A lesson Lithuania hasn’t learned in 450 years

Polish and Lithuanian flags
Polish and Lithuanian flags DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

Lithuania survived as a state only thanks to its alliance with Poland, however, this historical lesson still has not been learned. In commemoration of the Union of Lublin’s 450th anniversary, famous Lithuanian historian, professor Alvydas Nikžentaitis mused, lrytas.lt wrote.

Most Lithuanians are still convinced that without the Union of Lublin, Lithuania would have remained an independent and most importantly – Lithuanian state, which would likely have been stronger. What do you think of this? Vytautas Bruveris asked A. Nikžentaitis.

It is worth recalling, who it was that needed the union more and who was the initiator of it. That’s Lithuania.

After the 1385 Union of Krėva, both states had separate foreign policies and took to different directions. Poland took no part in the intensifying Lithuanian struggle with Moscow. And in the XVI century, one after another we faced losses to the Russians.

This is why Lithuania needed Poland to start sending its military here, which fought for primarily the interests of the Great Duchy of Lithuania.

Yes, Poland sought to dominate in this union, while Lithuania – to retain autonomy. It managed to do so. Hence, the name of “Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth” was not just a declaration – it reflected reality.

In regard to what could have happened if the union had not been made, perhaps today Lithuanians would fight like the Ukrainians so that we would have an independent state.

Furthermore, we would be able to speak to the Ukrainians and Belarussians easily because we would talk the same language.

In other terms, I believe that Lithuania would have become a part of Russia already from the early XVII century.

What of Poland?

Lithuania drew Poland into its wars with Russia, the Poles fought for Lithuania and had to take to the East, which became a sort of geopolitical load. Lithuania involved Poland into wars with the German order, afterwards with Moscow. Finally, everything ended with Poland and Lithuania ceasing to exist as states and being split up for more than a hundred years.

Had this not happened, Poland would perhaps have been more integrated into the West and could have had a similar geopolitical relationship to Russia as, for example, the Czech Republic has now.

Is this how the Union of Lublin is viewed in contemporary Poland?

From the onset of the union to these days, Polish geopolitical thinking has had two competing perceptions.

They are named after two dynasties – the Piast and the Jagiellonian.

The first perception states that Poland must primarily interact and compete with its largest Western neighbours, primarily Germany.

Thus, to this perception both the Krėva and Lublin unions are viewed as massive mistakes, which brought destruction to Poland as a state.

The second perception proclaims that Poland should be an active figure primarily in the East, compete with Russia over Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania, be their main partner and defender.

By the way, in 2009, the then Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski declared on the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper prior to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Gdansk that the Jagiellonian idea failed already prior to the Second World War.

This, in essence, meant that Poland is turning away from Lithuania.

Hence, Lithuania’s interest is that Poland would geopolitically act based on the Union of Lublin and the Jagiellonian tradition?

Of course. We must understand very clearly that Poland continues to balance between East and West and its historic heritage and memory have a live influence on its foreign policy.

Being a large state, it feels insufficiently valued in the European Union.

A very clear expression of this discontent is its current ruling right wing elite, which clashes with Brussels.

At the same time, this elite understands that Poland’s main strength is linked to its role in the East. This is something Lithuania should encourage and make use of.

But it is being celebrated that Lithuanian and Polish political relations are finally improving, returning to the times of strategic partnership. Is there a basis for this euphoria?

The position the Union of Lublin takes in Lithuanian historical consciousness is a very good answer to your question. The Poles brought their army here, helped Lithuania, but we keep clamouring how the Poles are bandits and only wished ill upon us.

So now we want Poland to defend us, to invest and lay roads, but cannot even perform the tasks we promised them long ago and which wouldn’t cost us a cent. I am talking about permitting three letters in identity documents. There are equally many hard-headed nationalists in Poland, they do not like this warming. We should keep this in mind and not give them chances to make an appearance.

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