Accessibility links

Ukraine: Poland Disappointed, But Won't Give Up On Its Neighbor


Eugeniusz Smolar (Courtesy Photo) PRAGUE, July 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Among the countries looking with greatest dismay at the political chaos in Kyiv is Poland, with its strong cultural and historical ties to Ukraine. Polish officials have actively sought to bring Kyiv into the Western fold since Warsaw joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. The ongoing parliamentary impasse in Ukraine has alarmed many in Poland, who see it as a shift away from the promise of the Orange Revolution. Eugeniusz Smolar, the president of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, talks to RFE/RL about Poland's perspective on Ukraine's political struggle.


RFE/RL: Over the past four months, we have watched Ukraine try, but fail, to form a coalition uniting the allies of the Orange Revolution. This was no doubt a very disappointing development for many in Poland.


Eugeniusz Smolar: Poland has never tried to suggest to Ukraine how they should solve their own problems. However, of course, as democrats and those who have fought for democracy in the past, we have our own preferences. And of course, the preference for many, many people here who feel very warmly about Ukraine, who feel very passionate about it, is for the Orange Revolution camp to form a government. For many people here who do not have the opportunity to follow Ukrainian events on a day-to-day basis, [the failure to create an Orange coalition] is quite a shock, and many people can't understand why it didn't happen.


RFE/RL: How do you explain this protracted political impasse?


Smolar: To many of us, it seems that too much politics based on personality clashes, rather than programmatic differences, is actually occurring. So if you ask what we think about it, we think it's very bad, we are shocked, we don't understand the situation. We feel that some of the personalities are pushing their line very strongly, maybe even too strongly. And some other actors who should be very active, including President Viktor Yushchenko, are not doing their job properly. Full stop.


RFE/RL: Polish officials have continued to express support for Ukraine's integration into the European Union and NATO. Former President Aleksander Kwasniewski was in Kyiv as recently as last week attempting to mediate discussions, but said he emerged "pessimistic" about the fate of the Ukrainian government. In Poland's view, can a working government emerge from the chaos in Ukraine?

Poland will never give up where Ukraine is concerned because we believe in democracy. And we have this feeling that we ourselves achieved as much as we did not only because of our own efforts, but also because of the assistance which was provided by the government trade unions, Amnesty International, and international organizations which construct civil society. And what we are doing at the moment -- what all of us are doing -- is giving something back. We are actually trying to help those who, at the moment, are less fortunate than ourselves.

Smolar: Kwasniewski has the political and moral authority to get involved. He knows all the personalities. I know he talked to each and every one of them, to all the major actors. He tried to persuade them to get some kind of a working agreement. But at the end of the day, Poland, as a country -- starting with the top politician and ending with civil society here -- is going to work with anyone who has the authority to hold power and who is a democrat.


RFE/RL: The final composition of the government is still unclear, but right now we're facing the scenario of a parliament dominated by the pro-Russia Party of Regions, and with the pro-Western president, Yushchenko, in the opposition. Is it important for Poland which of the major players ends up on top?


Smolar: If the situation is Ukraine ends with the decision that the only working coalition could be a coalition of two currently warring factions, well then, let it be that way. For us, the most important thing is not who's running the country, but what the program is -- whether it's Western-oriented, whether it's aimed at European and trans-Atlantic alliance. Whether they are going to continue with the policy of democracy and respect for human rights and Euro-Atlantic integration. These are the most important questions and Poland will work with anyone who will go that way.


RFE/RL: What about Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's rival in the election that sparked the Orange Revolution? Is he a man Poland can work with?


Smolar: It's very difficult to say. When I was in Ukraine I heard different stories about him, and some of what's being said is that he's a very pragmatic politician. But the only worry I have, from what I know of him, is that he's not a totally independent politician.


RFE/RL: Does Poland remain suspicious of Russia's influence in Ukraine?


Smolar: People who know more about it than I do, they say this is one of the important factors in the whole game. And of course, knowing what Moscow's reaction to the Orange Revolution was, and also the pressure that was put on Ukraine in the context of gas negotiations, I believe that the game has not ended.


RFE/RL: Ultimately, the failure of the Orange coalition appears to be due, as you said, to personality clashes -- specifically between Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, his one-time prime minister. Are these power struggles the reason that Ukraine has no government nearly four months after parliamentary elections?


Smolar: This seems to be the basis of the existing situation. Whether this is in fact so is not for me to say. But the fact that the politics of such an important country as Ukraine is being reduced to the personal confrontation between major personalities is not helping Ukraine and its image in the world.


RFE/RL: Kwasniewski's recent remarks on Ukraine have been very bitter, almost resigned. Is there a sense that Poland has given up on Ukraine, or is there more that it can do to keep Kyiv on a pro-Western course?


Smolar: Poland will never give up where Ukraine is concerned because we believe in democracy. And we have this feeling that we ourselves achieved as much as we did not only because of our own efforts, but also because of the assistance which was provided by the government trade unions, Amnesty International, and international organizations which construct civil society. And what we are doing at the moment -- what all of us are doing -- is giving something back. We are actually trying to help those who, at the moment, are less fortunate than ourselves.


RFE/RL: How much does geographic and historical proximity affect Poland's allegiance to Ukraine?


Smolar: Ukraine for us -- and Belarus as well -- are very close to our borders, and they are very close people to us. And even if there are some political difficulties, it will not influence our general attitude. Poland will never abandon Ukraine or Belarus. More specifically, we will never abandon democracy and human rights in those countries.

Belarus And Poland

An anti-Lukashenka demonstration in Warsaw on February 22 (RFE/RL)

LOOKING OVER THE FENCE: In the 12 months leading up to today's presidential elections, Polish citizens have taken a strong interest in the fate of their neighbors, the Belarusians. Some say this is because the two countries are geographically linked and it is in Poland's best interest to be surrounded by democratic friends. Others say it is because of Poland's own strong history fighting against oppression. Regardless of the reason, one thing is indisputable: Poland is almost as invested in the results of the March 19 election as Belarus is....(more)

Related stories:

Belarus: Mixed Feelings About Poland's Interest

Belarus: EU-Funded Broadcasts Set To Begin

On 25th Anniversary, Walesa Says Solidarity 'Broke Bear's Teeth'

Warsaw Seems To Be Losing Duel With Minsk Over Ethnic Organization


Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.

MEET THE CANDIDATES: Read brief biographies of the four candidates in the March 19 election.


Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

XS
SM
MD
LG