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Poland's status still "not equal," foreign minister says

Poland's status still "not equal," foreign minister says

WARSAW: In spite of being a full member of both NATO and the European Union, Poland does not yet feel secure, nor has it completed the revolution that ended Communist rule in 1989, according to the country's top diplomat, Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga.

With growing concern over Russia's use of its energy wealth as a political weapon, German restitution claims for property ceded to Poland after 1945 and close ties between its historic enemies, Moscow and Berlin, Fotyga says, Warsaw has to fight to defend its interests inside the EU and the Western military alliance.

"Poland's status is not equal to other EU and NATO member states," Fotyga said in an interview Monday in her Warsaw office, days after Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced early elections for autumn. It particularly rankles her that ever since Poland joined the blocs, the country's status "has been questioned by Russia" and other countries, including Germany.

Poland's recent positions - from blocking talks for a new EU-Russia trade accord and insisting on more voting rights to match the biggest EU member states, to agreeing to deploy a U.S. missile defense system on its territory - have annoyed its European partners.

Several countries have complained that Poland under Kaczynski's nationalist conservative government, elected in September 2005 after promising to stamp out corruption and rid the administration of former Communists, has been uncompromising in defending its national interests at the expense of EU solidarity.

But Fotyga, a soft-spoken minister in spite of her reputation in the Polish and German media as an aggressive, incompetent diplomat, says the reason for Warsaw's run-ins with Berlin, Brussels and Moscow is simple: Poland is not being treated as an equal partner.

Consider the example of missile defense, said Fotyga, a former Solidarity activist who during the dark months of martial law in 1981 used her apartment in Gdansk for the underground labor movement's clandestine meetings.

Earlier this year, when Washington and Warsaw started talks over deploying part of a missile shield in Poland, there was an uproar in Russia and Germany, where the Social Democrats warned of a new Cold War because Russia would feel threatened by the system.

Fotyga said the criticisms amounted to double standards.

"Why shouldn't we have the same rights as Britain or Denmark, which have missile defense?" said Fotyga, who was named foreign minister last year after her predecessor, Stefan Meller, resigned over policy differences with Kaczynski. "Why is it that so many countries discuss our right to have this system? It is trying to undermine our position as an equal partner. We want to engage in discussions with the U.S. with the same rights as the other countries."

Fotyga, 50, cites other examples of what she calls inequality. Last month, Tono Eitel, the German diplomat who is negotiating with his Polish counterparts for the return of German cultural items found in Poland after the World War II, demanded that Warsaw give up those treasures.

Unlike 1945, when the Red Army took trainloads of looted German art back to Moscow, Poland did not steal any of these cultural treasures. Instead, the Germans hid them on what is now Polish territory to protect them against Allied bombing campaigns, until Polish officials discovered them.

"When we talk about cultural heritage, Germany poses clear requirements vis-à-vis Poland but it does not put the same requirements vis-à-vis France," Fotyga said. "Yet it was the Nazis who had tried to annihilate Poland's cultural heritage when they occupied Poland during the Second World War. It will be difficult to continue negotiations under such conditions."

Fotyga says this latest spat between Warsaw and Berlin has heightened Poland's sense of insecurity and fueled suspicions by the Kaczynski government that Germany wants to dominate Poland inside the EU - and to reinterpret history by suggesting that Germany was a victim as well.

Add to this attempts by a German conservative legislator, Erika Steinbach, to seek restitution or compensation from Warsaw after Germans fled or were expelled from Poland after 1945. "In Polish minds," Fotyga said, "this means the eradication of the obvious truth: responsibility for the Second World War."

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has distanced her government from Steinbach's claims. Nonetheless, the issue encapsulates the deeply sensitive relations between Warsaw and Berlin.

"When you are bigger and more powerful, you have to be one hundred times more sensitive than your small neighbor, and never humiliate," Fotyga said.

The North European natural gas pipeline that is being jointly built by Russia and Germany is another issue that Fotyga says undermines Poland's security. The pipeline will run under the Baltic Sea, linking Russia to Germany but bypassing Poland as a transit country.

"That gas pipeline undermines European solidarity and questions our ability to have an equal voice," Fotyga said.

Although the EU has tried to develop a common energy strategy in reaction to Russia's use of energy as a political tool against Ukraine in 2005 and Belarus last January, Fotyga is disappointed with its slow progress.

Warsaw's dispute with Berlin, Brussels and Moscow sharpened when Kaczynski's Law and Justice party was elected in 2005. Since then, the government has been more outspoken in setting its foreign policy goals, while domestically it has implemented a "lustration," or vetting, process of public officials, including diplomats. They are required to sign statements saying they had nothing to do with the former Communist security services.

Fotyga said she carried out a "partial lustration" at the Foreign Ministry. About 60 diplomats left. Some quit rather than sign the statement. Some ambassadors were recalled to Warsaw after ending their four-year terms.

"It was time to replace them," she explained. "The media said they were sacked."

Asked whether this more assertive foreign policy, combined with lustration, was about making Poland more secure and completing the country's post-Communist transformation, Fotyga replied: "Yes. We need new people who were not able to hold on to their jobs during martial law. We need loyal people. For that we need more time."

The foreign minister, however, declined to speculate on the outcome of the elections Kaczynski has now called. According to opinion polls, it is unlikely that Law and Justice will win and gain the time that Fotyga is hoping for.

International Herald Tribune

Re: Poland's status still "not equal," foreign minister says

"When you are bigger and more powerful, you have to be one hundred times more sensitive than your small neighbor, and never humiliate," Fotyga said.

What a simpleton