• July 22, 2011
  • 282

The Sense of Nationality Underlies the Blind Belief in Stereotypes.

Unprecedented in the entire period of the post-war propaganda attack on Lithuanian Poles has its source in a sloppily masked, short-sighted intention of a substantial part of Lithuanian society to depolonise the Vilinus region.

The political leadership which raises hidden animosities and regenerates old historical conflicts is also engaged in the intensifying anti-Polish campaign. Both left-wing and right-wing political activists, brought up on pre-war stereotypes, that have been vigorously growing within the nationalistically prejudiced Lithuanian society, unite on their favourite common ground of anti-Polishness.

The politicians who commit one mistake after another, and who in an extraordinary way managed to direct the public opinion’s attention from the economic and social issues to nationality issues, still wield the helm of the state. Let us look at what apart from their nationalistic wit, is the formal basis for bringing accusations against Poles and what stereotypes curtail the Polish-Lithuanian relations.

All the more, that not only economic factors, but also cultural and historical traditions have played an important role.

I am convinced that the blind, though also absolutely true, faith in the anti-Polish stereotypes and reluctance to understand Poles have their source in different concepts of the sense of nationality.

The idea of who a Lithuanian is at the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was very different from the concept in the present era. At the time of the Duchy, dominated the concept of nationality under the jus terris law, that is under the law of land. Every resident of the GDL was regarded as Lithuanian, even those who lived in the villages where no ethnic Lithuanian ever lived and where no one spoke Lithuanian (Kamenets-Litovsk, Brest-Litovsk). On the same basis the Radziwill family, Adam Mickiewicz, Kościuszko or Jozef Pilsudski could state that they were Lithuanians. Radziwills were indeed strongly opposed to the possibility to conclude the unions of Horodlo and of Lublin. The primary reason for this was not the possible impact of the Polish language and the language question, but the fear of diminution of political and economic influence of the Lithuanian aristocracy.

Jozef Pilsudski used to say that he was a Lithuanian. Fig. Archives

The language of the Radziwill family has always been one of Slavonic languages, from Old Ruthenian to Polish. In “Dziady” by the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, a Vilnius soldier expresses the vision of ethnicity in the following words: “Christian I am and a Pole, I greet thee with the sign of the Cross of Vytis.” InThe Books and The Pilgrimage of the Polish Nation” by Mickiewicz we read: “Lithuanian and a Mazovian are brothers. Could brothers ever argue over that one’s name is Wladyslaw, and another’s Witowt? Their name is one: name of the Poles.” Were these last words of the Prophet now uttered by APL (Association of Poles in Lithuania) or EAPL (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) activists or, God forbid, the representatives of the Polish Educational Society, it would probably provoke a veritable storm in the media.

For, what stance on Jagiellonian traditions and cultural heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania should the Poles take? Could we disavow them, so that instead of holding on to the spirits of Mickiewicz and Slowacki we consent to alien to us sources of anti-Polishness and to words so praised by today’s Lithuanians, brought up on works of such poets as Maironis, who describes Poles as rotten apples (“lenkas — išgama tautų”)?

In the second half of the nineteenth century, after the January Uprising, a great change took place. From then on, one’s nationality was identified on the basis of the law of blood – jus sanguinis, that is, according to the ethnic criteria, based on linguistic and cultural considerations. At the same time, the process of aversion to the Poles was controlled by Tsarist authoritative agents, that were skillfully instilled in ethnic Lithuanians. During the reign of Tsar, Polish language was forbidden. All the decrees of Moskals are very similar to the current moves of the Lithuanian authorities: in the case of possession and return of land, and particularly and primarily in the field of education. To learn about it, it is enough to read through the successive reports of the Vilnius Board of Governors that were produced during the entire period of the anti-Polish activity, especially — after the January Uprising.

Then and later, came the unfortunate division, which dramatically and painfully went through the blood ties, so that members one family had different views on the ethnicity concept. There are a lot of examples: Tadeusz Iwanowski, a famous biologist, the founder of the Kaunas’ Zoo, who came from the Lebiodka farm near Lida and was born in a Polish family, considered himself to be Lithuanian and became Tadas Iwanauskas. One of his brothers, Waclaw, considered himself Belorussian, and being the leader of the Belarusian national movement and the founder of the Belarusian Fatherland Service, he demanded that he was called Iwanouski Vaclau. The third brother – Jerzy Iwanowski, who was appointed Minister of Industry and Trade in the reborn Poland, was skeptical about his brothers’ choices of nationality. The fourth brother, Stanislaw Iwanowski, a Vilnius lawyer, supported this view and also considered himself to be Polish.

A famous violinist and composer of European fame, Grażyna Bacewicz felt that she was Polish, on the other hand, her brother Kiejstut, also a composer, although they were both born in Lodz, considered himself a Lithuanian – Kestutis Bacevičius. Personal beliefs and self-determination, even after 50-years long philosophical reflection, made an anti-Polish politician, Romualdas Ozolasow change his nationality from the Latvian to Lithuanian.

If Czeslaw Milosz is to be believed, Landsbergis’ ancestors were of German descent and came to Lithuania from Germany with Napoleon, but during the nineteenth century they polinised up. They did it of their own free will. It would be completely tactless to suggest the respected Vytautas Landsbergis German or Polish descent, if he wanted to be a Lithuanian.

Some members of the Landsbergis family became the Žemkalnisams after translating their name into Lithuanian language, meanwhile, others remained Landsbergises. Fig. Archives

Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party leader, Nicholas Krupowicz, became Mykolas Krupavičius in the times of Kaunas Lithuania. During his speech in the Parliament of Lithuania in 1920, after the Council of Lithuania assumed authority in the country, he put the Landsberg family as an example:

“Landsbergiai nors lenkai, tačiau tikri Lietuvos patriotai” (“Although Lansbergs are Polish, they are also the true patriots of Lithuania”). A part of the Landsberg family became Žemkalnis, translating their name into the Lithuanian language, others remained Landsbergis, of course they have always considered themselves true Lithuanians and nobody even intends to convince them that they are Lithuanianised Germans or Poles.

The lingering amongst Lithuanians belief that Poles in Vilnius region are Polonised Lithuanians (and, what is worth emphasizing, also ethnic Lithuanians) is so deep that it almost resembles a faith. A faith, or rather, an obsession, based on the belief that every indigenous inhabitants of the Vilnius region are ethnically Lithuanian. Thus claim not only the full-time Poles-eaters, like the linguist Kazimieras Garsva or the psychiatrist Gintaras Songail, but also crowds of politicians and social activists.

Saulius Stoma, an indigenous inhabitant of Kaunas, writer and politician, who oversaw the Lithuanian reference works, and therefore, it would seem, also an enlightened man, blurted out about the Poles in Lithuania:

“Now the case is basically very simple. All the citizens of Lithuania are Lithuanians. It does not matter whether they are black, blue or red.” There you go, so there are no Poles in Lithuania? Mr Saulius did not clarify whether he talked about the ethnicity concept, but he was very successful in manipulation. Besides, how many Lithuanian intellectuals would make the effort to ask with indignation: “Why and by what right do some people have the audacity and desire to deprive us of our nationality?” Probably very few, and on top of that, they would be as soon wrongly accused of treason.

Being ethnically Lithuanian and being a Lithuanian citizen – are two absolutely different concepts. In Russia, for example, there are the citizenship notion “rossijanin” and the ethnic notion “russkij.” In what context should such statements of Stoma and his alike be understood? If in the ethnic contexts – then it is a scandal! If in the civil society context – no one denies that we are citizens of Lithuania. Why Lithuanians do not discern their ethnocentrism, that also w Milosz, allegedly highly respected by them, talked about? He often mocked the Lithuanian obsessions, claiming in his book “In Search of a Homeland” that: “Monolingualism became an obsession of numerous Lithuanian activists and a will to create a reality. It nearly dictated the invention of the name Vilnius, even though it has never been the real name of the city. In the old chronicles its name is Vilna or Vilnia, and the Council of Lithuania still uses the name Vilnius.”

The ethnic Lithuanians liked the invented name, and it is understandable to use it in Lithuanian language. However, should we, Poles in Lithuania, blame ourselves that we use the original form, that we are attached to the names that over the centuries were printed on maps and documents of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, not under coercion, but of the will of the ruling Lithuanian nobility?

It is not exclusively about the Vilnius case. Year 2011 is the Czeslaw Milosz Year. This prominent Polish Nobel laureate has more authority in the world than all those, both open and crypto-anti-Poles, like Mr Garšva, Stoma and Povilas Gylys (who even went so far as to paranoid blathering about some secret anti-Lithuanian strategy among Poles) or like Anatolijus Lapinskas who lately represents the distinctive anti-Polish rhetoric. Thus, it is worth quoting the poet’s words on the view on ethnicity: “In Vilnius, it is unlike in ethnic Lithuania.” They clearly indicate, what in fact was the case with the question of ethnicity.

It does not even occur to the shedding crocodile tears Lithuanian activists and journalists, that in the GDL times the concept of a Lithuanian was not ethnic at all! It is an obstacle that the successive “defenders” of Vilnius region stumble over. Why didn’t Lithuanian purists discuss their ethnicity with Milosz? Were the above-mentioned words of the poet not the body of his book “In Search of a Homeland,” but words uttered by one of the leaders of the Polish minority, they would probably spur as much controversy as the words of the MEP, Waldemar Tomaszewski, who talked about the need for integration of Lithuanians in the Vilnius region.

Because the Milosz Year is also celebrated in Lithuania, it would be advisable that the indignant with Poles Lithuanians listen to and take to their hearts the following words of this great poet: “The old days’ Lithuania did not want anyone to convert to its language or faith, the present day Lithuania set itself the mission of depolonisation, arguing that, after all, they are all Lithuanians, just not fully aware of it.” Will these words ever reach the minds of the masses of Lithuanian lunatics, who pretend to be patriots, who, either consciously or not, accelerate the circle of hatred, insulting their co-citizens, who attempt to cultivate the traditions of the GDL and preserve the speech of their ancestors, and who having experienced the blows of Sovietisation and scars of Russification desire to replace them with Lithuanisation? Will there be any wise Lithuanians, who will understand that the common good of all the citizens of various nationalities, with consideration of such a delicate matter as the preservation of identity, language and culture, is vital for our common homeland, and that only such an approach can unite all the people of the Republic of Lithuania?

Piotr Stolypin, a famous Russian reformer, considered one of the most clever Russian politicians, who worked also in Lithuania for some time, once uttered the significant words: “A nation that has no national self-awareness, is just a fertilizer, on which other nations grow.” If someone aspires to talk us round and transform us into this fertilizer, they are bitterly wrong. We have our own characteristics and centuries-old traditions, hence, for us the loss of our authentic selfhood is equal with death.

Oftentimes members of a nationality give in to the pressure of nationalistic stereotypes that are being hammered into their young, silly heads, and abandon their descent and disavow their language, exposing the corruption of their own and their parents’ spirit. After all, they have the right to do so, and the self-determination is the most important factor. However, neither the people who wish to deprive us of our right to be indigenous Lithuanian Poles, and not polonised Lithuanians, nor their supporters should be allowed to deplete the citizens’ right to self-determination according to their conscience.

Lithuanian activists based their research mainly on the ethno-linguistic considerations that are much more shaky than the genetic considerations. It is obvious that people’s mother tongue can be transformed into another in a fairly short period of time, even within two or three generations. Genetic characterisation of the nation is much more concrete, it remains unchanged, and ethno-linguistic factors as language or tradition do not have any influence on it. Nowadays, in the genetic characterisation, one’s national status is defined by taking into consideration their specific haplogroups, because their percentage can only be changed in case of foreign genetic influence.

I would like to see what would happen if a similar logic was used by, for example, Apacheans. Fig. Archives

The above-mentioned Professor Povilas Gylys stoop to state that the Lithuanian “home range” has historically always been Baltic and not Slavic, which supposedly gives them the right to deprive us of our rights. Numerous ethnic Lithuanians support the statement in unison. Mr. Gylys, to my surprise, cast off his mask and revealed his ethnocentric face only in the retirement age. I would like to see what would happen if a similar logic was accepted by the Apatchean, the Sioux or The Wyandot peoples in the U.S., who would wish to downgrade the status of the English language. But even in this case, it would not be a perfect example, since in Lithuania, Polish language was accepted by the ruling elite and the official clergy, and Lithuanians in contrast to Indians were not prosecuted, as they co-ruled the country.

If we are accused that we are merely polonised Lithuanians, and, allegedly, also traitors of the ethnic Lithuanianess (probably, along with Mickiewicz, Moniuszko and Milosz), let us find out what is the ethno-genetic status of the inhabitants of the Vilnius region. I do not intend to find evidence to prove to someone that they are a stranger. I just want to present some data from researches conducted by the most famous Lithuanian geneticists.

To make sure that I am not accused of bias and that nobody files a lawsuit against the “Kurier Wileński”, I suggest going back to the works of Lithuanian geneticists, for example, of the greatest authority in genetics, Professor Vaidutis Kučinskas, who examined the blood of residents of Lithuania and neighboring countries on the subject of the prevalence of LWb alleles that are associated with the Baltic genes and the Baltic haplogroup. I would like to add that a haplogroup is a group of similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor. Haplotypes are series of genes alleles, that are situated in a specific location in the chromosome. The study of the prevalence of haplogroups makes it possible to track the migrations of populations.

The “Baltic” haplogroup occurs at greatest frequency in Latvia (indicator 6.0) and in Lithuania (5.7). How did the Baltic haplogroup spread in the regions of Lithuania? This rate in Samogitia ranges from 6.0 to 7.5, in Aukštaitija from 5.1 to 6.6. What about the Vilnius region? Only 2.7! In Poland, the Baltic haplogroup prevalence reaches 2.0, a similar rate also occurs in the European part of Russia. It is worth remembering that the waves of, so called, repatriation to Poland in the post-war period were substantial, and the studies that are cited here, were conducted when the repatriations had ended. In other words, if the several hundred thousand people (mostly Poles) had not fled the Vilnius region, the Baltic haplogroup rate there would probably be even smaller.

What is more, scientists, including also Lithuanians (Professor Gintautas Česnys) notice the anthropometric differences between the people from Vilnius region and those from the rest of Lithuania and Samogitia. R1a1 haplogroup, which is considered the most typical of Poles, Belarusians and Western Ukrainians, as shown on the prevalence maps, touches mainly the Vilnius region, it occurs in lower frequency in Aukštaitija and is almost non-existent in Samogitia. These data cannot be an excuse for laying any claims or for far-reaching political conclusions, but, of course, it should be given some though and reflection.

Lithuanians should understand that Lithuania is the homeland of the Vilinus Poles, they are not polonised Lithuanians and nobody intends to incorporate Vilnius into any other country. For every single Pole living here would with honesty repeat after Mickiewicz: “Lithuania! My fatherland!” In the age of twenty-first century, any thinking person decides on their nationality and it is extremely tactless to try to persuade them that they are of supposedly different descent, especially using the ethnolinguistic combinations.

A lot of toponyms and hydronyms in Vilnius region are also of Slavonic origin, but the considerable existence of the Lithuanian ones does not have to be an excuse for Lithuanisation. The overwhelming majority of toponyms and hydronyms in Alsace is German. Meanwhile, nowadays no German even thinks about making allusions that the local population is of the German descent. It is not only a matter of politics, but also of ethics and culture. Let us hope that the Lithuanian nation cures itself from the Lithuanisation disease and softens its faulty stereotypes, so that this land on the Neman River blossoms like a beautiful mosaic, made up of different nationalities. So that every non-Lithuanian considers it to be a caring mother, and not a stepmother who is sure to hurt its foster children. And so that the Poles, as the representatives of the indigenous (sic!) minority will have a free access to education in their mother tongue, at least, not to a lesser extent than in the Soviet times.

Poles in Lithuania, the Lithuanian Belarusians, and ethnic Lithuanians, of course, are in equal measure the inheritors and children of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Thus, when anyone of them is being wronged, it is against historical justice and it undermines Lithuania. Poles in Lithuania respect the heritage of the Unions between Poland and Lithuania, because this is a voluntarily adopted heritage of their ancestors. We remember about this because Witowt along with Jagiello put their stamps under these words: “If anyone shelters under its (the Union) wings, he finds safety and does not fear a robbery from anywhere; by it the law is produced, kingdoms are organised and the Common Wealth is at its best state: It is of great virtues, and if whoever despises it, he will lose everything.” And in the end: “In the name of God, amen. For – the eternal – remembrance.”

Prince Witowt-Witold. Fig. archives

May these words of the rulers, not of Lithuanian demagogues, who would have to unite all the citizens of Lithuania, make us remember that we are all inheritors of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. May the dignity of Prince Witold-Witowt not be affronted by those who stir up hatred of everything that is Polish under the cover of preservation of the national heritage. Neither of the three Polish-Lithuanian Unions, of Krewo, of Horodlo and Lublin, assumed any polonisation plans. Offices in Lithuania were taken by the local people who were committed to Lithuania and guarded its laws. They decided on their language of their own volition.

Mikalojus Daukša, a greatly respected by ethnic Lithuanians canon, wrote in 1599: “By the pleasing unification of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with the famous Polish Crown, Polish language in Lithuania is almost innate.” Why Lithuanians do not want to understand the words by Michal Romer, the creator of the Lithuanian constitutional law, and though a Lithuanian Pole, also a patriot of Lithuania, who stated: “Poles in Lithuania constitute a psychological type and a specific social group, one of the Lithuanian indigenous groups”?

Multilingualism has existed in Vilnius region for ages. Anyway, how else should we interpret the phenomenon that, for example, in the Šalčininkai area next to a villages which residents speak only Lithuanian there are villages where only Belarusian or Polish languages are used? Have, therefore, the “polonisers” managed to polonise only some villages? There is no evidence that different policies were adopted in different villages. Moreover, while the Church was most severely accused of polonisation, the Polish villages were not necessarily the ones where churches were built.

Oftentimes, the nationalist Lithuanian lunatics, claim that Poles do not know Polish well, and thus they are not Poles, but polonised Lithuanians. Such allegations, strangely, do not apply to the Tatars, Jews or The Crimean Karaites, who, in most cases, do not know their language at all. These lunatics, do not want to understand that despite Russification, and nowadays – Lithuanisation, the family memories and traditions will remain unchanged, even when subjected to jeopardy under the pressure of assimilators.

Both the Polish language and the native Lithuanian language of near-Vilnius villages have existed here for centuries. As a matter of fact, the language differed significantly from the official Lithuanian language. Crowds of Lithuanian ethnologists, linguists and historians are moved by this variety of the Lithuanian language, saturated with Polish and Belarusian words. Meanwhile, they feel aversion towards the Polish language of the Vilnius region, and use its specificity to justify their own nationalistic tendencies.


Using all the above arguments, I was far from wishing to “bite” the ethnic Lithuanians. I used them in the belief that we also have our weighty arguments, apart from those based on the international conventions or the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty. In order to arrive at an agreement, now more than ever before, the effort and common sense on both sides is needed. As well as the benevolent measures of the majority, that are of primary importance because it is larger and stronger. We need mutual will to normalize the situation. Linguistic and political despotism, lack of constructive dialogue as well as the politics based on the belief that only ethnic Lithuanians are the rightful citizens of the country, while Poles are treated almost as vagrants, lead to nowhere.


Tłumaczenie Eliza Łuszczewska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu Translated by Eliza Łuszczewska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu

Korekta Magdalena Jez w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu Corrected by Magdalena Jez, as a part of vocational training in the European Foundation of Human Rights,  www.efhr.eu

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