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Poland — Still Between East and West?

Are the EU and the West ready to open up to the new Poland?

July 21, 2003

Are the EU and the West ready to open up to the new Poland?

Poland went through three partitions during the 18th century — four fights for independence during the 19th century, World War II and the era of the Soviet Union’s “watchful” eye. When Lech Walesa became president in 1990, a true democracy and a market economy were born. Now, Poland is reshaping itselt again with Aleksander Kwasniewski at the helm. Our Read My Lips feature explores the Polish renaissance.

Why is the European Union (EU) so important to Poland today?

“A permanent seat at the European table will mark a symbolic end to three centuries, during which Poland lived on Europe’s periphery under foreign domination — or in fear of its neighbors.”

(John Reed, Financial Times editor, April 2003)

Why join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?

“We simply don’t believe that Europe without the United States is safe. If this century has taught us anything, it’s that Europe and North America are one strategic space.”

(Senior Polish official, on joining the proposed European Defense Initiative, June 2000)

How close are U.S.-Polish relations since Iraq?

“Poland needs prestige and Washington — which needs an ally — is treating it very nicely.”

(Krzysztof Bobinski, editor of the Polish magazine Unia & Polska, May 2003)

What is one of the biggest challenges for Poland’s foreign policy?

“We’re asked ‘Are you for America or Europe?’ It’s like choosing your mother or your father.”

(Jan Kulakowski, Poland’s lead negotiator with the European Union, June 2000)

How has Polish foreign policy developed recently?

“Poland, today, is playing the role that Germany itself assumed — up until recently.”

(Editorial in Die Welt, May 2003)

How does Russia fit into this equation?

“Does the West have the political will to do what is good and right — even at the risk of antagonizing Russia? Our goal should not be limited to having only friendly relations with Russia.”

(Bronislaw Geremek, Poland’s former foreign minister, speaking in support of the bid of nine eastern European countries for NATO accession, June 2000)

Are there any bad omens regarding Polish membership in NATO?

“Poland never joined an alliance that didn’t collapse.”

(Washington foreign policy expert Edward Luttwak, on NATO expansion, April 1997)

How do you explain your country’s solid economic development since 1989, President Kwasniewski?

“Contrary to Mr. Gorbachev’s pronouncements in the field of the economy, the last may well be — the first.”

(Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski, paraphrasing Mikhail Gorbachev, on reasons why his country managed to transform itself so quickly, July 1996)

How do Germans feel about this?

“Germans are deeply convinced that it is not their responsibility to worry about Polish construction workers — as long as they receive German wages!”

(Norbert Walter, chief economist of Deutsche Bank, on competitive pressure from Eastern European countries, March 1999)

Does the rest of the world agree?

“Our biggest competitors are not McDonnell Douglas and the Airbus consortium of Europe. It’s workers in Mexico and Poland.”

(Boeing employee, February 1996)

And finally, how attractive is Poland for Poles who made their fortune abroad?

“I am not facing as much competition as I would in New York. Here I’m more powerful.”

(Arkadiusz Weremczuk, Polish-born fashion designer, May 2003)