- July 20, 2012
Samsel: “Our” national minorities
Once, when Łukaszenka was talking about Poles in Belarus he said that those are “our” Poles and Poland has nothing to do with them. The expression and its sense are certainly unacceptable. Any nation does not belong to another one and cannot be told by others what is good for it.
There is some sort of rationality in his words, although it is not what he meant. It would be so, if “our” meant “common”, having the same rights, able to cultivate national identity. It would be then about being “our” citizens who are just the same as the majority. And the best interest of our/common country would be of the same importance for everyone.
Russians living in Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) are very often considered “unreliable citizens.” Poles in Lithuania are perceived in a very similar way. Because of that, it comes as no surprise that in Lithuania Polish and Russian minorities “play together” not only in political but also in human dimension. Russians and Poles are closer than Lithuanians. Poles in Lithuania, to a large extent, as thier primary medium choose a Russian-speaking one.
It is not only a habit from the Soviet times. Also for young people it is an interesting alternative. Such an alliance is sometimes surprising for Poles living in their homeland but still it is completely rational and logical. Politically, it is just an alliance of national minorities. Mentally it is about similarities. However, according to some people, Russians should not have the same rights as Polish minority because they are incomers.
How can somebody who was born and brought up (and very often also his or her parents) here be called an incomer? Which generations should be perceived as incomers? In my opinion it is a dead end in the fight for minority rights. Everyone who has a citizenship of the country he or she lives in but identifies with a different nation than the dominant one should be treated as a member of a national minority and be aware of both consequences of such a situation and rights he or she has. The difference between Russian and Polish minority is that any particular region is not densely populated by the former. While Poles inhabit mainly in Vilnius Region, Russians live both there and in Kowno. They can be met anywhere, which influences the usage of bilingual street or towns names. And that is something Poles are fighting for.
It is different with spelling surnames. While Poles use Latin alphabet, Russians use Cyrillic which would in fact cause problems with original surname spelling. As a result two of the main demands of Polish minority are not significant for the Russian one. There are more similarities in the field of education. But what cements the alliance is simply the fact that they are both minorities, especially, when the majority does not hide their dislike. Poles are considered main “enemies” by extreme Lithuanian nationalists. That is probably because their demands (spelling surnames, bilingual names) should be satisfied. And what is more, that is possible due to their high population density and the fact that they use the same alphabet. Taking European standards into account, there are no arguments against introducing the changes. Poles are enemies number one.
It is a kind of phobia and fear of the small Lithuanian nation which turns the people against Poles and Russians. It is the fact that the citizens are more “Polish” or “Russian” than “Lithuanian.” Russians living in any Baltic state do not feel like coming back to Russia.
Those ready to do so have already left. A vast majority of them prefer to stay where they are and are not interested in living in Russia strictly for practical reasons. Living standards in Lithuania, despite all the difficulties, are much higher than in their motherland. They want to be Russians but European. Poles also do not miss Poland but for other reasons. As I mentioned above it is a question of mentality.
Here in Lithuania, their mentality, customs and habits are completely natural. They know more about Polish Russianness that Polishness from Warsaw or Poznań. This does not mean that they are worse or better Poles. No. They are such Poles as they want to be. They are simply different. They do not want Poland to be here again. It is like that in most cases. However, if Lithuanian authorities will aim at assimilation which means “Lithuaninzation” the situation can change. It would be self-fulfilling prophecy.
This kind of pushing citizens of different nationality out of the country automatically pushes them into the arms of a different state. It is natural. The fear of “fifth column” which is irrational today can become totally rational tomorrow because of Lithuanian majority and its activities. It can be prevented by improving things which encourage minorities to stay, so by making them feel at home. It does not mean Lithuanians are not supposed to feel at home too. What is needed is a change of mentality so that multiculturalism, instead of arousing anxiety, was considered strength of each nation. In many places around the word this model functions pretty well so why shouldn’t it in Lithuania?
It could be useful to take also the economic aspect into account. One cannot forget about it simply because he or she lives in Lithuania. For the time being, Poles do not emigrate on a large scale to Poland to earn their bread and butter. All the more so Russians do not go to Russia. There is a problem of emigration, however, it concerns all nations. They leave but to England or Ireland. In this case there are no differences between Lithuanians and national minorities. One can say that there is even the same problem to be solved. This is common ground. If there is a community of interests in that field it can be easier to reach an agreement in other spheres.
Members of minorities will be loyal citizens when they feel at home and when their economic conditions are tolerable. However, they cannot provide it by themselves. For obvious reasons, it cannot be done without the majority. Instead of pushing minorities out, one should attract them with the idea of a common country. Then, all the fears about Lithuania’s disintegration will be similar to those from the story about the “iron wolf.” It is not something impossible. It would be enough for Lithuanians to build up their self-esteem just as Poles and Russians did. This is where strength comes from. Having the strength, one does not fear others any more. Then indeed, Lithuanians will be able to say “our” about Poles and Russians in the right sense.
Tłumaczenie Małgorzata Mitoraj w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Małgorzata Mitoraj within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.