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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » March 5, 2008
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Poland Recognizes Kosovo
March 5, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Poland recognized Kosovo as an independent state Feb. 26. The decision has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum and the Polish Embassy in Belgrade has been temporarily closed for security reasons.

The government was to have recognized Kosovo a week earlier but postponed its decision at the president's request. Prime Minister Donald Tusk met with President Lech Kaczyński Feb. 20. Michał Kamiński, a minister at the President's Office, when questioned on this difference of opinion on recognizing Kosovo said "the president has been saying all along that Poland should exercise caution in this matter." Kamiński added that recognizing Kosovo should not be viewed solely in the context of Serbia or the Balkans, as the decision could affect Poland's relations with Georgia and, to a lesser extent, Ukraine. Kamiński stated on the eve of the official announcement that should the government take this decision "the president will accept it, but will not change his opinion on the matter."

Tusk has justified the decision by pointing to the 20 EU countries which have either already recognized Kosovo or are planning to do so, saying it would be inappropriate for Poland to put its natural Western allies in an awkward position. The prime minister added that by supporting national freedom, especially that of nations which have been striving for independence for centuries, he was upholding a time-honored Polish tradition.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski, speaking at a press conference after the meeting, voiced his hope that recognizing Kosovo would be "a stepping stone towards Serbia and Kosovo being integrated into European structures."

Although Kosovar recognition topped the agenda, the need to improve ties with Serbia was also discussed. Tusk announced a "political mission" to support Serbia's "European perspective" although no decision was taken on who to send to Belgrade. The ruling Civic Platform (PO) believes that whoever embarks on this goodwill mission should be "an authoritative figure respected in the Balkans" rather than a politician with close ties to the government.

Władysław Bartoszewski, a foreign policy advisor to the Polish prime minister, has ruled himself out as a candidate while putting former prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki forward. Mazowiecki was a special U.N. emissary to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. He stepped down in 1995 to protest the world powers' lack of response to the atrocities committed during the Bosnian war, particularly the Serbian army's massacre of thousands of people in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica that year. He also issued a report on human rights violations committed by both sides. Mazowiecki does not discuss Kosovo these days. Nor will he comment on his mooted participation in any conciliatory mission. The largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), views the government's decision to recognize Kosovo as premature, arguing that it is likely to push Serbia into the Russian camp. Party stalwarts, including former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński (PiS), say the government has acted in haste and contrary to Poland's long-term interests.

The opposition Left and Democrats' (LiD) appraisal was similar. "This decision is controversial and hasn't been thought through," said the deputy speaker of the Sejm (lower house), Jerzy Szmajdziński. Szmajdziński believes that Serbia should have been consulted and the Balkans should have been integrated into the EU before Poland recognized Kosovo. He also holds that Poland should have clearly spelled out its position on the rights of minorities.

While the government was meeting in Warsaw, staff at the Polish Embassy in Belgrade were getting ready to go home. Ambassador Maciej Szymański described closing the embassy as "strictly a precaution." Szymański added that he wasn't expecting any violence given that none of the other states that had recognized Kosovo had had their embassies attacked. Most Poles seem to be in favor of recognizing Kosovo. A survey conducted by market researchers SMG/KRC found 56 percent in favor, 23 percent against, and 21 either undecided or disinclined to comment. The survey was conducted by telephone on a sample of 1,000 adult Poles Feb. 22-24.
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