Polish-Lithuanian border - a relict of the 20th century

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Written by Krzysztof Kolanowski   
Tuesday, 18 December 2007

copyright Jan Darasz 

  • Right before the end of the year we have another reason to celebrate: the bureaucratism, well established on the Polish-Lithuanian border, becomes history.
  • There were times when this border was one of the most complicated and turbulent borders in entire Europe. In the interwar period, after Poland invaded the region of Vilnius, all diplomatic relationships between both countries were freezed. During those times, no official border between Poland and Lithuania could be agreed upon; the countries were separated by a demarcation line. Although there was no formal war, many border guards died in armed clashes. This stalemate ended only in 1938.
  • After World War II, the Polish-Lithuanian border was about to unite two „brotherly“ communist states, Poland and Soviet Union. Alas, the borderland population could not experience this „brotherhood“ too much. A wire fence was built right at the border, which effectively separated the local population from those who lived on the other side. This had a particular negative impact on the Lithuanian minority in Poland which suddenly became isolated from Lithuania. Even in the 80ies, someone willing to make a trip from Suwałki to Kaunas (some 100km in a straight line) was forced to to go via Białystok and Grodno (nowadays situated in Western Belarus). Crossing the Soviet border for private purposes, without being member of any organized group, was almost impossible.
  • After the restauration of Lithuanian independence, many new possibilities for new private and official border-crossing contacts came into sight. But still, the border was clearly visible and „tastable“, not only in the administrative, but even in the mental sense. Strict customs checks, passport stamps, huge waiting queues, and sometimes chicanes - this were typical attributes of the border between Poland and Lithuania. Even in the beginning of 21st century, no one dared to think about getting rid of the wire fence, which had become a well-known tourist attraction in the meantime.
  • Nowadays, all bureaucratic obstacles are about to be abolished. Everyone will be allowed to step into the neighbouring country wherever one pleases, without having to go to the official checkpoint. This is an important Christmas gift for the borderland population, especially for the ethnic Lithuanians in Poland, living in the region of Puńsk (Punskas) and Sejny (Seinai). They may think about rebuilding old roads, which used to join smaller villages on both sides of the border. Parents may think of sending their children to schools on the other side. And even those who live far away from the border will be able to feel the change: after getting on the night bus in Vilnius, the travellers will be able to have a decent all-night sleep and wake up only at final destination, e.g. Warsaw or Gdańsk.
  • Just one tiny remark for the end: it would be a mistake to think that Lithuania and Poland will join the Schengen area simultaneously. Because of the time difference, Lithuania will eliminate the border checks one hour earlier than Poland. Polish President Lech Kaczyński has announced his intention to celebrate this event on the Polish-Lithuanian border checkpoint in Budzisko-Kalvarija. It still remains unclear, at what time he plans to be there...

Bydgoszcz - Poland

Krzysztof Kolanowski is member of Newropeans board. This document can be also found in Lithuanian and Polish on the author‘s homepage: Lithuanian-Polish and Polish-Lithuanian online dictionary.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 December 2007 )
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In memoriam
In memoriam
After a long battle against the disease Franck Biancheri passed away 30th of October 2012, at the age of 51. A great European, a militant democrat, a wonderful person.
Franck Biancheri was founder of AEGEE and founding fathers of the ERASMUS programme. He also was research director of the European thinktank LEAP 2020. In 2005, following the no of the Dutch and French to the Constitutional Treaty, Franck Biancheri founded the European citizens movement Newropeans.