• November 28, 2011
  • 276

Lithuanian patriotism = Polish radicalism

The Lithuanian Parliament Irena Degutiené said something absolutely extraordinary as for a politician. She publicly admitted there were things in this world she couldn’t understand; for example how anyone can lose one’s sense of nationality or give up one’s own language. But that’s not all. It turns out Mrs Degutiené is seriously disgusted with the fact that it’s possible to integrate into another society.

I was so delighted by this statement I was ready to get down on my knees in front of Mrs Degutienė, and I tried to convince others to do the same. At last, she was the only person that got it right! I thought she finally heard the arguments of Poles living in Lithuania, understood them and agreed. She will fight for our rights; she will be our spokesperson, our ally; our queen mother who will protect us and persuade those who are deaf to our arguments that everyone should “feel responsible for their own language”.

How disappointed I was after finding out that the statement made by Mrs Degutienė referred only to Lithuanian-speaking citizens in Lithuania, who emigrate westward searching for better life. She didn’t change her mind about Lithuanian Poles. They firmly oppose against “integration into another society”. Strictly speaking, they refuse to give up the Polish language.

Yet again, it turned out that a good Lithuanian patriot is someone that won’t allow the Lithuanian language to be buried and won’t abandon the Lithuanian land. The situation looks different with Lithuanian Poles. Poles stating that they won’t abandon their mother tongue are considered radicals, nationalists, barbarians and disloyal citizens of Lithuania. And Mrs Degutienė’s point of view isn’t an exception. That’s how the question is seen by all most prominent Lithuanian politicians; not only the ruling right wing, but also the oppositional left wing.

The line of thought those people follow is not surprising. We all know how tempting it is to believe in what is more convenient for us. The access to your mother language is being limited? That’s great! That language is nothing more than a burden, cutting you off from “the path to education and integration with the majority of Lithuanian-speaking society”. But what if you are the one to forget your language or you don’t care whether your children know it? It’s a tragedy and a betrayal! It means you are mindless and you lack patriotic spirit! What a disgrace! It’s a real blow for your motherland.  After all, “Lithuania cares about every single Lithuanian, regardless of whether they live in their country or at the other end of the world”. The President of the country made this cheerful announcement just a few weeks ago while addressing representatives of the Lithuanian community in Poland.

So when Lithuania, represented by Grybauskaite and Degutiene, “cares about every single Lithuanian, regardless of whether they live”, it’s a sing of healthy patriotism and attention to their own national substance. But when Poland declares care for every single Pole, even living in Lithuania, it’s considered pressure, aggression, political blackmail; it’s demonstrating superiority and power; it’s a conflict and intervention into the relations between the independent state and its citizens. I only quote some of the views expressed about our politicians. They openly say they have the right to care “because there are only a few Lithuanians”. “There are millions of Poles, so stay away from the Lithuania’s domestic dialogue with its own national communities.”

„Man” – maybe it does sound proud, but, as we see, people can act in many different ways. It’s in human nature to be egoistic. We don’t like people stealing from us. But stealing something from a neighbour – it’s not a crime, it’s fun. Many would like to nick something from another person with great pleasure and without remorse if it weren’t for the fear of being caught and punished. Those are our primary instincts hidden somewhere deep in ourselves, but it’s not wise to show them off, in particular if you’re one of the most important person in the country. Showing off such mentality in public makes politicians look primitive and contemptuous of their own lieges. I said it on purpose: lieges. Lithuanian politicians stopped trying to hide that democracy is one thing, but nation has to be kept on a short leash. For them, the rest of the society are not partners whom they need to consider, ask for advice, talk with, and respect at least in some way.

All citizens have obligations towards their country: they have to pay taxes, keep their mouth shut and be humble servants. Automatic respect, otherwise you will be humiliated, as was the case with Irena Degutienė who seriously offended Lithuanian emigrants.

It’s funny that pretending to apologize, she offended them even more. She divided them into two groups: old noble emigrants, who fled the country to avoid Soviet occupation and be able to nurse the patriotism and love for the motherland in their families; and the new repulsive one. They consist of nouveau riche and deserters who in the face of temporary troubles acted like rats running away from free and independent motherland in pursuit of more and more. Once they have emigrated, they blend into a foreign society and they are ashamed to speak Lithuanian. Yet it’s their duty to make foundations of the country little by little, but also to share responsibility of what is happening with the country itself. So: power, money and splendour is only for politicians, and all the citizens have left is the responsibility for whatever the former do. Thank you very much for such a division.

I haven’t noticed that our emigrants are ashamed of the Lithuanian language. But I have no doubts that Mrs Degutienė is ashamed because of them. Leaving country on such a scale doesn’t make the immigrants look bad but the government, as people feel powerless towards it. Occupation doesn’t necessary need to be Soviet. In my country I perceive it as being politically-bureaucratic.

During the last 20 years, over 600 people left the country and those who stayed want to do the same (including 60% of young people). Confronted with such data, I would treat my citizens like precious Eastern Fabergé eggs. Our people are perceived like a baseball ball. They will wear out, but they can be hit for the time being. Though, citizens of non-Lithuanian nationality are in the worst situation. They are considered dangerous, ridiculous and lamentable. They stick to a weird language. When they are pushed to give it up, they refuse and become even more stubborn. It means they must be aggressive. They might have not made any harm so far, but who knows what the future will bring – they might hit you with a flail. You need to be vigilant. But hit you with a flail? It’s quite obvious that not with a piano or a dental drill. Nowadays, it is a common knowledge in Lithuania (and also in Poland thanks to “Newsweek”) that if you’re a graduate of a Polish school, your professional career might be cleaning or doing something in that vein; a taxi driver or a cushy number as a cloakroom attendant at most.

In my opinion, every honest work is nothing to be ashamed of. Well, almost every. Personally, I’m not that keen on ticket inspectors and the majority of domestic professional politicians. What irritates me more and more often is when not only people from the front pages but any pen-pusher, who has just learnt how to tie his tie or who thinks that putting on a suit will make up for his lack of good manners, accuse us that Polish schools produces only the lowest category of workers.

To prove my point: I myself graduated from a Polish school, passed my final exams and, thanks to that, studied journalism in Lithuanian at Vilnius University. I was one of the best students in my year. But nowadays, young people have even surpassed us. I am not sure if it was noticed that students from Polish schools in Šalčininkai district talked in English with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Kunt Vollebaek. And they didn’t talk about their hobbies but they raised the issue of a controversial act on education.

My niece, who has just graduated from the Vilnius Academy of Fine Art, was the only person who received standing ovation for her graduation work. Among my cousins’ and my friends’ children everyone pursued higher education. In every family you can find young lawyers, economists, doctors, professional musicians, psychologists, sociologists; holders of such complex diplomas that I can’t even repeat or remember what their profession is. Each of them knows more foreign languages than three statistical Lithuanian politicians altogether. So when I hear that those people represent, according to politicians and bureaucrats, a generation crippled with education in Polish schools, my blood is up.

Many a time have I heard stories about university teachers being absolutely shocked upon discovery that they talked to graduates of non-Lithuanian schools; that they are just like others: gifted and able to talk in Lithuanian on the same level as their peers do.

When I was young, nobody was particularly surprised. But if they are surprised now, it means that the aggressive campaign discrediting Polish schools has been a great success. More and more politicians, officials, historians and a whole bunch of self-appointed experts in whatever area get involved. The most recent sensation endorsed by the latter is that well-off parents from minorities send their children only to Lithuanian schools. Naturally, they do it out of concern for their children’s future education and career. That’s just rubbish, yet very catchy. The message is as old as the hills: Poles who don’t give up their language are stupid, because they’re poor; they’re poor because they’re as thick as a brick. They went to Polish schools, so they condemn their children to the same sad future. Does it matter that students from Polish schools who go to universities and graduate are in the lead in Lithuania? No, it’s just statistics. Our experts ignore the statistics they consider unreliable.  They endorse prejudices of their own making. It’s deplorable, as well as dangerous. Someone wise noted: old prejudices make you laugh, new ones – shiver with fear.

Public opinion slowly, but quite effectively starts to believe that Polish schools are a seedbed of ignorance and hostility towards Lithuania; Factories of semi-literate students, who, once they get stuck in a Polish school, shouldn’t even waste their time taking final exams. Anyway, they don’t have to become dentists (meaning: they won’t make it anyway). Not so long ago such propaganda, accompanied by a display of superiority and arrogance, was offered to the representatives of the Forum of Parents from Polish Schools by Lithuanian diplomats from intergovernmental commission of education appointed by the Polish and Lithuanian prime ministers. I’m not surprised anymore when I read that someone from the Ministry of education suggested a parent should take his children, get out of here and move to “your Poland”. If Poles can be chased away by the vice-president of the parliamentary commission of foreign affairs Justinas Karosas, then no wonder Mrs Vaicekauskienė can do the same. She clearly must be another expert on education, and we all know experts can’t be wrong.

The OSCE High Commissioner Kunt Vollebaek left our country with an assumption that there is a legal loophole in Lithuanian legislation on the question of national minorities (no act on minorities) and that in general the situation doesn’t look very promising. He has given his word he will send suitable recommendations. I’m not sure he realizes our government is not used to taking into consideration any recommendations. Similarly, no significance is attached to ratification of international documents regulating status quo of national minorities. But maybe…

Recently, the President Dalia Grybauskaite assured Polish Lithuanians: “Our task is to help you preserve your own culture and make it possible for you to pursue education in your mother tongue”. They really needed such consolatory words, because before the Knut Vollebaek’s visit to Poland, they came to a conclusion the Polish government wasn’t treating them right. It’s sad and unforgivable. That’s why I strongly support our president’s intentions to help them. I rejoice at the thought that Polish community manifested in Vilnus against the discriminatory act on education. And what did they achieve? Support for Lithuanian schools in Poland, both from the Polish and Lithuanian authorities. Dear all, take advantage of that. I bet that you will get such pleasure from the Lithuanian side as long as they will need a way to get back on us, Poles.


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

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