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I recently received this letter from the Ambassador of Lithuania to Poland, H.E. Dr. Egidijus Meilūnas, who very kindly submitted it to be published on this blog.  The letter was originally published in the supplement Rytai-Vakarai (East-West) of the daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania’s Morning), on 30 April 2010 (author of the article: Birutė Vyšniauskaitė, translation by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania). In addition to praise for his character and professional capacity, the letter provides insights into the work that Mariusz was so dedicated to advancing.  My many thanks to Ambassador Meilūnas for sharing this article.

Relations between states are determined not only by their leaders

The loss. President L.Kaczyński was not the only loyal friend that Lithuania lost in the plane crash

Political analysts said that the Smolensk disaster ended the golden age of Lithuanian-Polish relations that had lasted for almost five years. There has been a lot of speculation recently regarding the future cooperation. But will it be determined only by the position of heads of states?

Relations between neighbours were rather good for entire decade when Aleksander Kwaśniewski was the head of Poland. He was even called the principal advocate of our country’s membership in NATO.

When Lech Kaczyński, who was considered radical and nationalist, took the wheel of the Polish state, many people predicted that Lithuania was not going to succeed in finding common language with him.

However, already during his first official visit to Lithuania in March 2006, L.Kaczyński dissipated these apprehensions, as he sincerely and warmly communicated not only with the country’s highest-ranking leaders, but also with the common people.

In the churchyard of Maišiagala church, the Polish leader kissed hands of women of this little town, who came to meet him.

When leaving Vilnius, the President admitted that there was a special atmosphere in the city and that he felt like home there.

Behind the backs – important shadows

During four years and a half, L.Kaczyński visited Lithuania 16 times. President Valdas Adamkus flew to Warsaw even more frequently.

Today, people most often say that this was determined by a very close relationship between the two presidents.

But the team members stood behind the backs of the presidents,  and they worked like a Swiss watch.

For three years, Mariusz Handzlik served as L.Kaczyński’s foreign policy advisor and was killed together with the President. M.Handzlik was familiar with the route Warsaw-Vilnius-Warsaw as if it were a road to his homeland.

What determines close relations of diplomats and heads of state and what can be achieved when high-ranking officials understand each other without words?

On this subject, the daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas interviewed V.Adamkus, his former foreign policy advisor Valteris Baliukonis, Lithuania’s Ambassador to Poland Egidijus Meilūnas and historian Alfredas Bumblauskas.

Sale of Mažeikiai Crude Oil Refinery

“Almost all the points that Lithuania and Poland negotiated were implemented with an active participation of both presidents.

Let’s take, for example, the sale of Mažeikiai Crude Oil Refinery to Poland. L.Kaczyński himself mentioned it on his first-ever presidential visit to Lithuania. He feared that the Russians could take hold of Mažeikiai Refinery.

When preparing for the retaliatory visit of V.Adamkus to Warsaw, I told M.Handzlik that we could not return home without bringing news about the sale of the Refinery. He organized everything in a very short time,” V.Baliukonis said.

At the Presidential Palace, V.Adamkus and his delegation were pleasantly surprised, when L.Kaczyński handed in the documents saying that PKN Orlen, the current owner of Mažeikiai Crude Oil Refinery, was determined to purchase the Refinery.

Twists regarding the power bridge

“M.Handzlik has more similar merits. For example in 2007, Poland and Lithuania started to disagree on the power bridge.

Polish Minister of Economy Piotr Woźniak questioned pragmatic benefits of this project.

In order to mitigate the position of his country’s minister and Lithuania’s reaction to it, M.Handzlik found time to fly to Vilnius for one night.

As usual, we went to the restaurant Žemaičių Smuklė and ordered vėdarai (potato sausages). M.Handzlik loved this dish and jokingly called it ‘kiszki’.

Although Mariusz could have stayed and waited for L.Kaczyński, who was coming to Vilnius another day, he flew to Warsaw to be able to brief the President on board of a plane regarding Lithuania’s position about the power bridge,” V.Baliukonis recalled.

Efforts of the presidents of both countries and their teams resulted in the establishment of a joint Polish-Lithuanian company for the construction of the power bridge.

Patriot of Poland and Lithuania

Ambassador E.Meilūnas had the pleasure to communicate with M.Handzlik even more often than V.Baliukonis.

“His strategic thinking and diplomatic skills were always a pleasant surprise,” the Ambassador said. “Besides, nowadays we would hardly find many Polish and Lithuanian civil servants, who would claim with such sincerity, as Mariusz, that they lived by the motto ‘God, Honour, Fatherland.’ M.Handzlik truly lived up to the motto.”

M.Handzlik also had a slogan – a somewhat Lithuanianized line of the Polish National Anthem. Instead of the words “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęla, kiedy my zyjemy” (Poland lives as long as we live), he loved say “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęla, kiedy Litwa zyje” (Poland lives as long as Lithuania lives ).

The Lithuanian Ambassador recalled his last trip together with M.Handzlik to Vilnius, two days before the crash of the President’s plane near Smolensk.

“After the meeting of L.Kaczyński and President Dalia Grybauskaitė in Vilnius, we returned to Warsaw on the same plane that crashed later.

We planned to meet after his journey to Katyn, because we had many plans. Mariusz said that he was preparing for a visit to the United States and had a lot of work to do, but he could not miss the flight to Katyn, because he had to accompany the President,” E.Meilūnas said.

On 10 April, when the news about the crash of L.Kaczyński’s plane near Smolensk and about all the victims of the tragedy reached E.Meilūnas, he went to the Embassy and found a message that M.Handzlik had sent to him:

“Another meeting of the Polish and Lithuanian presidents and talks of the delegations in Vilnius testified to excellent relations between our countries and our agreement on Euro-Atlantic issues. I also hope that our conversations on Lithuania’s ethnic minorities and energy security will prove useful for the future of both countries. 9 April, 7:10 p.m.”

Helped to make Druskininkai famous

M.Handzlik used to say that Lithuania was his second home, and the friendship of Lithuania and Poland would last forever. The town of Druskininkai, where he spent a vacation with son Jan last year, fascinated him. M.Handzlik dreamed to go to Nida, but never made it.

However, he managed to make Druskininkai famous in Poland.  M.Handzlik found time for this, even though he was very busy with foreign policy issues.

Late last year, M.Handzlik organized a visit of the delegation of heads of Druskininkai to Katowice and flew there from Warsaw for a few hours himself.

Loss of a great strategist

“People, who were killed in that crash, were people for whom the importance of their country was defined not by Poland’s dominion, but by the meaning of its responsibility.

In other words, they were great not because of  their intentions, but because of their obligations,” A.Bumblauskas said when he returned back from the funeral of M.Handzlik on April 26 in Warsaw.

The Professor recalled also his last meeting with M.Handzlik last December.

“In my opinion, he was one of the coolest Polish foreign policy strategists, who understood very well that the future of Central Europe would depend on the path which the U.S.A., Russia and the Caucasus choose.

I could only add that Lithuania meaningfully complemented Poland’s obvious leadership in Central Europe. Let’s hope that this will continue to be true in the future,” A.Bumblauskas said.

When assessing M.Handzlik’s sympathies for Lithuania, the historian stressed that the departed was influenced by the most prominent Polish figures, who had always favored our country.

“Mariusz was a loyal follower of the ideas of famous Polish politician and thinker Jerzy Giedroyc. From 1954 on, the latter would on numerous occasions say that Communism would collapse and the Polish people would have to adjust to living without Grodno, L’viv and Vilnius,” A.Bumblauskas said.

Personal approach is also important

The Professor had met L.Kaczyński himself at a seminar in Vilnius.

“Before giving the speech, I noticed the gloomy mood of the President and tried to provoke him.

When assessing the Polish-Lithuanian relations, I said that the generation of our grandparents looked at them through the prism of conflict.

And the symbols of my generation were Seweryn Krajewski, the rock band Czerwone Gitary, Czesław Niemen, Maryla Rodowicz and the radio programme “Lato z Radiem”.

L.Kaczyński listened to this comment with a broad smile, so characteristic of him.

“’A genuinely good bloke’, I thought then”, the historian recalled.

V.Adamkus calls M.Handzlik a friend

The friendship of President V.Adamkus and M.Handzlik began at the time when Poland’s leader was Aleksander Kwaśniewski. When L.Kaczyński became President, V.Adamkus met with M.Handzlik more often. “He always met me in Warsaw. More than once during the negotiations, we discussed common Polish-Lithuanian affairs and talked as good friends. Once I was pleasantly surprised, when he even found me during some business forum in Chicago to discuss important issues,” V.Adamkus recalled.

According to V.Adamkus, the advisor to Poland’s President understood very well how to make use of the common history of our countries today. He had said repeatedly that despite the mistakes, which Poland and Lithuania sometimes made, this was a golden age of bilateral relations between the countries.

“We have lost a good friend of Lithuania, who, side-by-side with President L.Kaczyński, made a significant contribution to the establishment of closer relations between our countries. I valued his ideas and international cooperation initiatives very much. I knew him not just as a gifted diplomat, but also as a noble man. I feel that I have lost a good personal friend,” Lithuania’s Ambassador E.Meilūnas read these words of V.Adamkus during the Requiem mass that was offered for M.Handzlik in Warsaw.

Translated from the supplement Rytai-Vakarai (East-West) of the daily newspaper Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania’s Morning), 30 April 2010 (author of the article: Birutė Vyšniauskaitė, translation by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania).

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