News2019.07.16 12:00

Nausėda in Warsaw – courtesy visit or chance to tackle minority issues?

As Lithuania's new President Gitanas Nausėda makes his way to Poland on Tuesday, local observers disagree what should be the aim of his first foreign visit – a courtesy introduction, or a chance to tackle Lithuania's Polish minority issues that caused tensions between Vilnius and Warsaw in the past.

Observers note that President Nausėda's decision to go to Warsaw on his first foreign visit, just days after his inauguration, is more important to Lithuania than Poland.

In the run-up to the trip, the Polish media did not show much interest.

“Lithuania is not the kind of country that attracts much attention of the Polish public, which is more excited about the coming visit of Donald Trump on September 1-2,” according to Marijuš Antonovič, a lecturer at Vilnius University's Institute of International Relations and Political Science. “Sure, politicians and observers who are invested in this topic do follow the visit, they are naturally interested in the kind of person [that Nausėda is], who is a bit of an unknown.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda said in an interview to LRT last week he was happy with Nausėda's decision to come to Warsaw, calling it “a gesture of friendship”.

Read more: Exclusive interview with Poland’s Duda – brotherly connection with Lithuania, shared values with Nausėda

Lithuanian observers note that the point of the president's visit is simply to make a good first impression and strike friendship with Poland's leaders.

Antonovič says that Nausėda should make sure to present himself as different from his predecessor Dalia Grybauskaitė.

“[He should] at least try to establish a personal relationship, because our previous president performed poorly in this area, it was her weak point,” the political scientist tells LRT TV.

Making friends with Polish leaders might mean making promises about issues important to Lithuania's Polish-speaking community, who have been unsuccessfully pressing the government, among other things, to allow the original spelling of their names in passports and bilingual signposts in ethnic minority-dominated areas.

Back in the 2000s, former president Valdas Adamkus had made the promise to resolve the issue to his Polish counterpart, but failed to get the parliament to pass the legislation.

Conservative MP and former foreign minister Audronius Ažubalis insists that Nausėda should refrain at all cost from making similar pledges.

“Former president Dalia Grybauskaitė had cut this torrent of promises which truly would not do any good,” Ažubalis tells LRT TV.

Historian Alvydas Nikžentaitis, however, thinks that the Lithuanian president “should make those promises and, importantly, fulfil them".

“If you look at our region, Poland is our most important ally and [the visit] is an important symbolic gesture that I applaud,” according to Nikžentaitis.

Accompanied by his wife Diana Nausėdienė, President Nausėda is meeting Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday, as well as leaders of Poland's Sejm and Senate, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and former PM, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party Jarosław Kaczyński.

LRT has been certified according to the Journalism Trust Initiative Programme