Radoslaw Sikorski on immigration, history, and the hole in the Polish state

My colleague Josh Rogin and I had the chance to sit down this morning with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is in town for a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. Josh will have some details on our conversation about U.S.-Polish relations and missile defense over at The Cable, but I thought ...

JUERGEN SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
JUERGEN SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
JUERGEN SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

My colleague Josh Rogin and I had the chance to sit down this morning with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is in town for a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. Josh will have some details on our conversation about U.S.-Polish relations and missile defense over at The Cable, but I thought I'd share a few interesting remarks from the conversation.

Sikorski described the "huge hole in the Polish state" left by the plane crash earlier this month that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 96 others including the first lady, national bank president, a number of senior military offiers and 12 members of parliament. Sikorski described the fact that the constititution "stood its test" as the one "silver lining of the tragedy", but acknowledged the difficulties of working in such a decimated government: 

It is very personal to all of us because it’s not just the fact that I lost one of my deputies, who went in my stead to the ceremony, and he was my deputy for relations with Russia and Consular Affairs. He was also the man who was in charge of three areas: Russia relations, Consular Affairs, and Legal Affairs, he was the man who negotiated the Status of Forces agreement between Poland and the U.S., so it’s a terrible loss. I lost the head of Diplomatic Protocol, who should have been organizing the burial of the Head of State.

My colleague Josh Rogin and I had the chance to sit down this morning with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is in town for a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. Josh will have some details on our conversation about U.S.-Polish relations and missile defense over at The Cable, but I thought I’d share a few interesting remarks from the conversation.

Sikorski described the “huge hole in the Polish state” left by the plane crash earlier this month that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 96 others including the first lady, national bank president, a number of senior military offiers and 12 members of parliament. Sikorski described the fact that the constititution “stood its test” as the one “silver lining of the tragedy”, but acknowledged the difficulties of working in such a decimated government: 

It is very personal to all of us because it’s not just the fact that I lost one of my deputies, who went in my stead to the ceremony, and he was my deputy for relations with Russia and Consular Affairs. He was also the man who was in charge of three areas: Russia relations, Consular Affairs, and Legal Affairs, he was the man who negotiated the Status of Forces agreement between Poland and the U.S., so it’s a terrible loss. I lost the head of Diplomatic Protocol, who should have been organizing the burial of the Head of State.

The tragedy also somewhat overshadowed the reason for the delegation’s trip, the commemoration of the 1940 Katyn massacre of over 20,000 Polish nationals by Stalin’s secret police. In an earlier interview, Sikorski had an expressed an interest in Russia “discussion about its own history.” With Russia opening its Katyn archive this week, I wondered how Sikorski thought this discussion was going:

I think great countries have to be capable of acknowledging that not everything they did in the past was good. Germany has built a trust and a friendship with her neighbors by acknowledging the past. You in the U.S. have had your admissions of the facts to do with slavery and to do with the Native Americans. So I think it’s encouraging that even before this tragedy, Prime Minister Putin came to Gdansk on the anniversary of the 2nd World War. Stalinist history had it that the war for the Soviet Union only started with the German invasion in 1941. And three days before the tragedy Prime Minister Putin came to Katyn with our prime minister and for the first time the Russians showed the movie Katyn on their television, so the Katyn lie is behind us now.

But there have to, of course, be legal consequences of that. All the documents need to be published, the victims need to be rehabilitated, and I think the Russian government would be wise to come to some kind of agreement with the Katyn families.

One issue that gets little coverage in the U.S., but is a major sticking point in U.S.-Polish relations, is that Poland is the only E.U. country whose citizens still need Visas to travel to the United States. 

Your actual policy seems to prevent tourism from Poland and to accept large-scale migration from Latin America. We respect this, that’s your policy….. But I believe all citizens of the EU should be treated equally. In Poland it’s become really not a practical issue, but a symbolic one. Our soldiers are good enough to fight alongside you in Iraq and Afghanistan, but if they wanted to get together for a veteran’s meeting, our guys would have a problem with visas — it doesn’t sound right.

When asked if he would raise the issue in his meeting with Clinton, he said, “She’s heard our position so many times that I have no doubt that she knows it.”

Finally, I was curious to get Sikorski’s reaction to Britain’s “Bigotgate” controversy, in which Prime Minister Gordon Brown was caught on tape deriding a woman who expressed concern to him about “all these Eastern Europeans coming in.” The foreign minister didn’t seem particularly concerned about a raise in xenophic sentiment in Western Europe:

We also have some problems with British youths organizing stag parties in Krakow, and British football fans. It cuts both ways.

 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy Twitter: @joshuakeating

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