• March 28, 2012
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The discussion about Polish young people at Vilnius University

© DELFI (Š.Mažeikos nuotr.)

On the 27th of March Lithuanian-Polish Dialogue Center organized another meeting at the faculty of history at Vilnius University. The visitors tried to answer the question: ‘Polish  young people in Lithuania: with whom and/or against whom?.’

This time the guests were Edward Trusewicz, the Association of Poles in Lithuania secretary and Aleksander Radczenko, Vilnius councilor from EAPL and Polish journalist and blogger in Lithuania.

In the introduction Edward Trusewicz underlined that it’s hard to talk about Polish young people’s attitude ‘against something.’ ‘We are obligated to be Lithuanian citizens, loyal citizens, we don’t want to close ourselves in our community, we are open,’ said a young Polish politician.

He added that Poles in the Vilnius region don’t dream about the autonomy ‘Today, there are no such (confrontational moods) as 20 years ago. I know that in Lithuanian society still exist some fears connected with the Polish autonomy project. I can assure you that today Polish community in Lithuania has no autonomy demands. And such discussions are pure speculations, which should be abandoned,’ added Edward Trusewicz. He proposed leaving historical issue behind without trying to interpret them uniformly. He also proposed creating the future, as we are doomed to this.

But the guests didn’t agree that it is possible to reject completely the debate on the historical topics. ‘Lithuanian national identity arose as an anti-Polish identity and that’s the way the history of Lithuania is taught at schools. Having finished  school, a  young person is convinced that if it hadn’t been for Poles, Jogaila, Jadwiga and the union of Krewo, Lithuania would be a blooming country today. Without breaking these stereotypes about the common Poliah-Lithuanian history, we shouldn’t expect good Polish-Lithuanian relationship,’ noticed a famous Lithuanian journalist and columnist, the discussion moderator.

‘I was asked some time ago what monument is missing in Lithuania. I answered that Jozef Pilsudski, who also fought for Lithuania as he understood it. Since that day I am an enemy to all Lithuanian nationalists,’ joked Savukynas. Irena Vaišvilaitė, a cultural anthropologist from Vilnius university was of the same opinion. ‘In the school books the conflict about Vilnius is presented as Polish-Lithuanian conflict, whereas that was an internal Lithuanian conflict, the conflict of the former Lithuanians and the present Lithuanians. The local people from Lithuania served in Zeligowski’s troops. They fought for Lithuania, their own Lithuania. There clashed two different concepts of this Lithuania.’

Aleksander Radczenko stated that current Polish-Lithuanian conflict is not a human conflict, but still a political one. ‘It’s a matter the difference of political values. Poles in Lithuania have some set of demands, on which Lithuanians don’t want to agree. As long as there is no  agreement, the conflict will last, the columnist notices. Answering the question of which demand is the most important, Radczenko underlined that it is categorically the matter of Polish education in Lithuania. ‘The situation in this field worsened just after the amendment to the education act,’ said Polish blogger.

Edward Trusewicz agreed with Radczenko, though in his opinion there were always problems with Polish education, for example, after the liquidation of the obligatory Matura exam from the Polish language or assembling the classes in Polish schools. ‘The education act focused the public opinion’s attention on them. I want to underline that we, Poles in Lithuania, are not totally against this act.

Some regulations of this act could exist on condition that a long temp period would be introduced so that the students could get accustomed to the new regulations. Of course, the most important question is whether there exists a real need of such changes. Young Polish people in Lithuania perfectly know Lithuanian,’ Trusiewicz claims. In his opinion, what is missing is some symbolic gesture from Lithuanian side, which would show a real willingness of solving Polish-Lithuanian conflict. The act of name and surname spelling would be such a gesture.’

The discussion participants stated that Lithuanian lack of experience in relationships with the minorities can have influence on the present situation, as through the vast part of their history, they had to struggle with the role of minority, of which they freed just in 1990. ‘That led to the situation in which we have two minority communities, the first counts two and a half million people while the second over 200 000. Now these minorities argue about the status of being more aggrieved,’ underlines Irena Vaišvilaitė.

According to the Lithuanian scientist, the present outlook on the minorities is old-fashioned. ‘We descended a Soviet outlook on the minorities. They are the dancing bands dressed in colorful national costumes to us, in our conception,’ Irena Vaišvilaitė added. Aleksander Radczenko agreed with that statement and at the same time he refused that the Polish-Lithuanian problem is just a matter of Tomaszewski-Songaila. ‘This is not just a personality problem but this is about the outlook on the minorities.’

We often think that the problem is caused by certain people. And if we were to dismiss Songalia and Tomaszewski, everything would be all right. This is not the point. In the 90’s people said the same things about Maciejkianiec. They said that if he would go away everything would be OK. He went away and even his views have changed, but the relationships are not better. In the past, when Polish-Lithuanian relationships were good, the problems were brushed under the carpet. Now they are in the open,’ said Polish columnist.

The guests came to the conclusion that it’s worth looking for the support for the decisions and actions, which would end up Polish-Lithuanian conflict, in various Lithuanian political powers. At the same time a famous Lithuanian political scientist Šarūnas Liekis underlined that Poles should stop treating the education issues as an exclusively Polish matter. ‘Last year, when the signatures were gathered against the amendments to the education act, I supported them. When I told Bogdan Borusewicz, the Marshal of the Senate,  about that, he was surprised. ‘Why did you do that? It’s an exclusively Polish business!’ I think that such thinking leads to the defeat. You have to look for allies on the Lithuanian side.

Edward Trusewicz distinguished two groups of the young in Lithuania. ‘The first is Polish youth, which identify more with Poland than Lithuania. Poland is their fatherland and they are simply guests in Lithuania. The second group constitutes the youth which feel as the citizens of Lithuania of Polish origin. The indicator of their identity is the fact that they have both Polish and Lithuanian friends,’ Edward Trusewicz explained. In his opinion every steps should be taken to integrate these two parts of  Polish youth so as to create the unity for which both Polish and Lithuanian part would be equally important. ‘When I listen to the Lithuanian national anthem, I feel a thrill of excitement. But the same happens when I hear Polish national anthem,’ explained the APL secretary.

‘Polish youth in Lithuania is the same as everywhere else. There are radicals, ultra-radical cosmopolitans, but this are the margins. The mass of the youth want simply a normal, calm life. They want to set up families, make career, study, work, earn, have fun together with their Lithuanian peers. The present Polish-Lithuanian conflict makes it difficult for them. Their demands from the Polish and Lithuanian intellectualists, the elites of this country are extremely simple: reach an agreement , find some compromise,’ Aleksander Radczenko concluded.



Translated by Adam Gałązka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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