Bwog’s Poland Bureau Chief Sara Jane Panfil caught Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski’s Harriman Institute talk.

This morning, the Foreign Minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski, drew a packed crowd in room 1501 of the International Affairs Building as he discussed the changing political climate in Eastern Europe and reflected upon Poland’s place in world history over the past seventy years. 

2008 is a big year for Poland: it’s been seventy years since World War II, twenty years since the collapse of the USSR, ten years since it joined NATO, and five years since it joined the European Union. Plus, this year Poland and the US reached a monumental agreement for a U.S. military base to be built on Polish soil. Additionally, the EU has successfully prevented war from breaking out on the continent for the longest period of time in world history.

Sikorski attributed much of Poland’s success to its absorption of Western ideals, and enthusiastically referenced his nation’s continued geniality with the United States and the rest of the West.  This is not to mention Sikorski’s friendliness with Columbia itself: the University awarded his wife, Washington Post/Slate columnist Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize in 2004, and he is also working on an endowment for the creation of a Polish Studies chair. 

But in spite of prosperity in Poland and Sikorski’s Columbia pride, his talk inevitably turned to the big red bear of the East. In that uniquely diplomatic-but-I-mean-business kind of tone, he said that Poland would consider any further Russian acts of aggression to be an “existential challenge” that would require the use of “proportionate action.” 

Which is okay, since Poland has a modern military now; even Sikorski made the joke, “I never thought I’d see Poland become a military super-power.”  But indeed it has: Poland has enthusiastically participated in every NATO military endeavor, and its national defense programs continue to grow with the blessings of its more benevolent neighbors.  

According to the Foreign Minister, Poland is now an active player on the world stage, and plans to assert this role positively and proactively.  The nation has certainly moved away from the past, and hopes that, one day, all of its neighbors will make the same ideological shift.  He even referenced Karl Marx, of all people: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”