By Mark Brzezinski, the author of The Struggle for Constitutionalism in Poland (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27/05/11):
Poland has been waiting for President Obama to visit ever since he was elected senator from Illinois, home to over one million Americans of Polish descent. The president’s timing — he’s scheduled to arrive on Friday — is ideal. This is a special month in Poland: On May 1 the Vatican beatified the “Polish pope,” John Paul II. On May 3 Poles marked the annual celebration of their Constitution, Europe’s first — codified in 1791 — and the second in the world after America’s.
The president’s visit provides an opportunity to reassure the Poles and all of Central Europe, a region that cares deeply about its relationship with America. The people there are like people everywhere who have suffered trauma and betrayal. The horrific experiences of living under Nazism and Communism conditions their perspective. Strong relations with America provide a residual sense of reassurance and confidence.
This remains the case even as Polish-German reconciliation deepens and the benefits of European citizenship become more important. Three issues should be highlighted during President Obama’s visit, as they are also of concern to the Poles.
- Democracy. The United States should identify with Polish efforts to promote democracy in Belarus and Ukraine. Warsaw is one of the most active supporters of the democratic opposition in Belarus. The Polish Foreign Ministry finances Belsat TV, which broadcasts news and cultural programming from Poland and is the only independent satellite TV channel for Belarus. This is critical as the Belarus government tightens the screws on dissent.
- NATO. It should be made clear that Polish membership in the Atlantic alliance is important to America, and that America appreciates Polish efforts in Afghanistan (and earlier in Iraq). Poland has 2,600 troops deployed in Afghanistan, making it among the top contributors to the International Security Assistance Force. Just last month a Polish soldier was killed in Ghazni Province, bringing to 25 the country’s death toll since it joined the NATO-led operation. The Poles want to hear how America values NATO, and “how NATO’s borders are America’s borders.”
- Energy. It should be more widely known how America is supporting Poland’s efforts to develop energy self-sufficiency, independence and diversification. The Poles feel vulnerable to Russia’s monopoly on gas supply. The United States has been working with the Poles on shale oil — not as a panacea, but as a part of an overall policy — providing expertise from West Virginia University. Washington is also working on regional coordination to maximize what Central Europe can get from the E.U. for infrastructure development.
Ideally, Obama’s visit will help bring closer collaboration between Poland, Central Europe, the European Union and the United States on all these issues and bolster Warsaw as Poland undertakes a profound policy shift: advancing eventual Polish-Russian rapprochement.
At a time when the Obama administration has reset relations with Moscow, Poland has engaged in its own fence-mending. The mistrust and hostility that has so colored the Russian-Polish relationship spans centuries. But a reconciliation is not without precedent. The post-World War II Franco-German rapprochement had to overcome the trauma of Nazism. Despite deep-rooted historical animosity, Poland and Germany have rebuilt relations over the past two decades.
The Poles and Russians recognize that the process will take time. Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, initiated the process with the establishment of the “Joint Commission on Difficult Issues” in 2007. Russia’s acknowledgment of Soviet responsibility for the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn during World War II was a significant gesture. So was Vladimir Putin’s condemnation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in an article in Gazeta Wyborcza. Russian sympathy following the tragic plane crash in April 2010 that killed the Polish president was also appreciated by many Poles.
The strategic value of all these steps is clear. Poland understands the drawbacks of being a border country, and Russia understands it would be better off if its neighbors feared Moscow less. While the difficult process of Polish-Russian rapprochement is not explicitly related to the U.S.-Russia reset, it would have a positive impact on Central Europe as well as the broader trans-Atlantic relationship. Reconciliation is a game-changing possibility that has a long way to go, which is why President Obama’s trip is so important.
Fuente: Bitácora Almendrón. Tribuna Libre © Miguel Moliné Escalona