another. We also added titles. In addition, we changed the order of some paragraphs, as compared to the original transcript, wishing to preserve the integrity of the discussed issues.

Part 1

Following the breakthrough developments of 1989, two major challenges emerged for Polish foreign policy. Attitude towards a unifying Germany, particularly the confirmation of the Odra-Nysa (Oder–Neisse)  border, was the first challenge, and the second was attitude towards the USSR, and particularly towards independence movements in Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus. 

At that time of German unification, Chancellor Kohl’s famous ten points did not cover the issue of Germany’s border to Poland. The West German state did recognise the Odra-Nysa border, but as a result of its internal Constitutional arrangements, that recognition was provided only on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany, not Germany as a whole. Chancellor Kohl later told me that it had seemed so obvious that no thought had occurred to him about us entertaining any doubts whatever. But we did have those doubts, no question about that. And it was for this reason that Prime Minister Mazowiecki put forward a proposal for Poland to join the 2+4 format that involved two German states and the four powers.

We reasoned that while one neighbour of Germany, France, was “in”, another one, who actually was in a legal dispute,  was “out” –  but our arguments were turned down.  To be more precise, though, these arguments were turned down in part. At the end of the day, the talks held with US partners by Prime Minister Mazowiecki and other Polish politicians led to Poland’s being included in the 2+4 dialogue and the 2+4 decision-making process – an achievement which is now underestimated and relatively little known.

Thus, to some extent, the 2+4 question was favourably resolved for Poland. But the main problem was to establish such relations with Germany which would not only be neighbourly but partner-like, too. It was a tall order indeed – but the Mazowiecki-Kohl handshake finally came to symbolise our rapprochement and some fundamental changes then taking place.

Next came the question of attitude towards the Soviet Union. Do you remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, when  did the Soviet Army finally leave Poland?  It now happens than even my colleagues by profession, historians, may not remember the date, when they argue that back in 1989 the Mazowiecki government could do this or that – forgetting that the Soviet  troops were still present in Poland, and that it was only in 1993 that President Wałęsa had the privilege and the joy of seeing them off.

Right from the beginning the Polish foreign service and the Polish government followed the rule that while seeking the best possible relations with the Soviet Union, we were establishing relations with all constituent republics of the Soviet Union, especially with our neighbours: Ukraine, Belarus and all the three Baltic republics. Initially seen as almost rebellious, this creed of ours eventually proved entirely reasonable. It allowed us to build relations with independence-seeking Soviet republics in a way that differed from what Moscow planned and hoped for. Moscow was convinced that it would be capable of stirring up anti-Polish actions and sentiments in Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus. But that was not to be. 

Poland supported Ukraine’s opposition still before the breakup of the Soviet Union,  as was reflected, for example, in the fact that Solidarity’s representation at the Sejm, the Citizens’ Parliamentary Party, sent its first invitations to foreign delegations to Lithuania’s Sajudis, and the People’s Movement of Ukraine, a Ukrainian delegation from Lviv. Both meetings were tough going – and please remember that the time was the autumn of 1989.  The conference with Sajudis was held under the shadow of the 1920 raid to Lithuania by General Żeligowski, and the Poles were surprised to hear demands for a condemnation of that campaign. We saw that as a thing of the past, and we thought there was no more reason to discuss Żeligowski than there was reason to discuss the disputes between Duke Vytautas and King Władysław Jagiełło. But that issue did leave its imprint. Still, our meetings with the Lithuanians were very cordial – and later on, our presence with them in most difficult moments for Lithuania also helped to establish mutual trust. I myself, addressing the Lithuanian Seimas, declared that Poland recognised Lithuania’s borders, and Vilnius as its capital, and I added that I also expected a proper attitude towards the Polish minority there. Of great importance was also the position taken by Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik, and their support at a time when Lithuania was hard pressed.

The meeting with Ukrainian oppositionists was held at a time when Ukraine’s independence seemed like a wild goose chase. And I must admit that when their delegation came to us, invited by the Citizens’ Parliamentary Party, I told them this: “Give a thought, maybe, to some kind of a federalist arrangement, one that would not engender a war between Moscow and Kiev.” To which one of Ukrainian leaders replied: “How come? Poland may be a free country, but not Ukraine? Even if it turns out that peace considerations require some kind of a federative structure, we would like first to taste independence, if only for just one night or, better still, a day and a night.”

Subsequent discussions were dramatic, especially with representatives of the young generation of Ukrainian politicians. As for the Ukrainian delegation head, the than mayor of Lviv,  Chornovil, who had spent 19 years in the Gulag, he was quite calm and had a friendly attitude towards Poles.  But tensions did emerge. One could guess that for some participants, exhibiting resentments against Poland was part of their search for national identity. And yet we managed to reach agreement and lay the groundwork for further, ever closer cooperation. 

Let me tell you a story about a subsequent incident. The then Polish President, General Jaruzelski, told me on the phone that he himself had been phoned up by Mr Gorbachev who inquired if I were willing to meet his envoy. General Jaruzelski explained to me: “You and Gorbachev have not been introduced to each other, and so he called me, not you.” And when this personal representative of President Gorbachev arrived,  he actually had a single question to discuss: “Don’t you understand that we will never let you extend support to Ukraine? To hell with Lithuania– and you will soon regret it yourselves. But Ukraine is off-limits to you. It is a country on which Russia’s potential relies.  Some 40% of the Russian armaments industry depends on spare parts supplied from Ukraine. It is impossible to think about a Russian economy without ties to the Ukrainian economy. And the latter will perish without Russia, without the Russian markets and raw materials.”   Then he added something which at first  made me think I misheard him: “It is not only about the economy or the military,” he said. “The thing is,  Russia could not exist with its spiritual capital being part of a foreign country.” Kiev was treated as the spiritual capital of Russia…. 

So you will now understand that the subsequent developments followed not a Russian script, or a Western script, still less a Polish script – but a script to which all parties had to adjust themselves.

Many years have since passed, but the question of relations with Germany – it now being also the question of Poland’s position in the European Union –  is invariably high on the Polish agenda. And there can be no doubt that Piłsudski’s old adage about there being no free Poland without a free Ukraine retains its relevance today. Ukraine thus holds an important place in Polish policy. And hence ... the importance of relations between Germany and Ukraine.

Photo by Doug MurrayCC BY-ND 2.0



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