- September 24, 2012
Polish demonstration in Kaunas Region
Last Saturday in Vandžiogala, a small town located near Kaunas and homeland of Czesław Miłosz, ca. 30 Poles led by a Lithuanian priest, Oskras Volskis, demonstrated in front of the holy Trinity Church against the national discrimination. The parish priest held up a megaphone and banner written in Lithuanian reading “Local authorities and social democrats ignore Vandžiogala because Poles live there”. The authorities of Kaunas district were so scared of the action and consequently they cancelled the planned celebration of the 628th anniversary of the town.
“There were the Miracle at the Vistula and here we had a true miracle at Vandžiogala” said Ryszard Jankowski, one of the demonstrators, a president of the local Association of Poles in Lithuania and sacristan of the holy Trinity Church. He and the parish priest, Oskras Volskis, gathered local people in order to demonstrate against the discrimination of this town located in central Lithuania which has ca. 1800 residents. Ca. 300-400 residents of Vandžiogala are Poles who claim that they have been living here since the time of Jagiello.
Demonstrators tried to draw attention to problems that are important for both communities – Lithuanian and Polish. According to Rev. Volskis, the situation has been caused by the fact that the authorities of Kaunas district led by social democrats ignore repeatedly the problems of Vandžiogala. “The local authorities waved our problem aside. They think that they don’t have to care about our town and consequently, they neglect our social issues because Polish people live there. The cemetery, where the ancestors of Czesław Miłosz are buried, including his grandfather, Artur Miłosz, is in extremely poor condition. The poet’s grandfather had a mansion 3 kilometres away” said Ryszard Jankowski.
According to the local people, before the parliamentary elections in October, the authorities decided to “show Vandžiogala their face” and announced the celebration of the 628th anniversary of the town. The celebration would include the street basketball tournament, the award for the owner of the most beautiful farm, the drawing on asphalt contest, greetings for families of the children born this year, and other attractions.
“It’s nothing special. It would be an ordinary pre-election social democratic campaign. And we decided to make use of this action and tell the authorities and mayor what we think about them and what we want for Vandžiogala.” explained Jankowski. The scared authorities cancelled the celebration. “We worry about the safety of our citizens, about possible incidents. There are certain rumours, we don’t know what we can expect.” Vytautas Šniauka, Vandžiogala staroste, explained the “Kauno diena” newspaper why the celebration had been cancelled. According to the newspaper, the authorities heard certain rumours that Poles form Vilnius Region were going to participate in demonstration.
“It’s a pack of lies and rumours” the sacristan said angrily. The Poles invited also Lithuanian people to the common demonstration. The Reverend encouraged to organise a common demonstration, however, someone told Lithuanian people that it was only Polish demonstration so it was supported only by Poles.
Since the Lithuanian declaration of independence in 1918, the relationship between Poland and Lithuania has not been good. The authorities of independent Lithuania as well as the communist government after the war were carrying out the policy of the assimilation of Poles in Central Lithuania. “Before the war almost all residents of Vandžiogala were Poles. However, the authorities didn’t allow us to open a school. What’s more, they didn’t even approve of the fact that we were using Polish language on our streets. Parents were being persuaded not to talk with their children in Polish because they wouldn’t have any future. Church was a main pillar of Polish identity. People have been fighting for the mass in Polish before the war, in the time of Soviets, and now – after regaining the independence. Various priests have been working here. Not all of them knew Polish so the masses were in Latin, I was reading prayers in Polish. At the beginning of his work Rev. Oskaras wasn’t trusting of us as well. In the end he has understood that we don’t pose a danger for Lithuania.” said Jankowski.
The authorities are irritated not only by the presence of Poles but also by Vandžiogala’s connection with Czesław Miłosz. “At the beginning they didn’t know who he was. During his visit in 1992, Miłosz wanted to meet with students of the local school where they asked me “And who is he? A Nobel Prize winner? And why didn’t he live here?” When I said he had been living in exile, they answered “If he was in exile, then he was certainly hiding something form the authorities.” According to the local Poles, during the last year celebration of Miłosz’s jubilee, the local government ignored the celebration in Vandžiogala as well as they could.
Tłumaczenie Karolina Rolka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Rolka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.