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The Political Playground:
The G20 St. Petersburg Summit in the Polish Media

Mark Rewizorski, Koszalin University of Technology
July 14, 2015

The eighth Group of Twenty (G20) summit, took place in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 5-6, 2013. It was the first G20 summit hosted by Russia, the only country to be a member of the G20, the Group of Eight (G8) and the BRICS grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In Poland, a country historically, politically and economically tied closely to Russia, the G20 St. Petersburg Summit received quite a bit of attention. It was seen as a part of Russia's "go global" strategy, focused on events such as the G20 and the G8 as well as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summits (which it will host in 2015).

In the Polish media the St. Petersburg Summit was presented as a mixture of economic and political issues with an emphasis on the Syrian conflict, the political determinants of economic growth, and Russian-American relations including political problems related to Edward Snowden, the U.S. National Security Agency analyst who leaked details of its surveillance programmes and had recently been granted asylum in Russia.

Although the chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, just a few weeks before the summit, was in fact a sideline story discussed in the corridors at St. Petersburg and expressed in the "Joint Statement on Syria" issued by only 11 countries (Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States), for the Polish media it immediately became a headline story. In the public view it overshadowed the economic priorities of the summit, namely endorsing commitments to support global economic growth and employment as well as continuing work on the reform of the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions. Polish newspapers and main TV stations presented the Syrian case as a bitter rivalry between the US president Barrack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin (Gazeta Wyborcza, 2013). It was a contemporary interpretation of the Cold War 2.0, which in some views was just beginning. Obama's determination to carry out a military operation against Syria and his accusation of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons was confronted by Vladimir Putin's opposing opinion that the chemical attack was a provocation that led to military intervention (Gazeta Prawna, 2013). On the margin of this clash of views on Syria, the Polish media tried to assess the strength of adherents of the US and Russian positions.

The coverage underlined that the military intervention against Syria openly supported the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia and Canada, while Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy opposed that solution. Commenting on the Syrian Case, the Polish media unintentionally tangled in an old and unresolved discussion about the admissibilty of humanitarian intervention, which has been the centre of internal discussion between the pluralists and the solidarists, two wings of so called "English School of International Relations." While the pluralists defended the integrity of the state, arguing that international law and institutions should strengthen and enforce the principles of sovereignty and nonintervention, the solidarists argued that the promotion of human rights allows for intervention as far as it does not undermine the sovereignty of the state (Wheeler 2002, Rewizorski 2012). Thus, Obama was presented as a proponent of the solidarist option and Putin held the pluralistic view.

Economic and financial priorities did not receive much attention in the Polish media. The cause for this lack of interest might have been general fatigue with the G20, frequently depicted as a "talk shop" or "grocery store" of various agenda items, or it could have been disappointment with Poland's exclusion from this club, or perhaps the relatively slow and inefficient implementation of the G20's commitments. Even the economic issues on the G20 agenda were perceived through the prism of politics where the interests of individual states play a crucial role whether the issue is economic growth, jobs or taxes. The summit's final declaration and St. Petersburg Action Plan, which summarized summit conclusions with respect to macroeconomic issues, the economic, political and social issues, disappeared amidst the political outcry and a race to attract the attention of average news consumer.


Gazeta Wyborcza (2013), Obama i Putin rozmawiali na szczycie G20. "Rozbieznosci w sprawie Syrii pozostaly" http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/1,114871,14560811,Obama_i_Putin_rozmawiali_na_szczycie_G20___Rozbieznosci.html, 6.09.2013

Gazeta Prawna (2013), Szczyt G20: Caly swiat patrzy na Petersburg http://www.gazetaprawna.pl/artykuly/730203,szczyt-g20-caly-swiat-patrzy-na-petersburg.html, 5.09.2013.

Rewizorski, M. (2012). Granice Zachodu w ujeciu angielskiej szkoly stosunkow miedzynarodowych, in A. Galganek, E. Halizak, M. Pietras (eds.), Wielo-i interdyscyplinarosc nauki o stosunkach miedzynarodowych, Warszawa: Rambler, pp. 357-360

Wheeler, N.J. (2002). Saving Strangers. Humanitarian Intervention in International Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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