Relations between Poland and Russia as bad as ever
LONG-TIME RIVALS: After centuries of enmity, the two countries still only share a tumultuous past in common, and even today they treat each other with suspicion
NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Warsaw, Poland
Monday, Jul 04, 2005,Page 6
A couple is silhouetted against the sky, right, as they look at a ship crossing the Troytsky drawbridge during White Nights in St. Petersburg, Russia, early yesterday. White Nights, where it never truly gets dark, last for about a month from the middle of June until the middle of July.
The Poles say, not without a certain pride, that they are the only ones ever to occupy the Kremlin. That was in the early 17th century, almost 200 years before Napoleon and 300 before Hitler failed in their attempts to do so.
In Moscow not long ago, the national day celebration was switched from Nov. 7, commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution, to Nov. 4, when the Russians rid the Kremlin of the hated Poles.
Clearly, the present bad state of relations between Russia and Poland has plenty of historical precedents. Still, relations between the nations are as bad as they have been since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989.
The good news is that neither side is threatening the other with invasion or occupation, so the history of wars and partitions seems unlikely to repeat itself.
But every day it seems something nasty or angry is said by politicians or commentators on one side or another of the Polish-Russian divide, and the nastiness echoes the remaining insecurities and suspicions of Eastern Europe after the Cold War.
"It´s not a result of Polish policy but of the internal processes of Russia," Jacek Cichocki, the director of the Polish Center for Eastern Studies, a research group attached to the Foreign Ministry, said while explaining, very much from the Polish perspective, the poor state of relations.
Analysts seem to agree that the immediate cause of tension was the lead role played by Poland in the Ukrainian conflict of late last year, when President Aleksander Kwasniewski clearly sided against the Russian-supported presidential candidate and with the Orange Revolution of Viktor Yushchenko.
As the Poles see it -- and, for obvious reasons, they have a special understanding of Russia -- Ukraine´s reorientation toward the EU and the West is a major, even historic additional increment in Russia´s steady loss of influence in its own region, a loss of influence that began with the success of solidarity in Poland in 1989. But Polish-Russian relations, which were good through most of the 1990s, soured well before the Orange Revolution.
"The problem started much earlier last year," Cichocki said. "The first reason was the very nervous reaction of Moscow to the EU enlargement," which took place officially last May, and brought seven former Soviet bloc members, including three former Soviet republics -- Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- into the embrace of the democratic West.
Polish analysts Russia´s "bad behavior" to its failure to carve out a post-Cold-War identity for itself. That means it retains many aspects of Russian imperialism, the wish to dominate its neighbors, and certainly never to tarnish its image by admitting past crimes. At the same time, while the Russians are tempted to recognize the EU and its expansion east as an economic opportunity, they see it as a danger, especially to Russian prestige.