AUTHOR:Marius Laurinavičius
10 December 2015

Time for a Reset of Polish-Lithuanian Relations?

Last month, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius completed a unique trip to Warsaw, signaling an attempt to fill a gap in the relationship between Lithuania and Poland. Linkevičius had announced his intention to visit Warsaw immediately after the parliamentary victory of Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) in October. His purpose was to try to establish strong working relations with new leaders of the neighboring country.

“We have always said it and repeat it once again that we are ready to work with any government of our neighbor,” Linkevičius stated at the time. “All the more so that our national and state interests overlap in many areas. Moreover, we have reached specific achievements in very concrete fields, such as electricity bridges, gas links and funding, strategic projects, and certain transport projects.”


Linkevičius is well-known for his long-standing political commitment to a closer strategic partnership between Lithuania and Poland. At the very beginning of his current term as Foreign Minister, in early February 2013, for example, he apologized for a failed parliamentary effort in 2010 (held under a previous government) intended to allow Latin-based surnames in identity documents without “Lithuanianizing” them. The issue is a sensitive one across the border in Poland; and the apology was controversial inside Lithuania. Looking back to those days, one can easily see that the apology should be considered as a decisive, if rather unsuccessful, attempt by Linkevičius to reset Polish-Lithuanian relations. This effort caused a shift as Vice-Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament Gediminas Kirkilas joined ranks with Linkevičius. Kirkilas penned an open letter advocating for turning a new page in Vilnius’ relations with Warsaw, following Poland’s election this fall. Additional efforts are likely to follow. Reconciling relations will still be a hard-fought process in both Lithuania and Poland.


Despite the strategic pressures that the annexation of Crimea and the Ukraine crisis have placed on all front-line NATO member states, not much has changed to alter the bilateral interactions between Vilnius and Warsaw. Earlier in the year, many pundits in Lithuania looked at the election of Polish President Andrzej Duda as a potential opening for a fresh start in relations. This was followed by disappointment when Duda traveled to Tallinn, Estonia, for his first official visit. This action did not strengthen the position of officials like Linkevičius and Kirkilas, who are committed to a tighter strategic partnership with Poland.


If the trend of simmering tension between Lithuania and Poland continues, it could open either country to a strategy of divide et impera by Russia. A Lithuanian-Polish reset could help to avoid that risk. In order to work, the two sides will need to bolster good will, determination and creative thinking. The good news is that they have a strong foundation upon which to base such a reset. For starters, both countries are members of NATO and the EU; both face intense security pressures from the east; and both states wish to deepen their strategic linkages with the United States. Strong bilateral relations between neighbors have been established on the basis of much less. The key to success will be for Vilnius and Warsaw to gain altitude on their more narrow interests. For now, the positive overtures from Vilnius have not prompted an equally enthusiastic response in Warsaw. But these are still early days for the new Polish government; and Linkevičius is likely to repeat his messaging in the future. Let’s hope the next effort proves more effective.  


Europe's Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the Center for European Policy Analysis.