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President Trump Visits Poland Ahead Of G-20 Summit

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump's trip to Europe this week begins in Poland, where he arrived tonight. We keep hearing that he'll get a warmer welcome there than he has in other European countries, and that's part of what makes this visit controversial. For the last two years, Poland has been led by a right-wing populist government. Its leaders refuse to take in Muslim refugees. They have cracked down on dissent and on the news media. They've pushed unsympathetic judges off the country's highest court. And the rest of the European Union has widely criticized those policies. At the same time, Poland is nervous about Russia and wants some reassurances from Trump.

Justyna Pawlak is Reuters' bureau chief for Central Europe and the Nordic countries, and we've reached her in Warsaw. Welcome to the program once again.

JUSTYNA PAWLAK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: We're seeing photos of signs with Trump's face on them posted throughout the capitol there. We're hearing of the ruling Law and Justice party bussing in supporters. How would you describe preparations there for the Trump visit?

PAWLAK: I think the country is quite divided over its support for Trump. I think the voters for the current government, the Law and Justice government, are probably quite happy to see him because the Polish government does share so many policy ideas with Trump and the kind of broad dislike for liberalism. Other people in Poland are probably quite concerned about the warm support that he's getting from the government. However, I think most Poles feel eager to hear Trump reiterate his support for NATO's collective defense clause while he's here.

SIEGEL: As excited as the ruling party in Poland is to see Trump, what do you think their message will be about Russia?

PAWLAK: I think the message of this government is that Russia cannot be trusted and should be feared. And the government will be quite eager to hear Trump reiterate that U.S. troops that are here as part of a NATO contingent will stay, and we'll probably be hoping to get a promise of more troops coming.

SIEGEL: Another area in which Donald Trump and the Polish government seem to be on a similar wavelength is the environment. The Poles are big carbon emitters by European standards, I gather. How does their energy situation relate them to Russia or, for that matter, the United States?

PAWLAK: Well, I think Poland is quite keen to buy liquefied gas from the U.S. because it helps Poland diversify its energy supplies away from Russia. At the moment, I think Poland gets about two-thirds of its supplies from Russia, and buying some American supplies would mean that it would have a stronger hand at negotiating with Gazprom in the future.

SIEGEL: Poland went from being the country that really broke up the old Soviet empire in Eastern Europe to becoming a model for Western democracy. How do you understand its transition to the current mood of nationalism that dominates its government?

PAWLAK: I think many people have seen the country move forward economically, have seen incredibly strong growth rates. Poland was the only country in the European Union not to experience recession in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. But many people remain poor, you know, maybe not extremely poor but are earning wages that are significantly, significantly below wages in Western Europe, and they feel, you know, left behind, disenfranchised. They feel like previous governments, the kind of - the more liberal governments did not cater to their needs and kind of forgot them. The current government says it will help them, you know, come to the fore and become more influential in the country.

SIEGEL: Right-wing political movements in Britain and France have been anti-EU movements. In Poland, where for Poles this has been a relatively recent opportunity to go work anywhere in the EU, is there any pressure to leave it, or are even the most conservative people very staunch members of it?

PAWLAK: No, it's quite an interesting thing. The current right-wing government is quite Eurosceptic. It wants to stop further centralization of Europe. It wants to take away some of powers of Brussels and give them back to national governments. But at the same time, it's mindful that many, many - that the vast majority of Poles do support European Union membership because of the benefits that you've mentioned, like visa-free travel and the ability to work elsewhere in Europe but also because of EU aid. I mean EU aid has just been huge in Poland and has helped transform a lot of the country.

SIEGEL: Justyna Pawlak, thank you very much for talking with us today.

PAWLAK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Justyna Pawlak, who is Reuters' bureau chief for Central Europe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.