“If we do not occupy the information zone here, somebody else does it. If the citizens watch Russian televisions rather than Lithuanian or Polish ones, their opinions are shaped as the media have a great impact. (…) We will seek to provide funds for the retransmission of Polish televisions in Lithuania” – said Saulius Skvernelis, the Prime Minister during his visit in Soleczniki.
Andrius Kubilius, the former Prime Minister and leader of the parliametary group of 3 May is even more optimistic – from the 1st of June Polish channels will be retransmitted in the Vilnius Region. Of course, it is exceedingly pleasant to see that the Prime Minister and one of the opposition leaders not only speak with one voive, but also address the issues I have been raising for many years. I do not share the optimism of Andrius Kubilius as far as the date of resuming Polish TV channels broadcasts in Lithuania is concerned, but indeed, now we are much closer to take such a decision than in 2015, for example, when the Polish Discussion Club made a request for it to Lithuanian and Polish state institutions and broadcasters.
The Lithuanian Radio and Television Centre claims that it is able to create a suitable infrastructure within 6 months, which will result in broadcasting 3 to 8 Polish TV channels in the Vilnius region (or even all over Lithuania), with the possibility of including Russian-language channels that oppose Kremlin propaganda. Project expenditures are also not exorbitant. Of course, the question of licence fees and copyrights, and technical issues remain to be addressed. In order for that to happen, the authorities of both Vilnius and Warsaw need to show good will. However, the opportunity to have free Polish channels in Vilnius television sets is wihout question realistic as never before. These channels would serve as an effective antidote for the Kremlin propaganda. Nevertheless, I would caution against indulging in wishful thinking about what a cure it is for all maladies of the Vilnius region.
Saulius Skvernelis has repeatedly emphasized that he learnt Polish language by watching Polish cartoons. Similar declarations are made by many Lithuanian politicians, journalists and celebrities of the middle generation. In Soviet times Polish television watched in border regions including Kaunas, along with the Polish Radio and Polish newspapers was a window to the world for Lithuanians. Different, better world. Everybody who experienced that at that time, remains sentimental about Poland and Polish language. Nowadays such persons form a kind of a lobby group as regards the Polish cause in Lithuania. Unfortunately, that lobby group is neglected and unused, both by local Polish activists, who prefer to fight for freedom of… Russian television broadcasts and regard the idea of Polish channels retransmission as “doomed to failure”, and by Poland, which prefers to support such activists.
Polish TV channels in Lithuania ceased to be free of charge in 1994. The then management of the Polish Television found it unprofitable to bear additional costs of licences for non-national films, series and broadcasts, and deemed TV Polonia channel sufficient for Poles in Lithuania. Lithuanian authorities did not submit an objection because it was thought that the Polish Television in the Vilnius region would be replaced with Lithuanian televisions. Actually, it was replaced with the Russian ones. Within more than 20 years a new generation appeared in the Vilnius region, not even knowing what good quality Polish television is. This is the generation raised by Russian television or, to a less extent, by the Lithuanian ones, where Russian productions prevail. Journalists of the “Veidas” weekly have recently calculated that 9 main Lithuanian TV channels allocate 198 hours a week to films and broadcasts that look back nostalgically to the Soviet Union, in one way or another. That is two days (oh dear!) more than last year. The lion’s share of nostalgia for the USSR (70 hours a week) concerns the Lietuvos rytas TV and BTV. In 2007 Russian films, sitcoms and programmes on Lithuanian channels were broadcasted for 80 hours a week while in 2016 – for 150 hours. That is why it will be also necessary to persuade this generation to the new programmes offer. Nevertheless, without such an offer there is very little chance of impeding russifying tendencies.
It must be underlined that the issues of Kremlin’s influence or – more broadly – Russian language in the Vilnius region should not be limited to television matters. Television affects elderly and middle-aged people rather than the youth who hardly watch it. However, young people widely use the Internet as the Russian/Russian-language source of entertainment and information. It only takes a few clicks to watch the latest American, British or Dutch series in the Russian language version for free. Russian informative and journalistic portals also make most of information, articles and videos available for free. Russian cultural offer is also wide – in Lithuania there are performances by Russian artists almost every day. It ranges from punk, rap and rock to pop and classical music. From theatre to exhibitions of avant-garde painters. I am afraid that without solving these problems and having broad access to information, entertainment and culture in Polish language it is difficult to expect serious changes of outlook in the Vilnius region. Therefore, Polish channels – this is just the first step. To be made as soon as possible. And then the further ones.
This statement appeared on the 24th of January in the Polish Broadcast of public Lithuanian LRT Klasika radio station.
Tłumaczenie by Grzegorz Gaura w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Grzegorz Gaura within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.