Mikłaszewicz: The myth of “the Polonisation” of Vilnius Region

Irena Mikłaszewicz

Lithuania is a country where national minorities constitute several percent of the society. During the conference titled “Polish Lithuanian or Poles form Lithuania?” Ph.D. Irena Mikłaszewicz said that in the time of the USSR Lithuania had been one of the national republics in which the Russification caused the smallest damage, however, the native Lithuanian nomenklatura bureaucracy had had a very strong position. 

“A few researchers of the Soviet period accept many statements that are in accordance with existing stereotypes, without any careful analysis of certain problems. A good example taken for a fact is the  so-called issue of “the Soviet Polonisation of Vilnius Region.” Ph.D. Irena Mikłaszewicz form Vytautas Magnus University said at the beginning of the conference.

Too many Polish schools 

Within the framework of the so-called evacuation of Polish population, Poles could emigrate to the People’s Republic of Poland. According to the data of the Ministry of the Interior in the time of the Lithuanian SRR, between 1945 and 1947 171 158 people emigrated to Poland, including 168 882 Poles, 2 284 Jews, 25 people of different nationality. People form Vilnius constituted over 50% of  emigrants. Almost all representatives of the intellectual elite left the country. On the basis of certain agreements between the People’s Republic of Poland and the USSR, next 42 181 left Lithuania. Hundreds of people emigrated to Poland using visas. Summing up, in the period between 1945 and April 251959 213 934 people left Lithuania and emigrated to Poland.

“After the emigration of Poles form Vilnius, where in 1945 they constituted over 80% of the  Lithuanian capital citizens, Lithuanian people form the depth of the country and Russian people form the USSR began to fill the city. Poles, who had come to the city form the near countryside, became a minority in Vilnius. The first postwar official census conducted in 1959 showed that in Vilnius there were 44,8 thousands of Poles that is 20%, ca. 50% of Lithuanian, and ca. 20% of Russian. Poles lived mainly in the suburbs and were the poorest and least educated group of citizens. However, in Vilnius Region Poles were a majority. According to the census form 1959, there were over 230 thousands of Poles in Lithuania.” said Mikłaszewicz.

Schools with Polish as the language of instruction worked in Vilnius and Vilnius Region until 1948. The situation changed after 1948 when Lithuanian officials of the Ministry of Education decided to convert Polish schools into Lithuanian. Russian party functionaries were against it and chose a different option, in their opinion, an easier one for Poles – conversion of Polish schools into Russian.

According to the data of the Ministry of Eduction in the time of the Lithuanian SRR, at the beginning of the school year 1947-48 there were 217 elementary schools, 7 lower-secondary schools and one secondary school with Polish as the language of instruction where there were 20 921 children and 468 teachers. Textbooks were imported form Ukraine because Polish schools existed in Lviv. The number of the imported textbooks was not enough so Juozas Žiugžda, a Minister of Education in the time of the Lithuanian SRR, wrote a message dated April 30, 1948 to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania reading “The Ministry of Education proposes that the number of Polish schools should be gradually decreased and they should be changed into schools with Russian or Lithuanian as the language of instruction according to parents’ wish”. In the school year 1949-50 the “gradual” conversion of schools with Polish as the language of instruction into Russian or Lithuanian schools gave the following results: in 10 regions of Vilnius district 46 337 children were educated, including 23 342 Poles; 467 schools functioned, including 381 elementary schools (154 with Lithuanian as the language of instruction, 227 – Russian); 74 seven-year schools (32 – Lithuanian, 42 – Russian); 12 secondary schools (5 – Lithuanian, 7 – Russian). Schools with Polish as the language of instruction did not exist. Polish language as a subject were taught in 56 elementary schools and 6 seven-year schools with Russian as the language of instruction, and in 2 Lithuanian seven-year schools. The communist Russian nomenklatura decided that there were too many Lithuanian schools and on February 20, 1950 the Central Committee of the party in Vilnius received a decision of the Vilnius district office of the Committee with an inscription “confidential”. It proposed a new school system in the district: 124 elementary schools with Russian as the language of instruction, 12 – with Lithuanian; 23 seven-year schools with Russian as the language of instruction, 1 – with Lithuanian. Polish language as a subject was to be taught in 70 schools.

The sudden “conversion” of Polish schools into Lithuanian or Russian caused strong parental objection. They were sending complaints to the authorities in Vilnius and Moscow. There were even cases of taking children form schools by their parents.

The mode of the Russification won 

On October 1, 1950 in session of the Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania Moscow ordered to establish Polish schools. In Vilnius Region education in Polish started to be organised assiduously, however, Lithuanian people raised objections because in their opinion, their children had a limited access to Lithuanian schools. Despite the introduction of the Law on the possibility of children education in Polish, in certain districts local officials unwillingly executed the party’s decision. The objection to the existence of Polish schools increased during the Khrushchev Thaw, after the death of Stalin. In this period the mode of the Russification of Vilnius Region eventually won, the number of students in schools with Polish as the language of instruction was gradually decreasing.

“The above data have proved that the permission for the existence of schools with Polish as the language of instruction was caused mainly by the demand of Polish community for the education of their children in the native language. But even in the period of the biggest development of Polish education in the second half of the 50’s according to party statistics in regions where Poles constituted 74,5% of citizens and Lithuanian 13%, in schools with Polish as the language of instruction there were 66% of children, 16% of children was educated in Lithuanian.” analysed the scientist.

The lack of objectivity intensifies stereotypes 

“Where was a popular in Lithuania opinion, even a myth of the Soviet “Polonisation” in Vilnius Region born? Lithuanian researchers of the recent history have made their own contribution. Basing on documents form archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and Committee for State Security (KGB) publicized at the beginning of the 90’s, they selectively interpreted the data and created a theory of the Soviet “Polonisation” of Vilnius Region. The theory obtained the foundations of “the scientific interpretation” in a famous interpretation “Lietuvos rytai” from 1993. The annotation states: “The book contains various opinions of contemporary Lithuanian scientists about differently interpreted issues of history and culture of eastern Lithuania”. The publication begins with an article of Prof. Zigmas Zinkevičius about the history of south-eastern Lithuania in which the author claims that in 1950 in the areas that had been Polish before the war schools with Lithuanian or Russian as the language of instruction were converted into Polish on the basis of the order form Moscow: “Within a few years 367 schools were converted into Polish schools!” wrote the author. He added: “There were not even so many Polish schools during the Polish occupation”. “Of course, the author doesn’t analyse the national composition of the region, he doesn’t mention the decision of the Minister of Education, Juozas Žiugžd, from 1948 on the basis of which all Polish schools disappeared in Vilnius Region within one school year, he doesn’t quote the complaints of Polish parents who didn’t accepted the changes.” said Ph.D. Mikłaszewicz.

The statements about the unfounded “Polonisation” of Vilnius Region have been repeated by different Lithuanian researchers who cite the mentioned article of Z. Zinkevičius. One of them is Petras Kalnius, an author of the book titled “The ethnic processes in the south-eastern Lithuania in the second half of the 20th century”. “The author claims that it was intentionally decided to worsen the situation of Lithuanian people but improve the situation of the users of different languages. He bases on the fact that in the mentioned article Z. Zinkevičius gives the example of 367 Polish schools “established” in Vilnius Region. What’s interesting, the author lengthily interprets the documents from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania concerning the education in Vilnius Region but treats them selectively and indisputably defends Lithuanian communists who claimed that in Lithuania there were no Poles, there were only Polonized Lithuanian people, “true” Poles emigrated within the framework of the evacuation to the People’s Republic of Poland. It seems that the theory is supported by the researchers of the younger generation as well. This conclusion is based on the interpretation of Arūnas Streikus concerning the Soviet period who in his article cites without any own comment the mentioned statements of the representatives of the communist Lithuanian nomenklatura on the fact that “true” Poles emigrated and only Polonized Lithuanian people remained.

“The above mentioned facts have proved that the lack of objectivity in scientific researches intensifies the stereotypes in the public consciousness. In the Lithuanian consciousness there is a myth of the forceful Polonisation of Vilnius Region in the Soviet period which preserves another myth that in Lithuania there are no Poles, only “Polonized Lithuanian people”, as claimed Mieczysław Gedvilas and Justas Paleckis during the discussion about Polish education in 1950. So history turned full circle…” Ph.D. Irena Mikłaszewicz form Vytautas Magnus University summed up.

Source: http://pl.delfi.lt/aktualia/litwa/miklaszewicz-mit-o-polonizacji-wilenszczyzny.d?id=59622489

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

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