Alexander Balinskiy: Following my great-great-great-grandfather from Saint Petersburg to Jašiūnai

Anna Pieszko

Interview with Alexander Balinskiy, a descendent of Baliński and Śniadecki families living in Saint Petersburg 

Anna Pieszko: What brought you to Jašiūnai? 

Alexander Balinskiy: I’d known for a long time that Jašiūnai existed and my family had lived there for over a hundred years. My grandfather, Alexander Ivanovich Balinkiy, used to tell me stories about that place. He came here for the first time in the early 1970s. He’s a military doctor and I suspect that he was afraid to admit that he was from the Baliński family, since he was visiting the area as an ordinary tourist. He saw remnants of the palace, found the cemetery; he told me that weeds had been growing there, and the tombstones had been broken. He even found an old lady who remembered the last hosts, the Sołtan family, who had lived there before World War II. He told me stories like those. Unfortunately, that abstract knowledge turned into something extremely important and meaningful for me when my grandfather got old and began to forget many things. I got interested in the history of our family in my late thirties, I was asking my grandfather about everything I could.

I’ve been collecting archival materials for a long time. Eighteen months ago, I posted a note about looking for my relatives in a message board. I absolutely wasn’t expecting any response. Kazimierz Karpicz [the headmaster of Mykolas Balinskis Gymnasium in Jašiūnai] found me and asked if I wasn’t his relative. That’s how our correspondence began. I can safely say that we became friends. I sent him all information I collected, scanned photos and archival materials to fill out blanks in his collection, and he sent me a lot of information. He immediately invited me to visit Jašiūnai, but because of various factors I wasn’t able to do that, even though I wanted to came here even before meeting Mr. Karpicz. I have immense respect for people like him; he’s a walking encyclopaedia.

A few years ago, I sent my in-laws for a secret mission here. For them, Lithuania is their second homeland, especially for my mother-in-law who as a child had been coming to Lithuania every year. I asked them to come to Jašiūnai. They saw the house and the cemetery, and they’re still absolutely delighted that everything is preserved, people appreciate the fact that there’s a street and a school (my mother-in-law had worked in school for 40 years) named after Michał Baliński, and the children learn of history of the place they live in.

Could you tell us something about yourself? 

I have two university degrees: one in Russian Philology from the Saint Petersburg State University, and one in law. For many years, I’ve worked as a public servant, now I’m a lawyer.

What is the degree of kinship between you and the famous psychiatrist Jan Baliński? Since the two families were linked by a marriage of a historian Michał Baliński and Zofia Śniadecka, a daughter of a chemist Jędrzej Śniadecki… 

Their son was Jan Baliński (Ivan Balinskiy), the founder of the Academic Department of Psychiatry at S.M. Kirov Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg. He developed psychiatry as a distinct medical specialty. His older son, Mikhail, also a military doctor, was my great-great-grandfather. His son, Ivan, graduated from gymnasium soon before the October Revolution and, as I understand, did not receive higher education. He was a Soviet public servant and my great-grandfather. My grandfather, Alexander Ivanovich Balinskiy, was a military doctor as well. So the famous psychiatrist is my great-great-great-grandfather. If we call the Śniadecki family the “generation zero,” I’m a generation seven.

Nobody expected that this summer, Jašiūnai would become a place where descendents of both the Śniadecki and Baliński families would meet…

Yes, fate can be pretty surprising. Well, maybe not fate, but some kind of a God’s plan. I wasn’t planning on meeting a descendent of the Śniadecki family, Krzysztof Lampke; he didn’t know I even existed, and we didn’t know of him. He comes from one of lateral branches of our family tree–the maiden name of Krzysztof’s mom was Śniadecka. He showed me some of his preserved photos and documents; it’s clear that he cares deeply about his family history. He had already came to Jašiūnai once in 1980s. Suddenly, he appeared on Wednesday with his wife and three children.

Kazimierz introduced us to each other but I think that Krzysztof didn’t really understand what was going on, and when at school the headmaster explained the situation, I saw in understanding in his face. It was great to meet him. He learned Russian at school but I, unfortunately, don’t speak Polish. My great-great-grandfather, the psychiatrist’s son, spoke fluent Polish. His son, however, didn’t, though it’s possible that he understood that language. For over a hundred years, we’ve officially been Russians. I’m really uncomfortable with not speaking Polish and I hope to learn that language.

What have you felt while visiting Jašiūnai and your ancestors’ palace? 

I wasn’t expecting myself to be so overwhelmed with emotions. I got a lump in my throat on the first day, when we went to the cemetery. I’m not sentimental, I haven’t cried in many years, but that was an unforgettable experience… It’s all very moving. I feel many unexpected things. I’m so glad, that the house is being renovated. It’s important not only for me as the descendent, but also for Jašiūnai, since it’s a object of historical, cultural, and tourist importance.

That’s why I’m overwhelmed. I have to go home now, calm down, think about all of this, but I’m sure I’ll return here with my family. My 11-year-old daughter got a task at school to prepare a presentation on a famous mathematician from 18th or 19th century. She didn’t know who she should tackle, so I reminded her that she had a famous mathematician in her family–her great-great-great-great-grandfather Jan Śniadecki. Of course, I had already told her about our family history but when I showed her photos of graves in Jašiūnai and a ferry named after Jan Śniadecki, she made the presentation on her own. She was glad to show it at school: her family history materialised. She realised that she cared deeply about it.

I’m going to return here. I think it’s only a beginning. I can’t, and won’t, forget about it…


Tłumaczenie by Michał M. Kowalski w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, Translated by Michał M. Kowalski within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights,

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