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    Prof. Zbigniew Rau, the new minister of foreign affairs of Poland talks with Katarzyna Gójska and Tomasz Sakiewicz on Belarus and Poland's role in the EU

    Katarzyna Gójska and Tomasz Sakiewicz talked to the new minister of foreign affairs, prof. Zbigniew Rau. They asked him about Belarus, Alexei Navalny, Poland’s role in the European Union and more.

    How do you see the future scenarios of the development of the situation in Belarus?

    For anyone who had the chance to observe the political processes of our part of Europe for the past forty years, the analogies are obvious. The question is, whether Belarus is already at the stage Poland was in 1979, when pope John Paul II talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, or our year 1980, or perhaps already 1989? It is also clear that these changes are completely irreversible. The barrier of fear is gone among the Belarusian society. The barrier of permission has also been crossed. There is no legitimacy for the authorities, which is in power only because it can physically rule. The society came to the conclusion that there is another authorisation needed. The authorities may have the mandate to rule, but it must be based on the society’s permission. The Belarusian nation ostentatiously and demonstratively said “no” to Alexander Lukashenko’s model of power which was characterised by the saying: “I do not have your endorsement, I do not share your values, but I am here because I have strength”. The society became an independent subject, disorganised, without a single political program, which; however, has the shared value of being sensitive to democracy. It is manifested in the public sphere. Alexander Lukashenko therefore stopped being the subject of even the slightest independence, since his existence in public life is entirely dependent on the Russian support. Thus, in his relations with Russia he is radically weakened, he ies its instrument. So, what we have on our hands is an intervention of hybrid character. It is apparent in the attack on public media, switching journalist who were never in the underground in the first place but now, at a critical moment, wish to behaven properly and follow their hearts. They are discovering their Belarusian identity, although in a different way than the protesters on the streets. They follow the vision of shared well-being, which is no longer connected to Lukashenko in any way. In terms of Russia, you don’t have to be an expert to see that from the perspective of imperialist administration of Vladimir Putin, Belarus should stay in their zone of influence, should remain part of the “Russian mir”, although it is officially separate. However, this seems to exclude any dialogue between the authorities, although no longer led by Lukashenko, and the society, because it would also influence the situation in Russia itself.


    Can one use the enigmatic term that Russia fears the domino effect?

    Sure. Russia wants to have Belarus in its zone of influence, but it also wants to have better relations with the West. That’s the paradox. It is a very difficult situation for Putin. The latest events even led to the fact that for the first time ever – even in Germany – there is a discussion on the Nord Stream 2 project.


    There is a serious question mark over the Germans’ intentions on this matter. Will they back down from the project?

    The answer to this question comes from the synthesis of axiological and political factors. Indeed, methods like poisoning people – the case of Alexei Navalny – do not fit any formula of living together. They are also unacceptable from the perspective of the most basic, human emotions. Additionally, until now only former agents had been poisoned, which of course is also unacceptable. However, it never occurred with active politicians. In this case, it is one of the leaders of the anti-Putin opposition, who was part of the quasi-democratic electoral process. We are talking about elections in Siberia where he did not run himself, but he introduced something very innovative to the process, the so-called smart voting – an idea that anyone who does not agree with the current authorities, independently of their views, votes for members of the opposition. Because of that Navalny became a participant of the electoral process, so the widely recognised political game. The attempt to remove him radically violated all the canons of keeping the players in the game. It shattered the matter of two-sided trust. So, in the game of interests which is Nord Stream 2, it is difficult to assume that the Russians would retain their credibility. In turn, from the political standpoint, this project causes more division in the European Union itself and between it the United States. Isn’t it already doomed then?


    Did they make a huge mistake trying to remove Alexei Navalny?

    Most probably.


    There is also one more matter: both Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny were poisoned with the same chemical. It seems Russia has plenty of it.

    This bears the question, whether it will be used in other situations if it was already used “in a difficult political situation” breaking all the rules of democratic and electoral game. It all makes the discussion very complex.


    The Polish case in the East has two strong aspects which are played against each other. The first regards Poles living there, and the second the safety and interest of the Polish state. The Russians expertly manoeuvre with the case of Poles living behind our easter borders. They put those in Lithuania against the local, pro-western authorities. It looked even worse in Ukrainem where there are many bad elements of historical memory. They tried to do the same with Belarus. What’s worse, there are political groups in Poland which believe that the best security for our compatriots in the East are pro-Russian politicians. It often puts Poland in conflict with the pro-western authorities in the East. What should the Polish state do in this situation?

    In recent years, it seems Poland was chosen by the Moscow administration to be a useful enemy for its propaganda. I will begin with what replaced in Russia the Holiday of the October Revolution – the anniversary of the liberation of Moscow from Poles. Then, we have the attempts to quarrel us with Jewish communities, to reinterpret history, falsify the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War. What’s more, the Russians are claiming that Poland could be a threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, now to Belarus etc. Looking at it from our perspective, there can be no doubt, that if the human rights are being broken and there is no dialogue with the society, then our compatriots living in the East are its biggest victims. By caring for freedom in these regions, we are also caring for Poles who are living there.


    There are politicians in Poland who claim that our compatriots had it better in Belarus than in Lithuania, and that Lukashenko is the one who guarantees their rights.

    In a pluralistic society, such speculations can appear. Meanwhile, I believe that practice is the criterium for truth. From this perspective, the thesis you mentioned turns out to be false.


    In this game of scaring people with Poles by Lukashenko, there are also voices of very unreasonable people who came to the conclusion that Poland should regain the Grodno land. Where does it come from?

    It is difficult to imagine today that any trustworthy, opinion-forming outlet could reject the very simple facts, that the borders we have today are the guarantee for peace, political cooperation and social harmony on both sides. When someone crosses the border in a car, going to Vilnus, they know very well why these solutions are a blessing. A Pole going there feels like home, the same goes the other way. A Belarusian coming to the Podlasie region also feels no hostility. It is an incredible value. When it comes to the matter of Ukraine, the discussion between historians and active citizens from various communities is also an incredible value for our entire region. What’s more, the whole idea of the Three Seas Initiative comes from the imperative of cooperation on matters important to us, which prove our close relations as a civilisation. As Europeans, we are finding ourselves in the republican traditions. We are working together for the development of our region, which shows i.e. the desire to create a shared digital, transport and energy infrastructure. All this is an incredible profit for the united Europe.


    Russia often accuses Poland of brewing up internal conflicts in countries which it deems its zone of influence. In the meantime, Poland inspires these regions with the republican traditions from the times of the First Republic of Poland. It is a stronger magnet than any propaganda.

    Indeed, it is mostly the result of our shared experiences and identity. On one side it is the case of the experience of a long-term loss of independence. One should only mention how after the Vienna Congress in 1815 only one state – Montenegro – regained its independence in the huge territory between Prussia and Austria in the West, and Russia and Turkey in the East. On the other side, there was the aforementioned tradition of limited state power, parliamentary traditions, traditions of religious tolerance shared not only by the nations of the First Republic of Poland, but also the Czech Republic and Hungary. It was a Pole, Paweł Włodkowic who talked about the nations’ right to live the way the want. It was the Lublin union which stated the slogans of “free with free, equal with equal”. Slowly, this shared identity is coming back and all the states should know that this is how the nations of Central Europe look at it.


    We have a new German ambassador in Poland, mister Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven. Will the new ambassador wait for a new minister?

    Undoubtedly, the public opinion took much interest in this subject, which brought fourth many questions. In my opinion, they come from a certain character of Polish-German relations. The memory of the cataclysm of war is still present among us, no matter the fact most witnesses of these events are no longer with us. The very person aspiring to be a German diplomat in Poland, due to his family’s past, is a kind of a conduit between us and that time. It sparked a discussion and I think it is entirely justified.


    It could seem like the debate was initiated by the German side, since the first articles regarding the prolonging of acceptance of ambassador Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven did not come out in the press which often sympathises with the decisions of the German government.

    The debate regarding our history and identity was disrupted by voices taking part in a radical, political and public discussion, rejecting part of the Polish memory. It is very bad…


    Have the Germans decided that the case of the Second World War is closed and they do not have to include it in their decisions, even symbolically?

    I do not agree. Anyone coming to a foreign country, whether as a tourist or on a diplomatic or economic matter, is expected to respect and abide by rules and traditions of that place, as well as be open to its national identity. In light of Germany’s and Poland’s difficult past, to be aware of that behaviour and expectations, especially when one is candidate for an ambassador, is very obvious. I observed the activities of the previous ambassador Rolf Nikiel and I believe that he thought the matter of Polish memory and identity to be very important.


    Lets get back to our relations with the European Union. We have another problem with the EU institutions, namely the courts in the Netherlands are refusing to follow through on our rulings. This situation is very disturbing.

    The courts are showing what the lawyers call judges’ activism, so they step above the law on the basis of which they should hand out their rulings. A judge believes that he knows the letter of the law so well that he can just create it himself.


    But what can the Polish state do in a situation where our courts’ rulings are not acknowledged? What if someone kills a man and flees to the Netherlands…

    We have to stick to our interpretation of the law and lead a fight on arguments.


    When it comes to our relations with the EU, Poland is in a minority group. We gained some influence, we saw it when the main commissionaire was being chosen, but do we have the mechanisms to build a coalition in the Union to have a strong influence on the decisions being made there?

    This regards not only the influence but also interests, and these are always dynamic. We always need to look at what unites, but we also need to defend our goals. It is sometimes worth to stand our ground but not just for the sake of it, but with a firm belief that we are right.


    How wide can we build such coalitions like the one we have with Hungary?

    We can build various coalitions based on tasks. The EU is evolving in many ways, but its beauty lies in the fact that you can make different coalitions on various matters. If it was only one bloc of states which had identical interests on all matters, it would bode bad for the Union.


    There was a bloc like that once. It was called the USSR.

    Yes. So the beauty of the European Union lies in its variety.


    So you believe that the policy of task-oriented coalitions can bring the most success to us.

    Definitely, although we first need to have a well defined own interest. Referring to the words which were already used in this interview, we need to know on which we should stand our ground and why.


    How durable are our relations with the United States, independently from the political configuration of our allies?

    Time shows, that no matter the instability of the modern world, no matter who is in power in the USA and in Poland, our interests are the same. After five years of being in power, there is no doubt in this matter. The more the world becomes unstable, the more we see our shared interests. Please notice that where the American soldiers were stationed after the Second World War prosperity, economic development and investments followed. Another important factor is the fact that the Polish society is pro-American.


    What’s more, there is the case of the rising tensions between the US and China. Can Poland be pulled into this game?

    The technological advancement is speeding up, but so is the division. We are part of the West and our interests come down to three things. Firstly, for the West to be united. Secondly, for the West to acknowledge us as an integral part of the West. Thirdly, for the West – on both sides of the Atlantic ocean – to treat us the same as any other part of the Commonwealth. Our place is on the side of the West and there are consequences to this. That is our reason of state.


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