2011 Vol. 3 No. 3 — Fall / Commentary

Yes, Mr. President! *

logo_prezydencja_pl(*President Poland, of course.)

Keep up the good work Mr. President, well done Poland.

Poland is doing extremely well. Recession didn’t even brush against it. While every other EU country is still struggling to keep its head above water, the Polish economy is growing at a comfortable rate of 4% this year. Not bad at all, I have to admit.

Just as promising is the state’s new leadership role that seems to suit it so nicely. Since July of this year, Poland is presiding over the Council of the European Union – the legislative branch of the EU and the forum where Foreign Policy issues are discussed. As President, one of Poland’s duties is to set the agenda of the EU: economy of course is a priority, but Poland also uses its mandate to keep Eastern European issues on the table – issues it considers of existential importance, for obvious reasons.

And the priority has become reality.

Two years ago, in May 2009, Poland concretized its idea of an “Eastern Partnership” – basically a plan aimed at encouraging democratic reform and greater freedoms in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. And this year the EU and the leaders of the six former Soviet republics finally met at a summit held in Warsaw on 21-30 September.

Poland is encouraging programs of democratization, really? It is certainly unexpected and somehow ironic that Poland, the host of the Warsaw Pact only a generation ago, has joined the ranks of the international democracy makers. History has taught it well.

It isn’t that very surprising when you think about it. Who better in fact and who more willing than Poland to understand the complex socio-economic situation and the gigantic challenges faced by Eastern Europe – who better than a country that has in common with the East so much of its modern history and has equally suffered the oppressing dominance of the USSR?

Although the Partnership is no promise of future EU membership for the ex-Soviet countries, (not such an appealing promise anyway given the current situation), this initiative provides a strong incentive for reform in the region, from Kiev all the way to Baku.

This is dangerous territory: this is Russia’s strategic zone of influence. Surprisingly though, Russia does not seem too preoccupied by this sudden European presence; it must be busy nodding its head at the announcement of another Putin presidency for 2012 while Poland, meanwhile, is quietly tossing a “Liberal Freedom” life jacket at Eastern Europe to pull it a bit more towards the West…

Perhaps because of the recent Arab Spring, the EU is also quite willingly encouraging the initiative. The world, including the so-very-agitated Europe has just begun to realize how quickly authoritarianism can be toppled, even in (or should I better say: especially in) the Middle East and North Africa, and how far the hope for freedom can echo. A partnership between East and West has never screamed “Urgent!” so loudly.

Are we, however, dealing with the devil?

Somehow, yes.

The Partnership programmes are discussed with the very leaders on whom we try to urge rule-of-law reforms. It is like asking Satan to give up Hell.

To the summit, we invite Yanukovych – the president of Ukraine – while back in his country, he is prosecuting his chief political rival and initiator of the Orange Revolution, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Is it wrong? Yes. Is there a better way? Not really.

All we can do is act behind the hypocrisy curtain of the political scene. In other words, we can work closely with Non Governmental Organizations. The EU has expressed a strong desire to collaborate with civil society in Eastern Europe, creating the European Endowment for Democracy to support democratic initiatives.

And to think this all blossomed from a Polish idea…

Perhaps I am being exceedingly optimistic (and patriotic) but I believe that as a leader of the Solidarity revolutions that knocked down the Communism fortress in 1989, Poland has exactly (under the auspices of the EU) what it takes to revive the Eastern longing for stability and prosperity. It can lead the ex-Soviet states on a path similar to the one it followed these past 23 years: improving human rights, eliminating corruption, reducing the flow of illegal drugs and migrants across borders and fostering economic partnerships with neighbours.

This is a chance for Poland to leave its own stamp on European Politics and reserve its seat in the big boys club of the European Union.

At a time when the EU is out of breath and desperately trying to juggle the Greek debt crisis, and questioning the Euro’s future and its own internal cohesion, Poland stands as the Iron Man, holding high the glowing hope of a renewed partnership between two sides of Europe.

Like a bridge over troubled waters…

To those who believe that the Eastern Partnership is nothing significant, I use Gandhi’s words to express my thoughts: “Everything you do in life will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

Perhaps, one small step at a time, Poland will succeed in making the most of its 6 months of Presidency at the European Council.

For now, I say, well done, President Poland.



The logo of Poland’s EU Presidency was created by Jerzy Janiszewski, the creator of Solidarity’s logo

Isabelle Sokolnicka
Isabelle Sokolnicka is a 2010 PitR alumna and a student of Political
Science and Geography at McGill University. Passionate traveler,
dancer and pianist, she also very much enjoys learning foreign
languages and is already familiar with Polish, French, Spanish,
Italian, Mandarin and Russian. During her first trip to South Africa
last summer, she backpacked in Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho, worked for a
Human Rights organization in Cape Town and fell head over heels in
love with this breathtakingly beautiful country.
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