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Poland Table of Contents


Baltic States

On numerous occasions after mid-1989, the Polish government demonstrated sympathy for the increasingly vocal Lithuanian independence movement. After the Lithuanian declaration of independence in March 1990, a Polish senator was the first foreign government representative to address the Lithuanian parliament. Poland provided important moral support during the economic blockade imposed by the Kremlin, and after the Soviet military crackdown in Vilnius in January 1991, Poland joined Scandinavian nations, the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, and Hungary in calling for a discussion of the action by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE--see Glossary).

Despite Warsaw's sympathetic actions, Vilnius grew impatient at the Poles' unwillingness to grant diplomatic recognition. At that time, however, such an action would have jeopardized negotiations on withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland-- especially because no major Western power had recognized Lithuania. Skubiszewski noted that although good relations with the Baltics were important to Poland, relations with the Soviet Union had immediate strategic significance.

The demise of the Soviet Union transformed Poland's relationship with Lithuania. As the threat of repression from Moscow diminished, Vilnius began to perceive Warsaw as a likely source of external pressure. The Lithuanian government grew suspicious that Warsaw coveted lost territories in Lithuania, where ethnic Poles still resided in heavy concentrations. From Poland's perspective, the respect of minority rights for roughly 260,000 ethnic Poles residing in Lithuania emerged as the most important issue in the bilateral relationship.

In 1988 and 1989, relations of the Polish minority in Lithuania with the Lithuanian government deteriorated with the enactment of language laws that discriminated against nonLithuanian speakers. The laws provoked leaders of the Polish minority to declare an autonomous Polish national territorial district. In response, Vilnius dismissed numerous ethnic Polish local officials and placed districts with large Polish populations under direct parliamentary administration. Further contributing to the worsening relations between the two communities was a citizenship law requiring a loyalty oath that the Polish community viewed as oppressive. Relations reached their nadir in late 1991 when the Lithuanian defense minister called Poland his country's greatest threat. The following March, Skubiszewski charged Lithuania with delaying elections to local councils in districts with large concentrations of ethnic Poles.

Early 1992 also brought hopeful developments, however. The foreign ministers of the two nations signed a wide-ranging tenpoint declaration of friendship and neighborly relations and a consular convention. In the declaration, each country renounced all territorial claims against the other and pledged to adhere to European standards in respecting the rights of its minorities, including native-language education rights.

Polish relations with the other two Baltic states were less complicated. In mid-1992, Skubiszewski visited Latvia to sign the first Polish bilateral treaty with any of the newly independent Baltic states. He also signed important accords on trade, travel, and minority rights. Skubiszewski praised Latvia's treatment of its sizable Polish population, which in mid-1992 was estimated at between 60,000 and 100,000. Skubiszewski then signed a similar treaty in Tallinn, where the Estonian foreign minister described relations with Warsaw as excellent. Both Estonia and Latvia viewed Poland as a benign neighbor whose experience in economic and political reform could facilitate their own transition and could promote their integration into Western Europe.

Data as of October 1992