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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » November 12, 2008
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Obama Win Welcomed, But Fears Remain
November 12, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Polish reaction to the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president has been largely positive, but some have voiced fears that the strong relations built up between Warsaw and Republican administrations may suffer once the Democrats take over.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk Nov. 5 sent a congratulatory letter to the president elect, wished him success and invited him to Poland. Tusk said in his letter that Obama's election victory was good for America, for Poland and for the future of the planet. He stressed that Poland and the United States had close ties of friendship deeply rooted in the past.

"Relations between our countries have developed especially intensively in recent years and have been based on our cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan," Tusk wrote. He also expressed hope that relations between the two countries would be further strengthened thanks to full commitment by both sides to plans adopted to date. In his letter, Tusk also pointed out that over 1 million Poles live in Illinois, the state Obama has represented in the Senate, most of whom live in Chicago. According to Tusk, "the democratic world needs the United States as a strong country open to joint work with those who want peace and security."

Radosław Sikorski, Polish foreign minister, also expects Polish-American relations to gain a new dynamism after Obama's election victory. In a special statement, Sikorski said relations between Poland and the United States were developing favorably. "We expect that the new administration under President Obama will bring a new dynamism to our mutual relations, something which will contribute to strengthening and expanding our cooperation in all spheres which are of interest to us. We have solid foundations to develop bilateral relations. We expect that the new administration will undertake the effort to turn these basic guidelines into specific cooperation programs and projects," Sikorski wrote. He congratulated Obama on his election victory and wished him success in pursuing his foreign policy plans, "which will allow the leadership role of the United States among democratic nations to be strengthened."

Sikorski also wished Obama success in strengthening trans-Atlantic relations and relations within NATO, something Obama had vowed to do during his election campaign. "We expect that the policy of the new president of the United States and his administration will stimulate dialogue among the allies and help us search for effective solutions with regard to issues important for the interests we share," Sikorski added.

The Polish American Congress congratulated Obama on his victory and expressed hope that as president he will work with the Polish-American community. Before the election, there were no regular surveys on whom Polish Americans supported. But reports in the media serving the Polish-American community indicate that support for the two contenders was more or less equal.

According to Polish Americans in Chicago, Obama made no effort to gain their support during the election campaign. But he responded to the questionnaire Polish-American organizations sent to both candidates. The candidates were asked about issues of interest to Poles, for example the lifting of visa requirements for Poles traveling to the United States. Obama supported the abolition of visas for Poles and the deployment of the U.S. missile shield in Poland, with the proviso that it needed further testing.

The latter issue has been the subject of much political debate in Poland recently. On Aug. 20, Sikorski and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement on the construction of a U.S. interceptor missile base in Poland. The base, coupled with a radar installation to be deployed in the Czech Republic, is to form the European part of the American national Missile Defense system.

Both Warsaw and Washington hailed the signing of the agreement as a success. But the Democrats questioned the need to spend huge amounts of money on the defense system and said in the Congress they would cut funds for the program if they won the election. Now that the Democrats have come to power, many politicians believe the missile shield program will be considerably reduced or delayed. If so, a deal which Polish politicians in power in recent years regard as one of the greatest successes of Polish foreign policy could turn out to be a washout. Polish and foreign experts also warn that Washington can change course and start closer cooperation with the most important European partners, like France and Germany. Many believe that, as a result, Poland's role as a key American ally in the region may be diminished.

But for the time being, Polish reaction to Obama's success has been largely positive. Politicians from the ruling coalition compare the battle between Obama and John McCain to last year's parliamentary election in Poland. Grzegorz Schetyna, deputy prime minister and interior minister in the coalition government of the Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People's Party (PSL), said Obama won because the Americans saw him as anti-Bush, just like Poles saw PO as an anti-PiS (Law and Justice) party. According to Schetyna, voters in both countries wanted to put an end to "a bad foreign and domestic policy and a sense of shame and embarrassment."

"In fact, it is a defeat for the republicans, above all a defeat for George W. Bush's eight years in power," Schetyna said. He said a similar situation took place in Poland in autumn 2007 when PO removed PiS from power.
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