Troubled Russian-Polish relations require sound, humane approach — experts

January 22, 2015 4:58 pm

Troubled Russian-Polish relations require humane ways to solve them, such as direct and constructive dialogue that allows people from both countries to hear and listen to each other, said guests of the Russian-Polish youth forum hosted in Moscow and Russia on December 13-17, 2014.

The Polish guests and the Russian participants researched the problem of repairing Polish-Russian contacts, and discussed the role and the potential of younger generation in this process during the three forum workdays that took place in the “Chistye Prudy” hotel complex in the Penza region.

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Several experts paid particular attention to the problem of establishing contacts between the new generations in Russia and Poland. One of them, Paula Nangnerowicz, project coordinator at the Polish Center for Citizenship Eduction, pointed out the importance of early contacts, when their opinion of each other is formed while they are under constant influence of many factors, such as international history studies, and various potentially false notions.

In her opinion, youth conferences such as the Russian-Polish forum provide a real opportunity to openly ask questions, learn more about each other, and establish closer contacts that may be useful in the future.

“I think the best thing that we can do is meet, talk about what is important for us, what is important for you, what are our problems which are the same for us, where we are different, what we can do to remember about these similar situations and similar problems, and forget about differences,” the expert stressed.

However, Cornelia Reichel, culture management at the fund “Yulanovsk – Capital of Culture” fund for the Robert Bosch Stiftung, noted that establishing dialogue may sometimes not be easy.

“You can have dialogue only when you know the topic. I have been living in Russia for a year, and I have an impression that people in Germany and, I think, in Poland do not know what the Russians are thinking, and vice-versa – the Russians do not understand what people in Poland and German are thinking. Finding the issues we must talk over to understand each other – this is my primary mission, my primary task, and I think this idea must always be present in contacts between Russia and Poland, between Russia and Germany, between Russia, Poland and Germany,” she pointed out.

In the expert’s opinion, Russian-Polish relations have good development potential, but bringing them up to a new level would require many decades of regular and close contacts supported by various platforms for people-to-people communication.

“This is the first step, then more joint projects: if we work this way, I think it will be much better 10-20 years from now,” Cornelia Reichel believes.

At the same time, Marek Baranski, co-chairman of the Russian-Polish Youth Council, regretfully stated that current relations between two countries are far from ideal.

“We stopped understanding each other. In the last 25 years, we lost the ability to understand each other perfectly well. Of course this also shows in our international relations,” he said in an interview to “PenzaNews” agency.

In his opinion, there were several reasons for this change, including the uneasy 2014 Ukrainian conflict.

Marek Baranski stressed that establishing contact is the only way to bridge the gap between Moscow and Warsaw.

“Right now, people in Russia are sticking to their opinion, people in Poland to theirs, and there are very few platforms for discussion like this one. We simply will not luck out without dialogue,” he said.

Dmitry Gorodov, public relations specialist of the Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding, spoke in support of this point of view.

According to him, cultural and scientific contacts are vital for overcoming political and ideological issues in order to move on to mutual cooperation.

“The next year of culture [of Poland] in Russia is not cancelled – on the other hand, it’s been boosted. There was a large press conference of the Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky: he said that culture cannot be cancelled, it’s impossible to do, and we will be opening even more for our partners in Poland and other countries. There will be other projects as well: I’m speaking not only about Russian-Polish relations, but also other projects with other countries. We are not canceling anything, only boosting the campaign in order to establish dialogue with other countries,” he stressed.

However, Dmitry Gorodov reminded that several recent events had negative impact on international relations, and current political climate forced the Russian-Polish Group on Challenging Issues to temporarily shut down.

“It included many respectable persons from both countries, and the group was active until now. Around this time, in November, they would have had another meeting in Lublin, but this did not happen at the initiative of the Polish party. We fully supported [the event], and all our representatives were ready,” he said.

Nevertheless, the representative of the Center for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding expressed his belief that constructive dialogue will resume despite the present issues.

“The politicians can negotiate, and out countries have all the potential for future mutual cooperation, including cultural affairs,” he explained.

According to Mateusz Czerniga, board member of the Polish Council of Youth Organizations, both countries need such cooperation even more than ever before.

“In Poland, one institution took some experiments. According to them, 65% of Polish people think that our relations are the worst in the history ever. The important thing is that 40% of these people think that better relations are possible, but we just have to come to the round table and talk about the problems, talk about the things which have to be solved,” he said.

From his point of view, Polish-Russian cooperation must be based not on official contacts, but on common culture, Slavic roots and common identity of both peoples.

“The current problems between Poland and Russia are that we are working on our own relations on the political level. We should come a step further, or rather a step forward, and come back to the relations between people themselves. We should talk not only on political level. We should move away some historical problems, like the things which happened during WWII, and we have to talk as people,” Mateusz Czerniga explained.

According to Konstanty Chodkowski, founder and director of the Adam Jerzy Czartoryski International Fund, this requires overcoming current stereotypes that were formed both in Poland and Russia by the media.

“If there is no knowledge, we are only thinking of stereotypes that are known to us but do not reflect the reality. They form myths, other stereotypes, bad relations: nobody wants to ask about it, nobody wants to meet with each other – they simply somehow know what they know, have vague opinion about Poland and Russia,” he stressed.

The expert expressed his belief that both Russia and Poland must allocate more funds to organizations that work to establish closer diplomatic relations between the states.

“All countries have much less useful items the authorities are spending money on. For example, how should I explain the logic of the Polish government, if the Center for Polush-Russian Dialogue and Understanding receives only 4 million zloty, while so-called ‘milk bars’ in Warsaw that sell cheap but poor-quality meals receive 26 million zloty a year. I see that it is more important for my country to support ‘milk bars’ […] rather than dialogue between Poland and Russia, because there’s no money for it. We have several research institutions: their budgets are very scarce. At the same time, ballet-dancing schools in Poland receive 40 million zloty a year. What are the priorities? I’m not against ballet-dancing schools, but I think the moment makes achieving understanding between Polish and Russian people much more important,” Konstanty Chodkowski said.

In his opinion, students exchange programs that should be promoted through city-to-city contacts can facilitate friendly relations.

“There are laws, and there is potential. Each year we can invite Polish gymnasium students to Russia and Russian school students to Poland. If this happens, they will know more about Russia and Poland right from childhood,” the expert pointed out.

In his opinion, another important task is experience exchange between people who have had first-hand contact with foreign culture.

“I know Russian language, and I’m telling people in Warsaw that Russians do not want to offend, attack or rob anyone. You know it perfectly because you live here, but it’s not so obvious in Poland,” said the analyst.

In conclusion, he stressed that closing the gap between Russia and Poland requires resolute cooperation and united force of many social organizations in each country.

“This depends only on us, on what we do after the forum: either we just had a visit, had a nice talk; or we begin doing something, building relations out of these meetings and contacts we had here. There are quite many initiatives like this all over Russia: if all people who do this unite, they’ll make a great force that can make something real,” the expert concluded.

The Russian-Polish youth forum was organized by the National youth council of Russia and supported by the Ministry of Education and Science and the Penza State University. Its main program took place in Penza on December 14-16.

The event aimed to encourage international youth cooperation, develop intercultural contacts, create of a unified infospace, and boost youth contacts of both countries.

After the three workdays of the forum, the guests of the event held a meeting with representatives of the Federal Agency on Youth Affairs in Moscow.

The second Russian-Polish youth forum is expected to take place in Poland in 2015. 

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