Waiting at Europe's Door: Poland Occupies an Uneasy Middle Ground between America and the European Union. Its Future, for Now, Lies with Both

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Byline: Stryker McGuire, Ginanne Brownell

Aleksander Kwasniewski has played the political fireman this year. Poland's two-term president strongly supported America in the Iraq war, angering France and neighboring Germany, its biggest trading partner. Another flare-up could come on June 8, when Poles vote on entering the European Union. The 48-year-old former communist discussed his plans and challenges last week with NEWSWEEK'S Stryker McGuire and Ginanne Brownell at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: To be legally binding, 50 percent of Polish voters must turn out for the referendum. Will they?

KWASNIEWSKI: It won't be easy. But Poland would be making a terrible mistake by voting no. We would be entering a deep political crisis.

Many Poles fear that joining the EU would somehow sacrifice their cultural identity.

The European Union has been around for 50 years. Not one of the countries has lost anything in their identity, national language or traditions. There is no reason to think Poles will stop speaking Polish, or start eating oysters and drinking only red wine. [Laughs]

Poles also worry they will be second-class citizens.

The European Union is the ticket to the future. If we do not get the best tickets on the train today, we will have an opportunity to move later, to get better seats.

Poles once looked to America as the land of opportunity. Does the younger generation look toward Europe?

Yes. It is a big change. …