“Very few of our compatriots know anything about the situation in Lithuania”

Aleksander Sztycht, a historian and a Borderlands activist, tells us about the Polish-Lithuanian relations.

To begin with, could you tell us something about your association? What do you do? 

Memoriae Fidelis is a Borderlands organization, managed by a group of young people, although there is no age limit. We generally focus on problems that are ignored or brushed off by e.g. changing authorities. We know that it is a waste of time to force our ideas through some other organizations. Generally, we are not for setting up new Borderlands organizations but rather for supporting the existing ones. However, after long discussions, we decided to set up Memoriae Fidelis because we have our own ideas and we perceive some problems in a bit different way.

Which is? 

We want to promote issues that are very much neglected by the others.

E.g. the problem of Poles in Lithuania? 

95% of our work is focused on that issue now. Before that, some members of our organization were interested in the genocide against Poles conducted by OUN-UPA (the Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists; the Ukrainian Insurgents Army). After some time, even those members decided that the living people are as much important as the OUN-UPA’s victims. That is why we turned to the problem of Poles in Lithuania. Though, it does not mean we ignore other issues.

You organize pickets supporting Poles – the citizens of Lithuania. There were a couple of them last year. What is your aim? 

We aim for publicizing the problem. The European and the Polish public opinion are of our major interest. Very few of our compatriots know anything about the situation in Lithuania which is a EU member. Our task is to give information to people.

Media in general do not say much about the situation. Only since last year, the most shocking and brutal incidents reached the public opinion. Recently, there was a case of a boy who was beaten up on a bus for speaking Polish. 

There are two aspects here. Firstly, the information that reach the public opinion are insufficient comparing to the real situation. On the other hand, it is much better now than it was last year. The truth is that the problem of discrimination against Poles on Lithuania has not existed in media for twenty years.

What was the reason? 

Our authorities believed that the Ukrainian or Lithuanian nationalists distorting history is not a problem. On the one hand, they were right if they thought that the two republics were our allies, but on the other hand… We should not negotiate with fanatics. The nationalist circles in Poland were stigmatized, while the Ukrainian and Lithuanian nationalists were made great democrats. Another gross example was Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution environment. The same was with Vitatutas Landzbergis – they were supposed to represent the intellectual height of democracy, while it appeared that they are not alien with chauvinist manipulations. What I want to say is that the Polish governments always fought for alliances, that were clearly valuable, with our eastern neighbours but they did that at all costs. That is simply not a right thing to do.

Indeed, the cup of bitterness is filled to the brim. Even Adam Michnik has recently got down to the Polish-Lithuanian relations, which seems to be a breakthrough, and he admitted that Lithuania starts to overstep all the limits. 

I am highly critical about this article. This is not a breakthrough. Adam Michnik does not call for ending the Polish policy of constant “giving in”. He gives examples of the Lithuanian authorities’ activity, such as: elimination of Polish education; stealing land from Poles in the majesty of the law; fines for private guides for putting plates in Polish in their own buses; manipulation in constituencies – and he simply calls it “mistrust”. He treats the guilt of Poles and Lithuanians as one. I assume that the editor thought he had to speak about this case. Simultaneously, he did not want to say anything in particular just not to hurt anyone, especially our neighbours. But this does not work very often. Sometimes we have to choose if we are in favour of this side or the other. The equal sign is not always the only right sign in the humanistic thoughts, political mathematics or mathematics in general. I would like to add that the editor also gives the example of surname spelling which is the most trivial thing. Well, it is important but not crucial. He diverts our attention from the key problems to the marginal one.

You are right but this is a symbolic issue. The change in surname spelling is an attack on people’s identity. 

Of course, but I bet that if the Lithuanian side passed a law, favourable for Poles, about surname spelling, the Polish media like “Gazeta Wyborcza” led by Adam Michnik would eagerly inform us that it was a turning point in the Lithuanian policy and we definitely need to be more patient. In the same time, the Lithuanian authorities would rob Poles of their property and they would keep on eliminating Polish education. They would have another twenty years for they activity. This is the situation I am very much afraid of.

What do you think the Polish authorities should do in this case? 

There is one thing they can do for sure. They can speak about this problem more often as well as defend the fact that the Lithuanians in Poland have a better life than Poles in Lithuania. Maybe they are afraid their PR will lose a lot because of that situation. Quite the contrary – they would benefit from a bit of piquancy. Just to remind you – the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk went to Lithuania during his campaign and he supported the Polish people there. That was a good move. Even the late Lech Kaczyński, who did a lot of good things but quietly, had not made such journeys.

What in your opinion had Lech Kaczyński done?

He together with his government were standing up for opening a branch of the University of Białystok in Vilnius. They wanted to make it possible for Polish teenagers to study in a Polish university. Secondly, the Sejm, under the Law and Justice’s command and during the presidency of Lech Kaczyński, passed the Pole’s Card. It was not entirely perfect but at least something. Anyway, Radosław Sikorski (the Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2007) should be given credit for giving one thousand zloties to every Polish family in Lithuania for a set of textbooks and workbooks. It was admittedly only one year, and we are not sure whether the next one will receive the money as well. So that was a micro level activity but a good one. It is worth mentioning that Sikorski is fiercely attacked by the Lithuanian propaganda for his activity. In the propaganda it is claimed that he worked against the image of the current coalition. Well, it is quite the opposite.

In January this year, there has been a research done in Lithuania that showed the proportions of anti-Polish feeling there. 51% of the Lithuanians do not want to live in the Polish neighbourhood. The Romani are the only nation “worse” than us. It is interesting that Poles outdistanced the Jews in this dishonourable ranking. 

The anti-Polish campaign has been present in Lithuania for over twenty years, that is why it is almost impossible to change the situation. The Lithuanian side has tried to hide its activity for a while in view of good Polish-Lithuanian relations. But since the information about the situation of Poles in Lithuania have leaked out, the Lithuanian government has lost all restraint. Black propaganda about the Polish people is spread and it reaches the Lithuanian society. Is it better to stay silent and let the Polish nation to be oppressed for the price of our good image, than to assert keeping the minority rights? In my opinion Lithuania has to be “defeated in this battle”. Europe is watching us.

Do you think that Europe is concerned about this problem? It does not understand what is happening in the Polish-Lithuanian relations. 

I agree. However, Europe knows that there are problems which Poland is not able to deal with. There are several publications on that issue in the British press. The conclusion that our western neighbours should draw is the following: Poland, aspiring for the leadership in the East-Central Europe, fails to solve the problem in Lithuania where the mutual agreements and European standards are violated.

Your words illustrate a black and white picture. Do you really believe that the Polish side is not guilty here at all? 

If we really deserve such treatment, we should blame ourselves for leniency towards Lithuanian complexes. They found our generosity our weakness. In the EU’s opinion Lithuania is a mentally “wild” country. We can keep our courtesy and turning the other cheek for arguments (if any) with the Scandinavian countries. They would appreciate that. If it comes to the Lithuanian authorities – this is rather a sign of contemptible weakness.

You are right. However, the Lithuanian politicians do not care about the minority rights but their own country’s good. They are afraid of Polish influence, so they want to neutralize it. Do you believe in any changes in the Polish-Lithuanian relations in the near term?

Apparently, in their earlier agreements, they thought about the Polish-Lithuanian relations in a bit different way. Anyway, we would have no interest in similar treatment of five thousand of Lithuanians in Poland. The opponents would claim that the situation of Poles in Lithuania is different. There are about 200-300 thousand of them. Contrasting this fact with the 2-3 million Lithuanian society, it appears that Poles constitute the majority in the Vilnius region. But such way of thinking is taken out of context. We could ironically say: “What you see is what you get”. In 1990 they “got” foreign territory given to them as a “present” from Hitler and Stalin. The territory which had belonged to the Second Polish Republic and inherited the Polish-Lithuanian traditions. The territory was taken by the Republic of Lithuania which had pagan traditions. Lithuania has also a “tradition” in grabbing territories with a foreign ethnic groups. Lithuania has no right to force its citizens to become the same. It should appreciate any sign of patience instead. The improvement in the mutual relations cannot coexist with hypocrisy. This is my general criticism to the Lithuanian authorities.

Source:  http://www.goniecwolnosci.pl/archiwum/4-2012/ma%C5%82o

Tłumaczenie Marta Dubiel w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Marta Dubiel the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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