THE WEST, THE EAST, THE NATO

THE WEST, THE EAST, THE NATO

Chris Piekoszewski

12 March 1999. I remember it was Friday, not that I am very good at remembering dates, but I particularly remember the headline in the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza: ‘If it’s Friday, we must be in NATO’. The headline paraphrased the title of a comedy called ‘If It’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium’ and it spoke volumes.

Since the end of the Cold War, Poland had been in search of a strategic alliance - due to its geopolitical position. Membership of NATO was very attractive for both political dialogue and military integration.

The Polish Foreign Minister at the time, Professor Bronislaw Geremek, represented Poland during the signing ceremony in Independence, Missouri. He stressed that accession was the actual end of the Cold War.

There were not many public celebrations in Poland (at least in my recollection) apart from some fireworks in Warsaw and raising the Polish and NATO flags near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Pilsudski Square, Warsaw.

As a student who was travelling to the UK, France and the USA for student exchanges and traineeships, this was also symbolic for me. It meant some divisions (west-east) had been further broken down. When I headed off to the USA in June 1999, I felt more confident. After all, our countries were now strategic allies.

Even though my younger generation didn’t feel more secure at the precise moment of our NATO membership (as our totalitarian memories were quite vague), we realised the strategic importance of Polish membership for our present and future. It symbolised the change and transition for Poland that we had been yearning for for a long time.

It also changed the perception of Poland for some foreigners I encountered. People asked me about visiting Poland, its tourist attractions, etc. We were no longer seen as ‘the wild East’.

Foreign policy is not only about inter-state relations or diplomatic affairs. It is also about convictions, attitudes, visions and people. I believe NATO enlargement provided a new dimension for dialogue and changes - not just on geopolitical maps, but also for ordinary people.

About
the Author

Chris Piekoszewski works in the Procurement Service, Office of Financial Control, and is responsible for mission-oriented procurement at NATO HQ. Chris also cooperates with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division on many strategic solicitations.