Obama and the Central European Summit

By Rokas M. Tracevskis

On May 27, 2011, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite went to Warsaw to participate in the 17th summit of Central European presidents. On the same day, U.S. President Barack Obama joined the meeting for a late dinner to exchange views with Central European leaders. Interestingly, the meeting took place in the same hall where the Warsaw Pact was born in 1955. During the meeting, Grybauskaite accented that Russia should have no share in U.S. policy on ballistic missile defense (BMD) of the NATO member states in Europe.

“I’ll speak today and everyday in the future that Lithuania and the other Baltic States should be defended by NATO countries only – we don’t need the services of other countries,” Grybauskaite said about BMD before the start of the summit. After the joint dinner of Central Europeans and Obama, Grybauskaite expressed satisfaction that the U.S. supports her view on BMD. Grybauskaite also said that on the eve of the summit, she got a letter from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, where he called for the cooperation of Russia and NATO on the BMD issue – her reply letter’s message to Medvedev was clear: the defense of NATO member states is NATO’s business only.

During the summit in Warsaw, Grybauskaite also invited Obama to EuroBasket 2011, which will take place in Lithuania in the coming fall. Obama did not give his firm promise that he will have some time for it.

The Central European summits have been held in various countries of the region since 1992, when the first such summit took place in Austria. Presidents of Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Croatia, Austria, and the other 12 countries of Central Europe attended the summit. Lithuania participated for a second time, while it was the first such summit for the presidents of Latvia and Estonia.

On May 27, Grybauskaite, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves also held their separate trilateral meeting in the Lithuanian embassy in Warsaw. “It is very important for Lithuania’s interests that security for NATO allies is guaranteed by the Alliance, not by Russia,” Grybauskaite said during this Baltic meeting. The Baltic presidents also discussed energy independence issues and the joint actions during the EU debates over the EU’s next financial perspective, seeking to make sure that appropriate EU funds are allocated for the Baltic countries for the EU’s post-2013 financial framework.

Serbia and Romania boycotted the summit in Warsaw because the president of Kosovo was invited to it. Serbia, Romania and Slovakia recognize Kosovo as part of Serbia. Romania and Slovakia are allergic to any separatism because they have big problems with their Hungarian minority. The Slovak president agreed to arrive in Warsaw only after Poland promised that the participation of Kosovo would not be accented too much during the summit.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said to his guests that the summit is held “in the palace of Polish kings and Lithuanian grand dukes.” He chatted with a wide smile to Grybauskaite a little longer than with other guests during the presidents’ arrival ceremony at the palace.

The presidents of Lithuania and Poland did not talk about ethnic minorities issues, but Polish journalists asked Grybauskaite about the issue of writing Polish surnames in Lithuanian IDs with all Polish letters and diacritics, which are absent in the Lithuanian alphabet. It was one of the top themes of the Polish media this year. Grybauskaite answered in her broken Polish that she has no problem with such an innovation, but the current Lithuanian parliament has no will to adopt it. “It will not be soon,” she said.

The Polish Foreign Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, was very harsh on Lithuania on the issue of Polish letters. However, after the decision supporting Lithuania on the name spelling issue by the EU’s Court of Justice and Polish intellectuals’ public criticism to Sikorski due to his anti-Lithuanian attitude (open letter of 22 intellectuals, mostly professors of law in Poland’s leading universities), official Warsaw is behaving itself at the moment.

On May 23, gazetawyborcza.pl, one of the most popular Web sites in Poland, published an article by Jan Widacki, Poland’s ambassador in Lithuania from 1992-1996, with criticism of Sikorski’s recent behavior. “We need to talk to Lithuania and persuade them, rather than demanding something from them. Meanwhile, Egidijus Meilunas, Lithuania’s former ambassador to Poland (now vice minister of foreign affairs), who worked hard to bring Lithuanian and Polish intellectuals together, could not reach the Polish minister of foreign affairs for many months. Polish deputy minister of foreign affairs, not the minister himself, received him as an outgoing ambassador to bid farewell. The minister dropped in for a few minutes only to tell him that life will not be easy for his successor here. And so it is not easy. The ambassador [Loreta Zakareviciene] waited for a few months to be able to present her credentials, and this is not only a humiliation to an ambassador, but also hinders her official activities,” Widacki wrote.

Widacki even tries to explain in his article the specifics of the Lithuanian language’s traditions, stating that Obama would be “Obamas” in Lithuanian, though he is wrong in this case – Obama is “Obama” in Lithuanian (the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, which put this article’s translations into Lithuanian and English on its Web site, deleted this Obama-related mistake from Widacki’s article). Widacki writes about the Lithuanian male and female endings a lot in his article. It is clear from his article that the real problem with the ethnic minority name writing in IDs is in Poland, not Lithuania, though Lithuania never made noises about it (maybe due to the difference of northern and southern mentalities).

Ethnic Lithuanian females have no right to their traditional feminine endings at the end of their last names in Polish IDs while Lithuania’s Polish women can have their Polish feminine endings of their surnames in Lithuanian IDs without a problem. All the Lithuanian endings for those Lithuanian citizens, who do not consider themselves ethnic Lithuanians, are not obligatory in Lithuanian IDs. It is up northwards, in Latvia, where the Latvian male and female endings are obligatory in Latvian IDs (and where no Polish diacritics can be found as well), although there is no big number of reports that somebody would suffer severe psychological discomfort due to such Latvian practice. The analysis of Widacki is quite professional and his article’s final sentence about Sikorski’s confrontational policy towards Lithuania says a lot: “it is a road that leads to nowhere.”