After a three-year break, the Association of Poles in Lithuania once again organised a celebratory march along Vilnian streets on the occasion of the Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day, the 225th anniversary of the 3rd May Constitution declaration, and a historical event which had given rise to the Polish state – the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland.
Those who went at the front of the Saturday parade were leaders of Polish social organisations in Lithuania, AWPL Members of Parliament, as well as representatives of the Polish embassy in Lithuania, Polish government, and global Polish diaspora organisations.
Eight thousand Lithuanian Poles participated in the march. They were members of eleven divisions of the Association of Poles in Lithuania from the whole country, pupils and teachers from Polish schools, students, scouts, combatants, and guests from the Macierz Szkolna [trans. Educational Society]. Folk ensembles paraded in Polish national costumes. Participants of the march were accompanied by dancers and the National Brass Band “Trimitas.”
“It’s a day of great joy. The Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day means that Poles feel united and are a national community wherever they are now, meeting each other at such parades as this one in Vilnius today and manifesting their loyalty towards the country of their residence on this occasion. And that’s why we’re here. It’s a manifestation of unity, manifestation of the fact that wherever you are, you are a Pole, but also a citizen of the country you live in,” Jarosław Czubiński, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Lithuania, told “Kurier”.
As the organiser of the march, Michał Mackiewicz, a Member of Parliament and the Chairman of the Association of Poles in Lithuania, told us that Poles participated actively in the social and political life of the country.
“We have our holiday today. The soul rejoices that we have so many countrymen who want to celebrate this festive event with us. Poles have arrived here from all around Lithuania. It’s a demonstration of our Polishness and unity. We are proud that we are Poles,” stressed Michał Mackiewicz.
Participants of the parade said that the crowds which had arrived were the proof of the community of Poles in Lithuania. People were benevolent to one another and you could feel the festive atmosphere among them.
“We have our holiday today, the anniversary of the Constitution of 3rd May declaration is coming, so is the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland. Not to celebrate such a holiday, such a jubilee on such a beautiful day – for us, Poles living here, in Lithuania – would be a shame. We participate in every march; it’s an expression of our identity, integration, an opportunity to show that there are lots of us, that we’re not afraid of Polishness, we’re not afraid of demonstrating it,” said Grzegorz Sakson, Chairman of the Polish Lawyers’ Association in Lithuania.
Zyta Izabelskienė came to the march with the entire family, and, as she said, she wanted to show the whole world how strong the presence of the Polish minority in Lithuania was.
“My family cultivates Polishness, and that’s why we’re here. The children attend a Polish secondary school in Lentvaris. At home we speak Polish only, although my husband is half Lithuanian. In this way we want to show our children our origin, so that they know they’re Poles. For me, Polishness is primarily my language, my history. We’re true Poles,” stressed Zyta Izabelskienė.
Krzysztof Ogint, a ninth-grade student of the Primary School in Riešė, said that he was there because he was a patriot and he wanted to show that Poles were in Lithuania.
Countrymen from Poland, who had arrived in Vilnius during the first days of May, were joining the parade spontaneously. “I’m proud that here, in Lithuania, Poles have been able to maintain their identity and remember they’re Poles. It’s clear that they’re proud of it. For the Poles here, this parade means that they’re a community and must stick together. For the Poles in Poland, however, it shows that we’re not alone, that our countrymen are somewhere abroad and we must support them,” said Maciej Magot from Warsaw.
Unfortunately, it did not take place without provocation and inappropriate behaviour of those who observed the march.
“We must be here – though we live in Lithuania, we are Poles. We have a great holiday today. Unfortunately, not everybody respects that. A small group of girls kept coming to us and asked provocative questions: what we watched on television, what we listened to, why we were there. I don’t understand what these questions have to do with our holiday? I responded that I watched the Polish TV, and this Lithuanian programme “Dviračio šou” should be banned altogether. After all, it just consists in ridiculing Poles. It’s wrong! I’d like to see how the Lithuanian authorities would react if it were the Poles who had such a programme, in which they ridiculed Lithuanians,” rhetorically asked Ryszard Kozłowski, a pensioner.
The celebratory parade marched along the following streets of Vilnius: the Gediminas Avenue through the Cathedral Square, then along the Castle Street and Great one to the Gate of Dawn. On that day, a ceremonious mass was said at the Gate of Dawn, by an open window, in front of the miraculous painting “Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn.” It was celebrated by Fr. Józef Aszkiełowicz and priests of the Vilnius region. After the afternoon celebrations, participants of the march could attend concerts on the occasion of the Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day, the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland, and the 225th anniversary of the 3rd May Constitution.
In the beginning, the audience was entertained by Polish ensembles from Lithuania. Then, at the Vilnian town hall, the twins Łukasz and Paweł Golec performed along with their band Golec uOrkiestra. In spite of the rain, the people went wild and sang together well-known hits of the group.
More than 200,000 Poles live in Lithuania, which constitutes 6.6% of the whole population of the country. They are the most numerous national minority in Lithuania. Poles participate actively in the social and political life of the country.
POLISH DIASPORA AND POLES ABROAD DAY
Celebrated on 2nd May, the Polish Diaspora Day is to assure the unity of Poles living all around the world. It also aims at enhancing the sense of Polish national community beyond international borders and ideological divisions.
The Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day reminds the countrymen living abroad of their roots and helps to preserve the national awareness. The most numerous group of Polish emigration and people of Polish nationality lives in the United States. Other big concentrations of the Polish diaspora are in Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad Day was established in 2001 through a resolution adopted by the Senate of the Republic of Poland in acknowledgement of the Polish diaspora’s and Poles’ achievements and contribution to the fact that Poland had regained independence. It is grandly celebrated by every community of Poles all over the world. The resolution specifies the country’s policy on the Poles living abroad. It speaks of national minorities’ rights being ensured for them, development of the native language, and promotion of the Polish culture. Pursuant to the resolution, a person who is responsible for the diaspora on a constitutional level is the Marshal of the Senate.
Tłumaczenie by Karolina Katarzyńska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Katarzyńska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.