Date: 1 July 2018    Author: Paweł Ozdoba

The unfinished mission – President Lech Kaczyński’s foreign policy

Effectiveness, self-confidence, the ability to form alliances, honesty and having high regard for morality – these are character traits that make a good politician. Lech Kaczyński possessed all these qualities, and strived with his determination to rebuild the significance of the Republic of Poland. Foreign policy in his implementation was an original concept which may serve as an excellent point of reference and foundation for the future.

Warsaw, August 9, 2008. Polish President Lech Kaczyński during a telephone conversation with the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. © Jacek Turczyk (PAP)

During his term as President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński repeatedly stressed the importance of creating and conducting the country’s foreign policy. During his term in office, he was guided by the principles of solidarity and pursued his mission on the basis of a well-thought-out and coherent concept. The president wanted Poland to become a regional entity and leader; a country aspiring to play a significant role in the European Union. He emphasized the value and historical heritage of the state and promoted patriotic attitudes in Polish society. During his inaugural speech, he pronounced words that were to become characteristic of his overall foreign policy: “In order to be treated as a large European nation we must want to be such a nation. If you want the respect of others, you must start by respecting yourself.”

The mission undertaken by Lech Kaczyński certainly required courage, discipline and determination to meet set objectives. It should be noted that he took office several months after Poland’s accession to the European Union, which presented him, as the head of state, with profound and new challenges for Polish statehood. The first part of his presidency was a period of good cooperation with the government, which was largely based on the domestic political environment. However, in 2007, after the parliamentary elections were won by the Civic Platform party, the time came for “cohabitation” and serious difficulties. Nevertheless, Lech Kaczyński made efforts to implement his ideas concerning foreign and security policy, which were intended to be beneficial to Poland in the future.

When analyzing the achievements and work of President Lech Kaczyński, it should be noted that his foreign policy was in fact based on four important pillars. The first of them was the policy concerning the countries to the east of Poland, and the second, a security policy understood not only in military terms. Next, it is necessary to mention the area of historical policy and the energy security policy, which were supposed to become not only some part of the project to increase state security but also a serious stimulus for the development of the whole region.

The Jagiellonian idea and Kaczyński’s model

Kaczyński’s foreign policy was a coherent program based not only on the analyses of politicians, historians, and experts dealing with geopolitics; but it also contained an element of the so-called Jagiellonian idea, which at the turn of the century led to the creation of a powerful state by the Vistula River. The federation concept, which was a reference to the 15th-century idea, was used earlier by Marshal Józef Piłsudski, who also wanted to create a strong political entity based on alliances with Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. In many cases, however, Kaczyński stressed that due to its geographical location, the Republic of Poland would always be situated between two very strong and influential states – Germany and Russia. In any difficult geopolitical situation, Polish interests could be secured in Lech Kaczyński’s concept thanks to the construction of a strong partnership between the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The role of a regional leader was supposed to encourage other countries to truly cooperate with Poland. The key part in the president’s concept was to be played by the United States (as a guarantor of security), as well as by countries rich in natural resources (which would allow Poland to become independent from Russia). Lech Kaczyński also considered the alliance with EU Member States to be of major importance in the political game.

Vilnius, Lithuania, July 6, 2009. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus (2L) with his wife Alma (L), Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (3L), Polish President Lech Kaczyński (4L) with his wife Maria (5L), Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (2R) with his wife Sandra Elisabeth Roelofs (3R) and Danish Queen Margaret II (R) during the celebrations of the Lithuanian Millennium. © Jacek Turczyk (PAP)

Poland’s Eastern policy

Lech Kaczyński was a sincere supporter of cooperation with the countries to the east of Poland. For centuries, the geographical location of our country has meant that Poland had to maneuver skillfully between two powerful states: Germany and Russia. The Polish president believed that in today’s world, the country’s subjectivity and real significance could only be achieved by building an alliance with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The priority for the president was to have good relations not only with Lithuania, Ukraine, Latvia, but also with Estonia, Georgia, and Romania.

“Poland’s solidarity with the nations that lie south-east of it constitutes a great value,” said Lech Kaczyński. History has shown that the declarations of the then president were not only wishful thinking but were also translated into real decisions and action. The declaration signed in 2007 by the leaders of Poland and Ukraine was intended to become an indicator and a kind of new strategy of bilateral relations between the countries.

As it turned out, Lithuania, inhabited by a large percentage of (ethnic) Poles was to become a crucial partner of our country. At the beginning of 2006, Lech Kaczyński visited Vilnius, where he delivered a speech in the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania encouraging the inauguration of thoughtful cooperation in the EU based on mutual friendship.

“If we are to participate effectively in the European game and if we want to solve problems uniting our strengths, there must be enough room for this game. Nowadays, there is such a thing as a European game – a game of various interests. The interests of the strongest noticeably count, but often also the weaker ones can achieve success.” – said Lech Kaczyński. The president believed that alliances between countries could also be strengthened by building personal, friendly contacts with leaders of other countries in the region such as, for example, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia. Leaders of these key (from President Kaczyński’s perspective) countries had repeatedly called the Polish president their friend.

The key role of Georgia

The policy of building alliances with the countries in Poland’s neighborhood, as well as with the Baltic states, was only the beginning of a “game”. Kaczyński was determined to support Georgia becoming a kind of gateway to Europe. The president was well aware of the fact that the state led by Michel Saakashvili would be crucial not only for military security but also for the security of energy supply.

The conflict between Russia and Georgia, which escalated in 2008, has become a severe threat. Russia’s neo-imperialist attempts could have turned the war in South Ossetia into a long-lasting conflict. Lech Kaczyński was aware of this and decided to undertake a risky, but, as it turned out, crucial mission to Tbilisi, where he also managed to engage the leaders of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The arrival of the heads of state and the support of Mikheil Saakashvili in the Georgian capital were an expression of profound courage, but also of political intuition, thanks to which Russia most probably did not take control of the entire territory of Georgia. The Georgian president recalled that when the presidents spoke in Tbilisi Square to defend the country, Russian tanks, ready to attack, were located a dozen or so kilometers away. President Saakashvili has repeatedly stressed that it was thanks to Lech Kaczyński’s initiative that the conflict did not escalate any further.

Reconciliation based on truth

Lech Kaczyński also strived to strengthen Ukraine, a large country with a painful past. The president wanted to achieve full reconciliation between both nations, on the basis of truth. He supported the political changes in Kiev which were distancing Ukraine from Russian influence. He stressed that the past cannot be changed, but that a better future can be built upon it. “We must speak openly, step by step, of a painful, difficult past, developing a single, fair assessment of all the tragedies of war at that time, both that of Poland and that of Ukraine. All the tragic events in Pawłokoma, Chełm Land, Volhynia, and Eastern Galicia, accompanying the “Vistula” action, should be thoroughly explained in the dialogue between politicians, historians, and ordinary people. Strong and lasting reconciliation can only be achieved on the basis of truth. We cannot change the past, but we can ensure that it does not determine the future,” said the president in 2006 during the ceremony of unveiling a monument in honor of the victims of the Pawłokoma massacre in the Podkarpackie province.

Georgia, Novemb er 23, 2008. Polish President Lech Kaczyński surrounded by Georgian officers while visiting the border with South Ossetia. The convoy, the passengers of which included Polish President Lech Kaczyński and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, was shot. © IRAKLI GEDENIDZE (PAP/EPA)

Lech Kaczyński saw opportunities in building a Central European political structure in cooperation with the Czechs, Hungarians, and Romanians. For this reason, the president had been accused of pursuing a ‘romantic policy’. In retrospect, however, it could be said that it was typical realpolitik, beneficial for all its participants, who, thanks to cooperation were able to pursue not only common but also individual interests in line with their raison d’être.

The establishment of good relations between the Republic of Poland and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was difficult, but effective. Kaczyński, due to the political situation in the country and the cohabitation which had occurred between him and the government of Donald Tusk, had to face numerous difficulties and misunderstandings. As the head of state, he wanted to carry out his duties actively and to fulfill the mandate granted by the Poles. In the meantime, opinions criticizing his actions appeared in the public space. Some politicians stressed that building alliances with small states, in opposition to Germany or Russia, would result in a fiasco. Lech Kaczyński, however, wanted to strengthen his Central European alliance with good relations with the USA.

The alliance with the United States

Building good relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe indeed strengthened the region, but it did not guarantee adequate military security. In Lech Kaczyński’s concept, this was to be guaranteed by an alliance with the United States and a project to build an anti-missile system. He also stressed that the creation of a special defense system in Poland would provide an opportunity to secure NATO’s interests and strengthen this organization. The strategic partnership between Poland and the USA was also expected to be manifested by the permanent presence of US troops on the territory of the Republic of Poland. Lech Kaczyński appreciated the military potential of his ally from across the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the role it played in the fight against communism in Poland.

“We are very pleased with our good relations with the United States. We value the cooperation with this country because of the significant historical ties – because of the several million citizens of the United States, who are of Polish origin. But also because of the role of this powerful state in stopping communism in Europe and other parts of the world. Because of the struggle the United States is waging for the development of democratic systems. In this respect, we are and will remain in solidarity with the United States,” said the president during a meeting with the Diplomatic Corps in 2006.

The change in US president, the correction of the US concept for its presence in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the “political turmoil” experienced in the country finally stopped the process of building the proposed anti-missile system. There is little doubt, however, that the United States, in Lech Kaczyński’s view, was to play an essential role in the security of the region.

Poland in the European Union

When Lech Kaczyński took office as the President of the Republic of Poland, Poland had been a member of the European Union for less than two years. What is more, there was also a critical period of negotiations connected with the Lisbon Treaty during his term in office. Despite the fact that the president’s political environment was described by some politicians or publicists as “Eurosceptic”, the president himself was rather a “Euro-realist”. He was aware of the fact that Poland’s accession to the European Union was a serious change, but he also saw it as an opportunity. He stressed that this would allow the development of the country to accelerate and for its security and significance on the international scene to increase. However, he was also aware of the risks and difficulties linked to joining the EU. He repeatedly stressed that Poland had joined the European Union in order to be treated on equal terms with the countries of the so-called old Union.

“Poland wants to play a role in the European Union that suits its size, both in terms of population and global production […] There are 27 countries in the EU, and Poland is on the sixth place here. This is, as it used to be said, especially in athletics – a scoring place. Not in the form of medals, but in the form of scores. Nothing more, nothing less’ – said Lech Kaczyński in autumn 2007 during a lecture at the Press Club in Paris.

Eurosceptics accused Lech Kaczyński of having ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Euro-enthusiasts, in turn, criticized the fact that he delayed taking this decision. The choice of ratification may be assessed in many different ways, but it must be stressed that the then president was able to skillfully eliminate from the Treaty the provisions on the creation of a new state. Kaczyński also delayed the introduction of a new voting model, the so-called Nice system, which was less advantageous for Poland than the original one. The conditions set out by the president included: maintaining the independence of the European Council as well as maintaining the ability of individual states to block decisions imposed by stronger countries.

“Europe has a great deal of experiment ahead, and you should remember that the Treaty of Lisbon is changing a lot. It has been considerably weakened in its federal tendency compared with the so-called Constitutional Treaty. I do not hide the fact that Poland has pursued this goal and that this goal has been achieved to a significant extent,” said the president in an interview for Reuters press agency.

According to Kaczyński, the Lisbon Treaty was a “wise compromise”; however, he decided to delay its ratification nonetheless. Sławomir Cenckiewicz and Adam Chmielecki, authors of the book President, point out that Lech Kaczyński treated this issue as an argument in negotiations with the European Union. Kaczyński’s attitude, which supported his decision to ratify the Treaty, was clearly described by Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski: “Poland does not need either Euro-enthusiasts or politicians closing the EU in the slogan about the Union of European Socialist Republics. Poland needs people to act on its behalf in the EU, maximizing profits and minimizing losses. This is exactly what Lech Kaczyński did,” said the political scientist.

Energy security

The protection of Poland’s borders through a modernized army, support from US allied forces, and the anti-missile shield, were all intended to be the main elements guaranteeing military security. However, Lech Kaczyński also focused on ensuring Poland’s energy security. Thinking in such terms was certainly the result of the political maturity of the president, who was aware of the threats resulting from the country’s dependence on natural resources originating only from Russia. It can certainly be said that the then president set himself the goal of increasing the country’s energy security.

Lech Kaczyński stressed that Poland must protect itself against possible energy crises that could occur in Ukraine or Belarus. In view of the ongoing situation, the president decided to intensify the country’s relations with Azerbaijan, a huge resource of raw materials, which would allow him to tip the balance of energy security in Poland’s favor. The objective pursued by the president was to create a Euro-Asian Oil Transport Corridor. The construction of the transmission line would make it possible to bypass Russia and increase the role of Poland in the transport of raw materials to Western European countries.

In order to implement his plan to increase energy security, Lech Kaczyński organized a conference with the participation of the leaders of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Lithuania, at which he advocated the legitimacy of the project. The talks were also attended by a representative of Kazakhstan who was also considering becoming involved in the project. In the post-conference statement, the politicians supported the idea of building a new transport corridor for raw materials from the Caspian Sea. They also maintained their position during subsequent energy summits in Baku, Vilnius, and Kiev. It is worth emphasizing that diversification of new sources of raw materials was also beneficial for the remaining countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which belonged to the system controlled by the Russian Federation. By acquiring new suppliers, the security of Poland’s closest neighbors would also be strengthened.

Georgia, Tb ilisi, August 12, 2008. Lech Kaczyński: we are here to take up the fight! From the left: Polish President Lech Kaczyński, President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus, and President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves during a rally in Tb ilisi. The arrival in Georgia is an expression of solidarity of five countries with the nation that was the victim of aggression. © Radek Pietruszka (PAP)

Unfortunately, as a result of various political difficulties, such as the instability in Ukraine and the subsequent death of Lech Kaczyński, the project has not been completed and it is not yet clear whether it will ever be resumed. According to Lech Kaczyński, however, energy security is not only about transporting crude oil from Azerbaijan, but also about the concepts of building an LNG terminal on the Polish coast (in Świnoujście) and the Baltic Pipe gas pipeline, enabling the transfer of gas from Norwegian sources. These initiatives required decisive steps on the part of the government, which, however, was reluctant to support the presidential initiatives. The LNG terminal was finally commissioned in 2015. Interestingly, it is named after its originator, President Lech Kaczyński.

Remembering the heroes

An important element of the president’s foreign policy concerned also the memory of Polish heroes, who, over the years, particularly contributed to regaining independence, fighting against communism or otherwise rebuilding Polish statehood. One of the symbols of this concept is the creation of the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising established on the initiative of Lech Kaczyński when he was still serving as President of Warsaw. Meetings with veterans and insurgents, as well as clear emphasis on the memory of victims of Soviet crimes, made his presidency unique. In 2005, Lech Kaczyński said that: “Those who were able to combine modernization with good tradition have scored the greatest successes in Europe.” He also stressed that a strong state can only be built on the basis of patriotism and the memory of its heroes. Such an attitude also had an impact on foreign policy and building the image of the Polish state.

“This is my message for today: The Polish state. A country called the Republic of Poland for five and a half centuries. This is the value on which we need to focus today and which is so important that our future success depends on its efficiency,” said the president during the oath-taking ceremony of newly promoted generals in 2009. It should be stressed that Lech Kaczyński considered it necessary to keep alive the memory of the country’s heroes, the power of the state in the past, but also that of past tragedies. He was convinced that the current political situation was a consequence of various events from the past, which had a positive impact on the skillful shaping of foreign policy.

The unfinished process

Looking back at the activities and policies of President Lech Kaczyński, there is a strong impression that a certain process of reconstruction and strengthening of the state has been interrupted. Despite a coherent concept, personal predispositions, and political intelligence, many vital projects have not been completed. This was due to a number of factors, not only of an internal nature, but also of an external one. Between 2005 and 2010, Poland was a natural candidate to become the leader of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and by pursuing an active policy today, it could play an important role not only in the region, but also across Europe as a whole. The effort and legacy of Lech Kaczyński are becoming the perfect foundations for building a strong, influential and modern state, capable of ensuring the security of its citizens, its development and its future. Poland must seize this opportunity.

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