Poland did not intend to take advantage of autonomy, because it would lead to an open conflict with Lithuania. The support of the autonomists would be a dangerous nonsense – in an interview for zw.lt said known Polish Historian and Lithuanist, Krzysztof Buchowski.
How can you assess the role of Polish minority in foreign affairs of Lithuania after 1990?
There are many things that make this problem unclear. On the one hand, at the end of the eighties, we had to deal with Lithuanian nationalism being reborn. It had a bright side – it lead the country to a restitution, but it also had the negative side – the return to anti-Polish rhetoric and the stereotypes being revived after fifty years. At the beginning of the nineties, the Polish minority was already pushed down on defensive position. It was clear. On the other hand, at that time, this activity of Polish leaders in Lithuania, inspired by Moscow, lead to a confrontation, a creation of autonomy. The result of this operation was rather sad and weighed down the situation of Minority, as well as the relation between Poland and Lithuania.
What proved that the activity of Polish minority in Lithuania at the turn of the eighties and nineties to create Polish autonomy was stimulated by Moscow?
Many documents and facts came to light in the early nineties, when Lithuanians entered the Vilnius KGB headquarters. I also add that this Moscow inspiration wasn’t entirely related to the core of relations between reviving Lithuanian country and Polish minority. The problem lay somewhere else, reapeatedly during events a few decades back. The Moscow inspiration was related to activities done by specific units in specific time. Moscow used the fear of Polish people of expansion of Lithuanian nationalism and this was an inspiration for the autonomists. According to Lithuania, the autonomy was an unacceptable irredentism, another sign of Polish people’s ill will, like the general Żeligowski’s campaign. At that time, there was no intention of Polish country to move the borders, meaning to return to the pre-war times. Poland did not intend to take advantage of autonomy, because it would lead to an open conflict with Lithuania. From the strategic point of view, the support of the autonomists would be a dangerous nonsense. Only a sympathy of countrymen on Vilnius region. Nothing more. Afterwards, many problems of Polish minority in Lithuania were caused by the attitude of the Lithuanian ruling élite. After year 1994, this practice was shown when some of the Polish postulates wre omitted due to Lithuanian party block later justified by the national interest defense and reason of state.
Some of the scientists and politicians very often consider Polish minority postulates rather excessive. What do you think about this?
I wouldn’t consider EU standards excessive. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny arguments of Lithuanian side claiming that Polish minority situation is rather exceptional. No other European country has a network of Polish speaking educational system, except Lithuania. And finally, as a Historian interested in Polish-Lithuanian relations, I can’t see the Lithuanian side’s fear of Polish people. The anxiety results from atavisms emerged together with Lithuanian national movement. I can’t really answer this question and show the black and white differences. I think here we have several shades of grey. And both sides think they are right.
Soon after 1994 (after signing a Treaty between Poland and Lithuania about friendly relations and good-neighbourly partnership) the era of so-called strategic partnership has began. For many years, the problems of Poles in Vilnius region were being depoliticized. Why in 2008, the Polish-Lithuanian relations started to focus on Polish minority again?
There were a few factors. First of all, the turn in Polish politics, which was the result of overvaluation in politics worldwide. US President Barack Obama announced the reset of the American and Russian relations, and in practice this meant to withdraw the involvement in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet regions, which was typical of presidency of George Bush. This decision also caused the changes in the Polish foreign policy. In Warsaw, the sacrificing problems of Minority in Lithuania on the altar of good relations between Poland and Lithuania was considered to be a wrong strategy. After 1994, according to Treaty, both sides postponed the proposal agreed of Minority postulates. The suggestions of Polish side for Lithuania to take action were usually circumvented with generalities and promises. Of course, several initiatives were taken, but the position of political class and part of public opinion didn’t allow to accomplish these purposes. The proceedings of Polish government to settle the affairs of Polish minority in Vilnius region were actually indicated in documents and research done by Krzysztof Sidorkiewicz. However, in the name of good Polish-Lithuanian relations and Jagiellonian policy, the Polish side didn’t bring matters to a head in terms of Minority. Nonetheless, the situation have changed and after year 2008, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs of the time, Radosław Sikorski, declared the end of priority treatment of Eastern policy. Poland was turning to the West so the East, also the Lithuania, has stopped being a recipient of Polish side’s special efforts. Lithuania was meant to be treated normally, so that means to demand a protection of the Treaty records. That’s why the demands to commit for the rights of Polish minority according to Treaty of 1994 point to the harder line. However, what happens in decision-making circles of minorities, it’s a different story. Keeping the defensive positon of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL) is unhealthy. The Party is successful in terms of social and political activity. However, closing the door and thereby dealing with minority matters in own electorate is a short-term action. The Polish minority interest has been identified with views of its leaders. Sometimes they act according to principle: who is not with us is against us. Everyone who has different views is accused of destruction or even national betrayal. It can be seen in reactions of AWPL activists to implementing of Polish Discussion Club. The response is evidently negative, but the aim of the Club is to discuss Polish-
Lithuanian matters, not to get offended or blame each other.
Don’t you think that after 25 years we have come full circle? Moscow, as in the beginning of the nineties, seems to be Poles’ main ally in Lithuania. We are citizens of Democratic country, EU citizens. How could this happen?
We all made a mistakes. We can’t blame Polish side for not trying to raise the awareness of respecting rights of Poles in Lithuania. But pushing it into the background of international relations and neglecting it after 1994 was probably a wrong decision. Lithuanian side however did some concession and in 2010,Kubilius cabinet drafted a new law, but unfortunately, the Lithuanian side lacked a good will and the draft law was rejected. And this is what should be deplored.
Where this Lithuanian ruling élites obstinacy really come from?
I think there are lots of prejudices. It comes a bit from complexes and historical atavisms. Contrary to what is usually thought in Lithuania, this modern Poland does not resemble the country from interwar period. This anachronistic view of neighbour seems to occur in Lithuania. Lithuania today is not threatened with Polonization, but sometimes the Vilnius region is given the Lithuanian alarms. Unfortunately, 25 years of independence or 20 years after Polish-Lithuanian Treaty has been wasted by all of us. These abandonments and mistakes made by politicians caused the reality difficult to accept. Difficult to accept by all three sides in the conflict because Lithuanian Poles are also a side of this conflict. At this dead end, Polish country will continue to call for settling the situation of Polish minority in vilnius region, according to conditions of the Treaty. Lithuania however will defend, considering this national interest as right and proper. Indeed, this is a viscious circle.
In geopolitical sense, this situation seems to be even dangerous. What should we do?
First of all, we should talk. I’m not a politician. It is hard for me to give a recipe for a miracle cure. I believe that we should discuss, even though the discussion would be unpleasant and uncomfortable. We should try to get to know each other more, because we still perceive each other very stereotypically. I thought the breakthrough in Polish-Lithuanian relation was near but I was naive. There are too many people who don’t seem to care much about this. That’s why I won’t dare to give any positive forecasts today.
What Poles should do in Lithuania?
To defend their rights and to discuss everything openly. To take part in Lithuania civic life Wisely and actively, to look after Lithuanias interests as well as own society. And most importantly, trying to reach an agreement, not confrontation. I know its difficult because Lithuanian ruling élite lacks of good will. I can’t see the better solution though.
Krzysztof Buchowski (born 1st April 1969 in Seinai) – Polish Historian, Lithuanist, professor in department of International Policy in Institute of History and Political sciences, University of Białystok. He specializes in social-political relations in Central and Eastern Europe, Polish-Lithuanian relations and modern Lithuania. Author of the books: „Polacy w niepodległym państwie litewskim 1918-1940” (Białystok 1999), „Panowie i żmogusy. Stosunki polsko-litewskie w międzywojennych karykaturach” (Białystok 2004), „Szkice polsko-litewskie, czyli o niełatwym sąsiedztwie w pierwszej połowie XX w.” (Toruń 2005), „Litwomani i polonizatorzy. Mity, wzajemne postrzeganie i stereotypy w stosunkach polsko-litewskich w pierwszej połowie XX wieku” (Białystok 2006), „Polityka zagraniczna Litwy 1990-2012” (Białystok 2013).
Tłumaczenie by Adam Adamowicz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Adam Adamowicz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.