Poles can do it. It was proved this year by German Komarowski, a young choreographer from the Vilnius region, a head of the Polish Dance Group “Perła” from Nemenčinė, which in March won the Lithuanian TV show of folk dance “Kadagys” (Juniper).
The victory of Polish “Perła” was achieved in a beautiful way and, as befits Lithuanian Poles, with their heads held high but also modestly.
With German Komarowski – who has been observing Polish culture in Lithuania for many years now, but also creating and promoting it in our country and abroad – today we talk about on which level Polish culture in Lithuania is now, whether cultural life has been dominated by folklore and if our culture is ambitious.
The stable development of Polish culture in Lithuania
When asked to assess the level of Polish culture in Lithuania, German Komarowski said that Polish cultural life in Lithuania was developing steadily, without any major ups or downs in recent years. “There are, of course, spectacular and bright events in cultural life of Poles in Lithuania, but, generally speaking, I would assess the issue as a stable measure”, comments Komarowski.
Folklore doesn’t have to be boring
Folklore is probably the dearest and the closest form to our interlocutor. He frankly admits that he often hears Poles speaking about the supersaturation of the folk cultural offer. “On the other hand, Lithuania is not a special country in the group of countries which are inhibited by Polonia. If there was no folklore, I doubt the Polish identity in these regions would survive. Folklore exists and it must remain. Folk artistic work is one of the most important forms of cultural life of the Polish minority in Lithuania. Foklore is very important and needed in lives of Poles in Lithuania”, comments Komarowski. He thinks that without the Polish folklore we, as a Polish community, would not be able to keep our Polishness, survive in it and pass Polish values to young people. Folklore bands show Polish traditions, they remind holidays, they do not let us forget about traditional folk dances, songs and costumes, which are an integral part of our Polish collective consciousness. “Non-traditional young groups do not have these elements and the only link connecting them with the Polish identity is the language of performing songs”, says the director of “Perła”.
Besides, folklore does not need to be boring. An evidence can be the mentioned project of Lithuanian television, “Kadagys”. Producers required performing folk dances to contemporary music or in a modern arrangement. “Perła” made it because in every episode they would perfectly mix tradition with modern elements.
Components of Polish culture in Lithuania
Asked about other components of Polish culture in Lithuania, our interlocutor says, “Polish cinema, ambitious Polish movies are more boldly entering our lives”. He means the Polish Film Festival, organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius – the main base of Polish cultural diplomacy in Lithuania. Among ambitious culture German Komarowski lists also exhibitions organized by the Polish Institute. “This institution eagerly enters Polish – and not only – facilities, it gets engaged in cultural life, it gets us free films and exhibitions”, he assesses.
What the well-known choreographer also considers ambitious, are young bands from the Vilnius region, which participate in the national musical enterprise “The Street Music Day”. It unites music amateurs as well as professionals. “During the project we can listen to Polish music created and performed by our Polish youth, on the streets of Lithuanian cities. Great stuff”, he says.
“We have people and conditions”
G. Komarowski shares his experience of work with Polish organizations and bands. “When they come and see the conditions in which we operate, they envy us. Such conditions rarely prevail abroad, usually Polish bands are forced to hire a hall”, says Mr. German.
On the other hand, he notes, better conditions usually oblige to achieving better results. “We have people and conditions, so we can create, grow and move forward”, he claims. As a perfectionist, he admits, “It can always be better”.
G. Komarowski believes that the path of development largely depends on directors of cultural organizations and heads of bands. “When artists, no matter whether they are choreographers, composers or directors, are ambitious and aim high, the high level is within their reach”, he says.
Asked about dominant cultural needs of Poles in Lithuania, the choreographer said he did not want to generalize. “Recipients of culture are very different”, he argues. Speaking of feedback form consumers of the culture, G. Komarowski claims that it was not hard to get in the era of the ubiquitous Internet, but he assessed such comments quite skeptically. The artist sees the need for research, which would show the average picture of the recipient of Polish culture. “If we withdraw films, some of people will grumble. Others would be outraged by the proposal of widening the folklore offer. We need to get every recipient, but wisely. There is some feedback, but it has to be evaluated carefully, we will not get far if we believe it blindly. We need to have a broad understanding and be able to distinguish between substantial critics and the noise of loudmouths.
The demand for new forms of artistry. Who should take care of it? And should they?
The needed effort, according to G. Komarowski, is to try to make the demand for new forms of cultural life. “This work is very needed, but hard and tedious. We try to make it”, he says. However, forming of the demand should be dealt with by team leaders, but cultural animators. “It is, for example, the management of cultural institutions (including community centers), and not cultural activists, who decides about inviting a folk band or maybe a string quartet instead”, he says. Mr. German believes that people can get used to everything, but he adds that, at the same time, it is a great effort, because it is very difficult to change people’s habits.
The Polish mature recipient
Our interlocutor has no doubts that the Polish minority in Lithuania is mature enough to take the higher, intellectual and complex culture properly and to have a need to consume it. “The high art should exist in order to provide consumers with the broadest possible cultural offer, so they have a choice”, he explains. Mr. German notices that the more close to Vilnius, the more expressions of high culture can be found. One of its examples is a concert “The Carol of Vilnius” (Kolęda z Wilna), which, during the holiday season, brought together artists from Poland and the Vilnius region in Holy Spirit’s Church in Vilnius. On the stage performed eg. singer Ewelina Saszenko, maestro Zbigniew Lewicki, saxophonist Jan Maksymowicz – Poles loved by Poles of the Vilnius region, but also respected in the environment of Lithuanian artists (coming from the Trakai region, Ewelina Saszenko eg. represented Lithuania at the 56th Eurovision Song Contest in 2011; maestro Zbigniew Lewicki plays the first violin in the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra; saxophonist Jan Maksymowicz is referred to as “one of the greatest jazz artists in Lithuania – author’s note). “The interest in the concert was huge, the church ran out of space for takers. That’s good” – this is how Mr. German assesses similar projects, but he is not sure about the good reception of such culture on the outskirts. “The better reception of high culture is in Vilnius”, he comments, but does not exclude the possibility that viewers from smaller towns could get interested in similar events.
Cultural umbrella organization: necessary or not?
G. Komarowski notices that Polish umbrella organizations, uniting smaller cultural organizations exist in other countries where Polish people live. “In Lithuania, we have quite a lot of cultural organizations, but we do not have the strictly cultural one. The Union of Poles in Lithuania fulfills its role in this area, there is also the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius, in the Vilnius region we have a number of community centers. Each of these institutions has its own idea of work, we all work in our own fields, we do not disturb each other, we have a free hand”, he says. Such organizations are quite powerful, they work long enough and they have developed a way of acting. For example the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius invites eg. rock and pop artists, what other community centers in the Vilnius region do not do. The Polish Institute in Vilnius is the only one presenting the best and the latest cultural products of Poland. “There are unfilled areas, and I repeat, it can get better”, says Mr. German and adds that a single umbrella organization is not a panacea. “Each of our Polish cultural organizations is strong, hard-working and fulfills its mission”, he says.
Good actors and theaters
The artist thinks that the Polish minority in Lithuania has educated many talented artists and he believes that a Polish professional theater hasn’t been yet created for financial reasons. “The question is: who would pay for that? Local governments have no means to do it and specialists would surely be found. We have a lot of good actors, also our amateur theaters are great”, he says.
Cultural worlds of Poland and Lithuanian
When asked to assess how Polish culture fits into the picture of cultural life of Lithuania, as these two worlds of Polish and Lithuanian culture may be parallel and have nothing in common, G. Komarowski says that this is not the case. “One cannot work in the Lithuanian environment and have no contact with it. There is contact, but it is not always planned. Sometimes it happens ad hoc, ex prompt”, he says.
As examples of cooperation between Polish and Lithuanian artists Mr. German lists such cultural projects as “The Street Music Day”, where no one cares about the nationality of performers, large youth festivals, during which eg. talented people are searched for, or the largest festival in terms of geographical coverage, “Friends for Friends” (Przyjaciele dla Przyjaciół), where the Polish band is even the co-organizer. “Our rock bands take part in such festivals, they play in Lithuanian clubs”, says G. Komarowski. He also lists a number of Lithuanian television projects, starring lots of bands from the Vilnius region. He is modestly silent about the “Kadagys” project in which the winner team of “Perła” was led by him.
It is very well
Winning this project initiated increased interest in Polish “Perła” and culture in Lithuania. The success of “Perła” is not a coincidence. It is a part of rich and boiling cultural life, created by Poles in Lithuania.
We have something to be proud of. We have something to show. Although “it can always be better”, the evaluation of Polish cultural offer in Lithuania can be summed up with the sentence “It is very well”. However, this assessment is not something natural. It is a sum of Polish hard work, determination, ambition and an enormous potential.
German Komarowski – Polish choreographer in Lithuania, a head of the Polish Dance Group “Perła”, a head of the Multifunctional Community Center in Nemenčinė, a dancer and choreographer of the Representative Polish Dance Ensemble “Wileńszczynzna”
The project is co-financed by the Polonia funds of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tłumaczenie by Agnieszka Drabik w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Agnieszka Drabik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.