- July 19, 2012
Radczenko: On stubbornness, stereotypes and solutions
There probably isn’t another country in the world where so much attention is being paid toLithuaniaas it is inPoland. Similarly, politicians and journalists inLithuaniacentre most of their attention onPolandand the Poles inLithuania. Paradoxically, this leads neither to an understanding of the Lithuanian stance, nor of the Polish arguments.
Time and time again, the Polish debate on the subject of Polish-Lithuanian relations has come down to general platitudes about the Lithuanians asking for Polish help, having refused it before, and the Lithuanian one – to discussions about the “new big brother”.
“Emotions take over in the matters concerning minorities. They are certainly not without significance for the foreign, as well as internal, policies in both countries. But the hearts and minds of the Lithuanians inPolandand the Poles inLithuaniacan’t be measured. Some feel better, others feel worse, just as within the majority. There certainly are those, who are justified in feeling persecuted, offended, discriminated, by their neighbours or local authorities. Here, as well as there . . . . There’s no point in bringing politicians for account for emotions. They need to be brought to account for laws . . . . In such context, Lithuania doesn’t look good, because since the signing of the Polish-Lithuanian treaty 18 years ago, no law beneficial to the Lithuanian Poles has been voted there,” Jerzy Haszczyński wrote last week in Rzeczpospolita (“Przerwa w Relacjach”; “A Pause in Relations”).
No law – that’s of course an exaggeration. Some favourable decisions have been made: concerning citizenship, more funding for national minority schools or reducing the requirements to form Polish grades at schools, in the matter of the branch of theUniversityofBiałystokand the state funding of its students etc. However, it’s clear that these individual successes are overshadowed by the amendment of the Education Act, the unresolved issue of the writing of names, surnames and place-names, and land restitution.
This stubbornness is irrational
For the observers inPoland, the defiance and stubbornness of the Lithuanians concerning national minorities and their language rights seem to be completely irrational in the face of potential threat from the East. “President Bronisław Komorowski, whose family comes fromLithuania, thinks that the Lithuanians won’t come to the Poles for help. Unless, I should add, they understand thatPolandposes no threat. Or that there is another threat, a larger one and without inhibitions,” Haszczyński writes.
He’s right – this stubbornness is irrational, even if the eastern danger is exaggerated, but at the same time… it’s understandable. It results from the myths and stereotypes that are at the very foundation of the contemporary Lithuanian national consciousness, as well as from the rejection of the possibility to conform to the wishes – real or imagined – of a “big brother”, which is natural for a country that has only recently regained independence. As the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Audronius Ažubalis, said a year ago: “Some think that they can get something out of us through various pressures.Russiafailed at this, as did theSoviet Union, and no one will succeed in it. We don’t need a ‘big brother’”…
As Haszczyński quite rightly observes, “Lithuaniais still under the rule of one coffin, that of Antanas Smetona, a leader in the interwar period, when our countries were in a state of discord, had no diplomatic relations, and children in Lithuanian schools were taught anti-Polish lyrics and songs”. This inheritance, this heritage of the interwar period, still pays. The anti-Polish myths and stereotypes that were created then are still alive and well.
It is just as inPolandthe anti-German myths are alive and well, and inRussia– the anti-American ones, just as inLithuaniastemming from years of propaganda, negative experiences and fear of the stronger party. As the prominent American sociologist, Robert K. Merton, observed already 60 years ago, the questioning of these deeply ingrained complexes doesn’t come down to a simple act of will. False ideas, even when confronted with the truth, disappear very slowly, and if paranoia could be treated by informing the patient of the absolute groundlessness of his or her delusions and skewed ideas, we wouldn’t need psychiatrists. Similarly, delusions of nationalistic paranoids can’t be cured off-hand and only through education.
Education and propaganda may serve only as complements to institutional and administrative actions of the state, because paraphrasing Merton, one might ask: for how long will a primary school teacher in Kaunas, Zarasai or Šalčininkai stay in office, if he or she determinedly tries to rid the pupils of the prejudices that they’d learned at home, which they hear in the media and from the politicians? Especially when across the river Bug voices appear, time after time, to somehow pressLithuania, to suffocate it a bit, to compel it into concessions.
Haszczyński is of course pretending when he states that today inPoland“no one makes claims toVilnius, that there are no nostalgic expressions of the ex-inhabitants . . . . Fortunately, no one has such dreams ofVilnius”. Such expressions and such dreams endure, only the influence of their champions is quite marginal. And in this sense, of course, “the Lithuanians shouldn’t fear even the Polish dreams”.
The big brother stereotype
These anti-Polish stereotypes overlap with the “big brother” stereotype, which applies to Lithuanians… as well as Poles. InPoland, which has almost 40m citizens, is a regional superpower and the only EU economy that has gone through the crisis without problems, it’s difficult to understand the worries, fears and complexes of the eastern neighbours, the temptation to resolve everything immediately, even from the position of the stronger partner, is too great. Unfortunately, such complex issues simply can’t be resolved immediately, and there are also no real mechanisms to forceLithuaniainto any concessions.
Russia, which after all isn’t a NATO or EU member, and has fantastic means of pressure in the form of oil and gas pipelines, as well the access to its huge and absorbent market, has probably tried all the means in the arsenal of a fairly civilized and powerful country to protect the rights of its “соотечественников” (“compatriots”) in Latvia and Estonia, and has accomplished almost nothing there. The mass protests of the Latvian Russians in 2004, far wider and fiercer than those of the Poles inLithuania, against an even more restrictive Education Act than the current one inLithuania, generously supported and approved byMoscow, have failed completely.
In 2007, the Soviet Bronze Soldier monument in a park in the centre ofTallinnwas moved to a less accessible military burial ground, despite a surge of activists fromMoscow, attacks of hackers and violent clashes with the police.Polandhas even fewer means, able to forceLithuaniainto changing its course, in regard to its EU and NATO partner.
The need for pragmatic elites
Therefore, onlyLithuaniaitself can change this course. The simplest pragmatic balance of costs and losses would be enough to show in black and white that it’s better to have good relations with your neighbours and your own citizens, rather than a never-ending guerrilla war. For that, however, at least 70 political accountants are needed in the parliament, and not overly emotional historians and amateur linguists.
Pragmatic elites are needed, who will finally grow up to the idea that sticking with the 19th c. language formulas, national stereotypes and historical myths written to “uplift the hearts” is simply not profitable. Without doubt, they will grow up, as such is the vector of development of all civilized nations. The results of the study “The Image of Poles in Lithuania and the Image of Poland in the Lithuanian society” also points this way – despite appearances and what is being written in the media, despite the statements of politicians, the Lithuanians and the Poles in Lithuania don’t hate each other.
As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Poles inLithuania, as well as the vast majority of Lithuanians, think pragmatically, with common sense and with peace in mind. We don’t brood over the old wounds, or the historical or ethnic arguments, and in the common history and the present we try to search, first of all, for positive things that bind, and not divide, us. Unfortunately, time and the voters’ will are needed for a change of elites. And the best thing thatPolandcould do today to improve the Polish-Lithuanian relations and the situation of the Lithuanian Poles is to support the creation of such Lithuanian and Polish elites inLithuania. I’m just not sure whether a single step has recently been made in this direction, because pragmatic politicians are lacking not only inLithuania.
Tłumaczenie Aleksandra Musiał w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Aleksandra Musiał within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.