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Witnessing the Defense of Democracy on the Poland Changemaker Tour

Tomas Martinaitis is a 2022 McCain Global Leader from Lithuania. Since 2019, he has served as one of the youngest deputy mayors in his country and has personally worked on grassroot efforts to welcome and aid Ukrainian refugees in the Akmenė District Municipality. This has included transporting refugees from Poland to safe havens in Lithuania and informing his own citizens about how the local government is supporting Ukraine. 

Senator John McCain was well known for his clear principles: for not being afraid to be unpopular with his decisions, for being the one who goes to the hottest point of the world to say to the world that the battle for democracy always matters. Sadly, we lost him four years ago, and it could be said that today his presence in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine is clearly felt.

Therefore, it was a great pleasure for me and our group of eight members of the McCain Global Leaders program 2022 to have a” Changemaker Tour” in Poland in the middle of July. It was no surprise that the theme of our tour was “Defending Democracy.’’ In my previous blog entry, I wrote that what is happening in Ukraine may form a world in which we will live in the future and if Senator McCain was alive, he would be here.

We started our week trying to better understand the political landscape of Poland. The path which was taken by the current Polish government was encouraging, because this country took the highest responsibility by reacting first to host all of the people running from war to a safer place in the world. It was really important for us to understand what caused this kind of action and how Poland became the first Ukrainian flag keeper – not only in the EU but also in NATO. Nevertheless, it must be said that the political situation and respect for democratic values are far from perfect in this country. I was clearly represented during our meetings with the members of MP, leaders of civil society, and local municipalities. However, all the people we have met agreed that in the face of crisis, all necessary steps were taken and what was done even fulfilled the expectation. The best answer to understand this policy for us was given not in the political discussions or cabinet meetings, but in the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Seeing the price which Poland had paid due to the fight for independence first with the Fascist of Germany, and later with the ‘’liberators’’ from the East helped us better understand the mentality of the Polish people. Moreover, seeing the filmed data from the destroyed city of Warsaw after the Uprising in 1944 and walking through the replica of the sewer system in the museum made all of us, willing or not, remember what happened in Mariupol this spring.

On one of the days, we traveled to the city closest to the Ukrainian border on the Poland side. There, we met Ukrainians running for their lives and spoke with locals who are doing all they can to help them feel safer and better, at least for the moment. It was very emotional to aide in the effort of the exceptional organization World Central Kitchen, which, on the third day of the war, was there to provide people arriving with not only hot meals but hope for people who, in many cases, could not even imagine how the world may change through one night, how everything they had was destroyed at the moment and had to run for their lives. Many of the volunteers said they came only for a week, but after seeing what they saw, they decided to stay for much longer. However, leaders of the local community were told, at first, the number of those willing to help was much bigger. I can only guess that little by little, people even in Poland get used to seeing what is happening in Ukraine and have felt fatigued by their efforts. Therefore, we, the members of the McCain Global Leaders program, decided to create an initiative to remind people that their assistance is necessary, and that there is no pause in the war.

During my last moments in Warsaw, I made a little chat with the taxi driver who took me to the airport. I was encouraged to hear that the driver was also doing his best to help Ukrainians coming and has no fear or envy for those who come to live in Poland.

Ernest Hemingway’s book, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was one of the favorites of Senator McCain. The allusion of this book was that victory of fascism in Spain clearly led to the Second World War. Today, I believe that what is happening in Ukraine may cause the third one. Therefore, helping Ukraine deal with Putin’s army in the land of Ukraine is a clear task for all of the democratic world, and this time the bells are tolling to us.

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DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Tomas Martinaitis
Publish Date
August 4, 2022