Thursday, May 04, 2006

Old Links With New Meanings

The conference in Vilnius is over, most participants have returned or are on their way home, and I have ended up for the evening nearby Parma in northern Italy.

It was undoubtedly a succesful conference.

This group of countries meet for the first time in Kiev in December of last year, but there is no doubt that there will be further meetings after Kiev and Vilnius.

There is a need to discuss common values for our common neighborhood.

It is striking how a new time brings forward also old links and ties of different sort.

The conference was jointly hosted by the President Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania and President Lech Kaczynski of Poland, and discussions to a large extent dealt with the situation in the areas of Europe that where once covered by the union that existed between the two.

The union of Lublin that created the common state was set up in 1569, but could fall back on nearly two centuries of common existence. It lasted until the Napoleonic wars, and come to cover a very larg part of Europe between the Baltic and the Black Seas.

Relations between Poland and Lithuania have certainly not been harmonious all the time since then, although they were both parts of Imperial Russia for a long time. When they regained their independence in 1917, however, disputes over Vilnius poisoned their relationship for more than a generation.

But those days are gone.

They are both members of both the European Union and NATO, and they are both now looking towards the East in an important part of their engagment. The border to Belarus is only 50 km from Vilnius, and Kiev is close to both Vilnius and Warzaw.

Together, there is no doubt that Poland and Lithuania can serve an important function as a bridge between the trans-Atlantic institutions and those countries in the East of Europe that are not yet members of these.

The union of Lublin is unlikely to be resurrected. But there are new links growing from old connections.

All to the benefit of a new Europe.