In the comunist period the word попутчик was willingly used to denote people who, though not considering themselves communists and not being members of the Bolshevic Party, supported the system by what they said, wrote or did. Unfortunately, попутчик is like Lenin – it lives on. In the Vilnius Region, the communist system went down long time ago but the new regime can still count on its попутчикow. It was only recently that one of them came to the fore. He is the Polish-speaking columnist, official of a high standing and activist of the Lithuanian Liberal Movement – Aleksander Radczenko.
A few days ago, Aleksander Radczenko attacked in his blog „radicalism”, „nationalism” i „irrationality”. He expressed a great deal of frustration over the new assertive, courageous and loud voice of Polish youth in the Vilnius Region that has resounded in the public sphere and, hopefully, has inspired social initiatives already visible in our city. I take this disturbing text of the official as a success of our initiatve. It means that the views that we present and attitudes that we promote are taking root to such an extent that it has caused concern among the elites of the Lithuanian regime to which Radczenko belongs.
Despite its attempt at rationality, Radczenko’s text is based on mindless and immoral presentation of the discriminating Lithuanians and the discriminated Poles, the attackers and the victims, as equal entities. Thus, contrary to its false pretenses, his text is based on aversion to think rationally and give logical answers to questions such as: Which side in this dispute is right?, What motivates the parties and what demands are made based on such motives?, What stances and actions can the discriminated side take so that their inherent values and rights can be defended? However, Radczenko is not interested in such questions. He is not searching for the answer to: „What happened and what were the consequences?”, „What’s the situation now and what future implications will it have? Radczenko himself gives the answers as if talking to himself: „what would happen if Lithuanians were willing to act according to my ideas”. But what such daydreaming has to do with rationality and realism? On the other hand, his article opens up a debate on a tendency to compromise and meekness that have overpowered the minds of the Poles in the Vilnius Region.
What’s the situation?
What’s the reality like? It’s been a hundred times, also in this blog here, that we have raised the question of official discrimination of the Poles inhabiting the Republic of Lithuania since its beginning in 1990. Thick volumes have been written about mass depravation of land which belonged to Polish families but was taken over by the communist regime, now carried out by officials and ordinary Lithuanians. For thousands of Lithuanians – immigrants from Samogitia or Aukštaitija – it was a despicable way of acquiring wealth. For the newly born Lithuanian country, this was a sort of internal colonization, – a term used by Zbigniew Kurcz, a famous Polish sociologist, to describe Polish reality. Do you know Mr Radczenko how many hectares of land that is, or how many people left without means of support? But your philosophy is not to bother yourself with these facts. All you want to do is quote American sociologists in the most general and context-deprived way.
We are being stripped not only of our land, but of such basic and personal possession as our surname. The use of Polish language is being discriminated and limited – the language of indigenous people of the Lithuanian Country. Another method of such domestic colonization is taking institutional actions in order to do away with Polish education system, which, after all, existed in the times of Soviet totalitatianism. Radczenko seems to know about it all and to repudiate it… but what conclusions has he arrived at? – Do not rise up but have faith in good Lithuanian people, who one day will change their ways out of their own and will abandon all the discrimination – Radczenko says. This is how we are supposed to understand Radczenko’s criticism of the assertive and brave stance made by Polish youth from the Vilnius Region and our call for social resistance. However, those ‘good Lithuanian people’ are like Yeti – they it is believed to exist but hasn’t been seen. Nonetheless, Mr Radczenko insists that we keep on wainting for those good pro-Polish Lithuanian politicians and dares to term it rationalism.
I have always understood the analysis of realities as something mutlilayer and long-term. Starting from the closest and the most obvious, one should delve in layers of information moving back in time to comprehend today’s events and trends. Having done such analysis (based on scientific studies), Radczenko’s views and ideology seem even more absurd. Hence, the attidute of Lithuanian political elites appears to be logical in the face of their understanding of their own nation and the way they built their country – it has been a one-nation country ever since. Actions in order to colonise the Vilnius Region internally were taken as early as 4th September 1991 when the local governments in two areas of the Vilnius Region were suspended and when barbarian and thieving ruling of two Lithuanian governors Merkys and Eigirdas started. They were not only ‘paper actions’ of civil servants. We all remember the attack on a disco in Šalčininkai and the shooting in Gudeliai in April 1993, where Lithuanian settlers attempted to intimidate Polish dwellers with the use of the army and the police. These events stand vivid in our memory. Nobody has been held responsible for the glaring criminal acts that the officials, land surveyors and land buyers committed. On the other hand, nobody has refrained from putting on trial those who made efforts to allow the Polish people to shape their own reality. We all remember the so-called “trial of the autonomists” which dragged on for years to intimidate Poles.
Looking back even further, we can bring back the actions of Lithuanian elites during communist times, when the indigenous Poles from the Vilnius Region were considered a worse enemy than the Soviet authorities. There was also a letter from Lithuanian intelligentsia to Nikita Khrushchev which incited to do away with all the Polish education institutions. We remember very well the attitude of Lithuanians during II World War, when they eagerly colaborated with the Nazi Germany to carry out the most atrocious genoside acts. We all remember Ponary. We wouldn’t burden today’s Lithuanians with this historical load if it weren’t for the fact that so far they can’t tell the truth about those times and they still worship the villians of the past (the recent commemoration of Ambrazevičius).
We also remember the most important historical lesson, the times of Lithuanian Republic from the inter-war period which had a very anti-Polish policy. Its consequences are still visible today. We remember how many Poles lived in Lauda at the begining of the 20th century and how many survived till the present day. We remember the warnings of a great indigenous Polish woman, the late Stefania Romer, whose life and experiences joined the times of inter-war Lithuania and the present times. Shortly before her death, she warnened us that today Lithuanians aim at the same acts in the Vilnius Region as they committed years past in the Kaunas Region. And we do believe Her more than the Lithuanian official Radczenko and it is clear to us that if Lithuanian authorities do not resort to the same means as in the past, it is not because they refrain from doing it, it is because the the international situation is different today.
Though young we may be, but we can reflect upon the very early historical events. The birth of this social project, the modern Lithuanian nation, which had little in common with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a multiethnic noble nation. We have read the writings of Jonas Basanavičius, who differenciated Lithuanians from Poles based on the shape of their cranium. We have read the article published in „Aušra” newspaper, which determined the right proportions of pure Lithuanian blood. From the same newspaper we remember the appeal of Jonas Šliūpas to pledge loyalty to the Russian tzar against Poles, and Augustinas Voldemaras who prefered the Soviets to Poles.
Columnists from Prussian Tilsit, Lithuanian pioneers, nationalising peasantry from the region of Suwalki and Samogitia at the end of 19th century, heralded the creation of a new nation according to the thesis of a German political philosopher, Carl Schmitt: they did it by separation from and juxtaposition with another nation. They described the Lithuanian >>us<<, first and foremost, as the ones who are not Polish >>them<<. (Modern) Lithuanian identity has since the beginning been defined as >>not-Polish<< or >>anti-Polish<<. As if this was not enough, they needed more than just declarations of those, as they put it, not so numerous, who, out of their free will, accepted the new Lithuanian identity. Like ideologist of the worst kind, they wanted to decide themselves who belongs to which nation. It is since that moment that the unfortunate theory of ‘Polonised Lithuanians’ has prevailed in the Vilnius Region and has formed the basis for the authorities’ policy towards Poles. Otherwise, why would we have the misnisterial schools, with Lithuanian as the compulsory language, in the areas predominantly inhabited by Poles. Unfortunately, this theory still prevails in the whole Lithuanian society. The majority of our Lithuanian peers do not comprehend that there are still indigenous Poles in the Vilnius Region.
Despite Radczenko’s views, these facts are not the ones to be locked up in a drawer entitled ‘history’. As I noticed before, the same idea of Lithuanian identity, the same definition of Lithuanian nation is still prevalent. It was popular in the times of inter-war Lithuania, during colaboration with Hitler Germany in war time, during the communist period and during the new Republic of Lithuania, which since its beginning till the present day exists on its basis. Today all Lithuanian politicians maintain this theory (even the leftist MP said that “if they are Poles, let them go to Poland”). It is also the common view of most of the Lithuanian enthic group, which as a majority chooses this kind of political option. Lithuanians have not made any intellectual or spiritual effort to redefine how they conceive Lithuanian identity and Lithuania. Why? That is the question for scientists – sociologists, cultural anthropologists. For us it is enough that such is the reality, and Radczenko’s writings here turn out to be totally false with his ‘good advice’.
Apart from the idea that Lithuanians have of their own identity, there is another element, which strengthens animosity of Lithuanian political class towards Poles. I don’t believe in Marx’s thesis about economic determinism. Of course people’s social behaviour is not only influenced by economical conditions, but also cultural factors which I mentioned earlier. But economical factors are of substance here, too. If, as I pointed out, a real domestic colonization has taken place in the Vilnius Region for the past 21 years, there is a whole social group of colonising immigrants who amassed their wealth on suffering of Polish families, whose lands they have stolen with the help of the Lithuanian state. I’m talking about all immigrants from Vilnius and its viccinities, often wealthy and of high social standing, who, out of their own personal reasons, have a negative attitude to Poles. They are also the social element that exerts such an impact on the political elites to continue the anti-Polish policy. Well, it’s hard to own up to being a thief in front of oneself and others.
What could it be like?
The things I write about are not ‘nationalistic delusions’ but facts that have their social and political consequences. We know the social situation not only from sicientific publicantions, TV news bulletins or internet websites but also from living the Lithuanian reality. We don’t inhabit the thick volumes of official files, but Lithuanian streets, side by side with other people. We know the reaction of an average Lithuanian to the Polish language and assertive manifestation of Polish identity. All things considered, I can only describe Radczenko’s writings using an old Polish saying: ‘pipedream’. Radczenko himself admits that all his arguments rest on one caveat – it is the Lithuanian national majority and the Lithuanian state that have to make the first step to settle matters with the Poles and acknowledge their rights. What makes him think anybody on the Lithuanian side wants to make such a step willingly? That he failed to clarify. It is not surprising since there is no rationale that would justify such belief.
We don’t believe in the good will of Lithuanian political parties and in Lithuanian ‘democracy’ as this ‘democracy’ is deliberately adjusted so that there is no room for Poles. It is done by changing administrative division of constituencies so that the number of Poles in each of them is as low as possible – as it has been changed once again recently. You should vote on Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania but it isn’t enough.
Does Radczenko really believe in the views contained in his writings or is he just pretending and building his career on cynical ideology? I don’t know whether he really doesn’t understand what he sees or simply writes in such a way as to achieve his political goals. Whatever the case, I can only feel sympathy for the leaders of the Liberal Movement because they won’t achieve political success thanks to Radczenko. His advice for the Polish minority is not only irrational but also politically harmful. The golden rule in politics, as well in business, is bidding high before arriving at a compromise, in the form of transaction. In politics only those whose programme is hardly compromising win the most. This seems to be misunderstood by the Lithuanian official and other advocates of compromise.
This rules works especially well in case of minorities struggling against the oppressive majority. The rights of the Catalan or Basque people in Spain, the people of Tyrol in Italy, the Gaugaz people in Moldova, Hungarians in Romania were guaranteed only after a fierce political and social struggle. The majorities in these countries did not give anything out of their own, they have been forced to do so by a consistent and determined stance of the political or social movements representing the minorities, and sometimes also by external factors (like in the case of Gaugaz people and Hungarians). And today also we propagate the necessity of a firm and assertive attitude of the Poles in the Vilnius Region against the oppressive regime. Today we ask for help from our homeland. It is not enough to tick the ballot card – important as it is. What we need is mass participation and widespread social movement every day, at every turn and in every field of social existence. A movement which puts forward our demands and represents our identity with every means available. Not against somebody, but IN OUR NAME. Our blog is designed as such a spontaneous movement, a means of communication. We rejoice at the new social initiatives sharing our views that are undertaken more and more frequently. We understand that the only effective method is acting on a slogan coined over 100 years by the Irish fighting for independence – WE OURSELVES… only we can help ourselves. We count a few hundred thousand of people and we are backed up by millions of compatriots in the Republic of Poland. Humility will get us nowhere. One example of a successfully social campaign of disobedience is Polish teachers boycotting the new form of the Education Act.
Whereas the writings of Radczenko and his supporters only weaken the will of fight of many of our compatriots. He tells us to believe in the Lithuanian political elites and adopt a meek stand towards those who always treated us with an iron and firm grasp. I don’t see any real grounds to believe in the wishful thinking of the Lithuanian official, which leads to nothing else but defeat… without fight to that.
One of you
Tłumaczenie Katarzyna Różańska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Katarzyna Różańska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.