• March 30, 2012
  • 282

Radczenko: ‘Polishness is nice’

© Reuters/Scanpix

They beat him because he spoke Polish. Another blow in Polish education and another lost court case. The statements of Polish local activists and the articles in the Polish press resemble a front line. The image of a Pole, who is constantly discriminated, beaten, treated as a second category citizen without future prospects and chances of finding a good job, making a career or gaining recognition, emerges out of this,.

The media, politicians and organizations earn money for their activities more easily in this way. It is not strange then that the number of Poles in Lithuania is getting smaller every year. Nobody wants to be associated with shame, backwater, ghetto or a constant loser. Poles in Vilnius want to live a life of ease. They don’t want to be in a state of permanent fight.

Our politicians and journalists proudly say of a quarter-million Polish minority. But, indeed, according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, there are 40 000 less Poles in Lithuania, around 212 thousands (in 2011, according to The National Census from 2001, there were around 235 thousand Poles.) I will not be surprised if the results of the last year census will show that the number of Poles in Lithuania diminished even more.

National freaks will say that these statistics are the result of a smear campaign of the Lithuanian government against Polishness in Lithuania. So how should we explain the phenomenon of geometrical increase of Silesian minority in Poland? The minority whose existence is not admitted by the Polish government and the minority which has no its own schools and has no subsidies and grants? The minority that the leader of the biggest opposition party calls ‘hidden German option?’ In 2001, 173 thousand people declared Silesian nationality, whereas last years it was 809 thousand!

I observe Silesian people’s activities for many years and I have to admit that they not only fight for admission of their national identity or for the seats in the Seyms and the regional councils, but they also propagate their Silesian identity in many ways. Not only through conservation of their Silesian dialect and folklore, but also through activities worthy of the 21st century, such as happenings, hip-hop and rock concerts, promotion of the Silesian people, who achieved success and at the same time didn’t renounce their Silesian identity, in the media. They even produce funny t-shirts. I can notice inventiveness and wit in their activities. I can’t see it here in Lithuania where Polishness has become simply profitable profession for some people and unwanted ballast for the other.

Poles in Lithuania have reasons to be proud of themselves. Not only in a historical sense. The people, who prove that you can be both a Pole and be successful in Lithuania, live next to us. Dozens of Lithuanian businessmen, top managers, judges, lawyers, policemen, scientists, people connected with art and culture are of Polish descent and this is the proof. Unfortunately, people talk about them very little, if they speak at all. We have also many stars, which are in the spotlight, and are notoriously present in the Lithuanian media, in TV, in the newspapers and magazines. We have many talented people who, with one resourceful effort, create something positive and create a thaw in Polish-Lithuanian relations. They develop, so called, medial opportunities, which we cannot use.

Ewelina Saszenko, after representing Lithuania on the ‘Eurovision’ contest last year, has made a brilliant career. This year Lithuanian national television for the first time, as far as
I remember, broadcast new year’s wishes in Polish. And it was Ewelina Saszenko who did it. I am afraid that if the image of Lithuanian Poles was shaped only by Waldemar Tomaszewski’s question in Brussels, we would wait for it another 20 years. Tomek Sinicki, the former leader of one of the best Lithuanian rock bands ‘Gravel,’ broke into the Lithuanian show business, not only with the strong guitar riffs, but also with the ironic and sarcastic comments. He is still a very respected musician and lyricist.

Katarzyna Niemyćko has recently entered the saloons of Lithuanian entertainment. We all observe the success of her ‘Chestnut Choir’ in ‘Chorų karai’ with pleasure. Every Sunday Vilnius region is on thousands Lithuanians’ lips and… nothing happens. Vilnius local government provides financial support to the choir, which represents the local government. But, in fact, they have no idea how to use this popularity.  We can also remind of, today a bit forgotten, but previously successful singers Agnieszka Dobrowolska and Beata Wilkin. We can find many Polish names in Lithuanian classical music. Jan Maksymowicz a perfect jazz saxophonist, Zbigniew Lewicki, The Lithuanian National Symphonic Orchestra concertmaster or Gabriela Vasiliauskaitė, a famous opera singer.

They are admired by thousands of people. Not only by Poles, (actually, not by them) they are in the spotlight, they are modern, witty, intelligent, pleasant, independent, they speak correct Lithuanian. When Ewelina Saszenko says that after graduating from Polish school you can know Lithuanian language, many Lithuanians believe it. But when some of our leading politicians says the same things in broken Lithuanian, it is grist to the education reformers’ mill.

None of them disavow their Polishness as oppose to, for instance, Lithuanian stars of Russian descent, who unwillingly mention their roots. And it is they who should be the symbols of our community and they should set a good example. The Polish media should write particularly about them — I know that it’s difficult as the judgments of our young stars are often very different from the Polish local activists’ opinions, on which our journalism is oriented and which presents it to the readers as the only Poles in Lithuania’s opinions and even critical towards them — if they are really concerned about the existence of Polish minority in Lithuania and about shaping a positive image of Polishness not only in Lithuanian peoples’ eyes, but also, first and foremost, a young generation of Lithuanian Poles.

It’s enough to turn on MTV, to go to the cinema or to some concert to see that today Afro Americans dominate in American (not only American) sport and mass culture. The whole world listens to Beyonce Knowles or Jay Z, watches the movies with Halle Berry, Danzel Washington or Whoopi Goldberg. Barack Obama won the presidential election in the USA four years ago. A dozen or so years ago such things existed just in  Hollywood science-fiction movies. And 50 or 60 years ago black musicians played just for the black people and white for the white people. Each race had its own world. And this black one resembled ghetto. Negros constantly straightened their hair and whitened their skin trying to become like white people, integrate and assimilate with the majority. Until in the 60’s someone said ‘Black is beautiful!’ Stop imitating others. We are who we are and we can be proud of ourselves! Black is beautiful!

Nobody wants to be a loser. People want to identify themselves exclusively with success. Today, very many young Poles in Lithuania connect success just with being Lithuanian. Hence, a sudden decrease in the number of children in Polish schools and an increase in the number of Polish children in Lithuanian schools. In 1989 in Lithuania 10623 pupils learned in Polish (2,09% of all pupils.) For ten years we registered an increase reaching 22300 pupils in 2000 (4% of all pupils) but the tendency reversed and came another ‘escape’ of Poles from Polish schools reaching a thousand people a year and resulting in the fact that now there are 12895 pupils in Polish schools (3% of all pupils). There are many causes but, undoubtedly, one of them is lack of modern Polishness promotion and lack of diverse cultural offer.

I’ve met with an opinion that Poles in Lithuania will get lithuanized in two generation’s time without the bilingual street plates and without an original spelling of the surnames. The example if Lithuanian people in Poland and Saami in Finland indicates that having all possible rights doesn’t guarantee anything. Polishness in Lithuania will get a chance for survival when it becomes a symbol of success. As I mentioned earlier, it is not difficult to show that Polishness and success can go hand in hand but we can’t waste that chance and use current circumstances. Every marketer knows that creating a good product is not enough, it is necessary to invest in advertisement to sell it.

If Polishness won’t become ‘beautiful’ ‘nice’ and ‘cool,’ all this fight for Polish schools, for original spelling of Polish surnames, for bilingual street and city plates can turn out to be Sisyphean labour. We’ll get all these rights and then it’ll appear that there are no people to use them.


Tłumaczenie Adam Gałązka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. 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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