President Obama in Warsaw: Leaving the locals frustrated?



Der Spiegel, Germany

Poles Feel 'Alienated' After Obama's Visit


"More than anything, the meeting in Warsaw highlighted how little the U.S. president and his Eastern European colleagues have to say to one another."


By Ulrich Krökel



Translated By Stephanie Martin


May 28, 2011


Germany - Der Spiegel - Original Article (German)

Former President and leader of the Solidarity trade union Lech Walesa: His refusal to take part at a meeting on democracy with President Obama was a major dissappointment.

PRESS POOL VIDEO: President Obama and Polish President Komorowski at a discussion on Democracy, May 28, 00:05:25RealVideo

Warsaw: What helps countries like Egypt and Tunisia on their way to democracy? That's what President Obama wanted to discuss with his Eastern European counterparts in Warsaw. But the meeting revealed alienation: In an ironic twist, Obama was snubbed by the hero of the Polish democracy movement [Lech Walesa].


Some residents of Warsaw's Old Town imagined themselves in Armageddon, the site of the Biblical end-time battle. “We were obliged to fly our guests in by helicopter,” Marek Molenda complained when asked about the increased security measures at the heart of the capital. His restaurant is located between the Presidential Palace and the Royal Castle, where the Central European Summit was held from Friday to Sunday.


Although heads of state from around 20 countries were gathered for the summit, Warsovians blame the chaos on the reception of one man: Barack Obama ended his European visit by flying into Poland. Molenda could have done without it. “It's just an annoyance,” he said.


Molenda wasn't the only one short on enthusiasm. More than anything, the meeting in Warsaw highlighted how little the U.S. president and his Eastern European colleagues have to say to one another. And that - despite having an exciting topic of conversation: How can young democracies - Tunisia and Egypt in particular - be supported as they emerge? For many Eastern European countries, the experience of their own democracy is still fairly fresh. Poland, in particular, wanted to offer its expertise gathered during the days of their peaceful revolution of 1989.


But at the last minute, of all people, Lech Walesa - Poland's freedom fighter, former Solidarity leader and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - declined to participate in the meeting with Obama.  His reason: It was little more than a photo op. President Bronislaw Komorowski frankly admitted that it was a “bitter loss.”


The media puzzled over what Walesa's real motive might be. Did he feel snubbed by the fact that the U.S. president didn't want to meet with him privately? Or did he not want to attend because his arch-rival, Jaroslaw Kaczynski - the brother of President Lech Kaczynski who was killed in the 2010 Smolensk air disaster - would have been seated at the table? Walesa once had a falling-out with the Kaczynskis because, unlike them, he didn't have a desire to exact retribution from their deposed Communist rulers. Unfortunately, there's no tried-and-true recipe for democratization.


Michele didn't even make the trip


Even Obama couldn't hide that he felt somewhat out of place in Warsaw. That otherwise radiant smile appeared oddly tortured upon arrival. First Lady Michelle Obama, who had shone in London, skipped the trip to Poland altogether. This was perceived as an “unmistakable snub” by the country's leadership.


Of course, while in Warsaw the president uttered sentences such as: “'We've taken great inspiration from the blossoming of freedom and economic growth in this region.” According to the president, Poland is an example and leader in the region. But in reality, President Obama is somewhat at a loss as to what to do with this part of the world,” says Warsovian political scientist and expert on U.S. affairs, Zbigniew Lewicki. The president's primary objective in Warsaw was to send Eastern Europeans a message: “Look, I haven't forgotten you.”



Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland: On Obama's Visit, Dresses are Lost in a Sea of Suits

Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland: Poles Have Questions for President Obama!

Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland: Polish Jews Express Gratitude for Obama's Visit

Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland: Poland to Give Obama an Earful on End to U.S. Visa

Rzeczpospolita, Poland: Bin Laden and Why America is Stronger than Poland


Bookmark and Share


Indeed, this impression has imposed itself since Obama took office. At the time, Obama offended his colleagues in Poland and the Czech Republic by scrapping plans by his predecessor George W. Bush for a missile shield in based in the two countries. Together with Poland, Bush's efforts to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO were left to languish as well. Long gone are the days when the Bush Administration criticized the “Old Europe” of Germany and France, which allowed Poland to hope for a “special relationship” along the lines of the British model.


But Obama isn't solely responsible for alienating Eastern Europe. Over a year ago, for instance, Ukrainians elected pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as president. Sixty percent of Ukrainians are opposed to joining NATO, with only 25 percent in favor. In Poland as well, not much remains of an orientation toward the U.S. Moderate right-wing premier Donald Tusk and his head of state and fellow party member Komorowski are died-in-the-wool E.U. supporters. When in doubt, they will align their policy with Brussels rather than Washington. “Our government has absolutely no idea how to further develop our relationship with the United States, “says U.S. affairs expert Lewicki.


Fighter jets as a consolation prize


So to add points over and above those that were leaked in advance of the visit, Obama had something else for the Polish government. The U.S. wants to establish a base for F-16 fighter-bombers in Poland - a kind of consolation prize for the failure of the missile shield project. And there are plans for a joint search for shale gas reserves that are thought to lie between the Baltic and the Carpathians. In the U.S., the commodity is regarded as the post-oil era savior. Poland could benefit from existing American extraction technology and one day free itself from dependence on Russian gas and domestic coal.    



Also, a planned side-trip to Lech Kaczynski's grave in Krakow won't take place either. Instead, Obama met with some survivors of the Smolensk airplane tragedy. And the president spoke briefly with Marta Kaczynska, the daughter of the head of state who died in the crash. After the crash in April 2010, Obama had intended to attend Kaczynski's funeral. But the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull prevented him from making the trans-Atlantic flight. This time around, although the Grimsvötn volcano was spewing ash, Obama wasn't prevented from making the trip. It's conceivable after this visit to Warsaw, Obama will be pleased with additional flight cancellations.  



blog comments powered by Disqus






































[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US June 2, 2:35pm]




Bookmark and Share