Prime Minister of Lithuania Algirdas Butkevicius (L) with Prime Minister Donald Tusk (R): photo - PAP/ Radek Pietruszka
Speaking at a joint press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday evening, Bukevicius reiterated pledges of renewed friendship between the two countries, echoing last week's talks between the foreign ministers of Poland and Lithuania.
Likewise, both sides reaffirmed their willingness to create a gas link between the two countries.
“I have always considered Poland as a strategic partner of Lithuania,” Butkevicius stressed, as cited by the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
“Our cooperation must be strengthened, and problems should be resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect,” he said.
Tusk stated that “relations between Poland and Lithuania can and and should be better than good.”
Warsaw's strained relations with the former centre-right government of Andrius Kubilius (which lost Lithuania's October general elections) centred on issues relating to the Polish minority in Lithuania.
Problems included reforms that weakened the autonomy of Polish and other minority schools – in the form of compulsory examinations in Lithuanian in several subjects - as well as disagreements about whether ethnic Poles should be entitled to use Polish spelling in official documents. Similarly, the Polish minority has been campaigning for bi-lingual street signs in areas with significant Polish communities.
“When it comes to the problems of national minorities, a working group has been set up with representatives of four ministries: foreign affairs, education, culture and justice,” Butkevicius noted.
However, he acknowledged tensions with the Polish minority party, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL), which is a junior partner in his centre-left coalition government (dominated by Butkevicius's Social Democrats, the Labour party and the Order and Justice Party).
Butkevicius claimed that on Monday, a breakthrough had been reached with AWPL on all key issues relating to the Polish minority.
“An agreement was made, only that then a contrary statement [by AWPL] emerged to what had been initially agreed," he said.
Meanwhile, amid rumours that AWPL might leave the coalition, Professor Andrzej Pukszto, a noted historian and political commentator at Lithuania's Kaunas University, has argued that the Polish minority party should be more patient.
Speaking to the Rzeczpospolita daily, Pukszto, who is himself of Polish descent, suggested that AWPL leader Waldemar Tomaszewski was being too hasty.
“Tomaszewski is rushing things a little,” he said.
“This government has only been operating for two months,” he stressed. (nh)