• October 2, 2012
  • 245

Volskis: Polish Lithuania

Wandziagoła, fot. www.vandziogala.eu

Not so long ago, there was a young man, armed with a notebook and a pencil, who appeared one evening in a church in Vandziogala. He introduced himself as a “Kauno diena” newspaper journalist Saulius Tvirbutas. He was especially interested in the protest organized in the parish that day in the town of Vandziogala. The conversation was totally different from what appeared in the article.

The central thought of the article is absurd: a Lithuanian parish priest incites ethnic tensions against the Lithuanians!… It is easy to work out that the final version of the article was influenced by the social democrats from the Kaunas Region. There was no such strange assumption mentioned in the information provided by BNS (Baltic News Service), Delfi or other professional mass media.  

The town of Vandziogala is special because of two reasons. People of Polish nationality have lived here for the last couple of centuries. This truth is fiercely denied by some of the Lithuanians living in Vandziogala who call it the effect of the Polonization. On the other hand, members of the Social Democratic Party, who govern the offices of the district authorities and the high school, aspire to have absolute control there. As a result of their activity, the town and the parish are in terrible condition and the Polish people there are constantly criticized.

When I arrived here to take the parish over, I found it in almost complete destruction. That was a real fulfillment of the Soviet power dreams and a mockery of the ideals of independence. The altar was covered with mildew. The first encounter with the local people made me realize what they lived and breathed – they fought a battle with Poles but Poles did not want to surrender. Even then, a local teacher Urbienė, ignoring any decency rules, attacked Poles. An argument started so, in low spirits, I had to leave the meeting as soon as possible. I was also aware that I had to find some other place to live.

In the two years of my work I have not had any problems with Polish people although there were problems with some of the Lithuanians, office workers and the high school management, who have caused me problems. I did not catch sight of the social democratic headmaster, who was highly spoken of by the author of the above-mentioned article, neither in church, nor on the last-year’s commemoration of February 16. I have not seen him on the international conference dedicated to Czeslaw Milosz – or elsewhere.

Where did the Polish people in Vandziogala come from? Are they enemies? These are fundamental questions.

Based on the Russian Imperial Census, a historian Włodzimierz Wakara established that there were 172 055 Poles who had lived in Kaunas in 1897. As an example, Poles in Kaunas constituted 75% of the population, in Vandziogala – 95% and in Rumšiškės – 25%. Currently, they constitute just 15% of the Vandziogala population.

Since the times of Jagiello, the Polish people have legally lived in Lithuania just as it was lawful for Jagiello to marry their Queen, Jadwiga; for both nations to unite; for the Polish and Lithuanian nobility to create kinships; and all the consequences of those facts. The Polish people naturally came to Lithuania. It was the effect of neither war nor occupation but the fact that Polish and Lithuanian families had intermingled. And there is no sense in denying it. The occupation of the Vilnius Region in 1919 was just a later event in history that was of great importance for the incitement to anti-Polish sentiments.

It is absurd to call them Lithuanian while their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents spoke Polish at home and were faithful to Polish national traditions. Or maybe nationality is a matter of genes? But then it would be difficult to find a pure “genetic Lithuanian”. Unless he or she has lived in deep woods. Wherever cultures and civilizations meet and many nations are allowed to coexist, nations will also become intertwined.

I dare ask a question which shocks a Lithuanian “Smetonist”: Is the process of Polonization, which occurred in the past, a clear-cut and undeniable evil? The Polonization and Germanization of Baltic tribes were an intrinsic and inevitable part of history, culture and religion. That was a part of a process introducing people, who lived in the Lithuanian territory, to Western civilization. There is no Lithuania without its Polish element that makes its identity and is one of the country’s main characteristics. This situation was influenced by the choice of the Lithuanian national elite. It also became our nation’s element and feature and it brought us more benefits than harm.

A nationalists’ pride – President Smetona (according to Lithuanian rules he should be referred to as President Grietinė – “cream” in Lithuanian), who eagerly fought the Polish element, got married with a Polish woman – Zofia Chodakowska. Tvirbutas, the above-mentioned representative of dishonest media, admitted during our conversation that he comes from Čekiškė Region and that his great-grandparents were members of Polish nobility. There are many important facts that make the Polish element crucial for the Lithuanian nation. All the other things like the idea of “pure Lithuanian identity” is just a lot of falderal.

Both historical truth and fundamental justice should influence our disapproval for unfair treatment of people because of their nationality. They should not be ignored or unjustly limited in any other way. I stood up for the Poles from Vandziogala not only in the name of the historical truth, but also because of my conscience. For the last two years I have been hearing and watching many different incidents of discrimination against Poles: from giving nicknames, threats, and disturbing their activity, to holding up all their social initiatives. What is more, discrimination against Poles and the constant conflict directly affect the town and the parish which become unattractive, hideous and give it a bad reputation. Vandziogala cannot be compared with towns like Zapyškis or Ringaudai where the social democratic mayor of the Kaunas Region, Valerijus Makūnas, comes from. 

The Lithuanians manifest their mistrust and hatred against Poles while they themselves are drowning in stupidity. They are neglected and they cause each other problems. I cannot resist (deleted: from) describing a story about our celebration of February 16 in Vandziogala in 2011. Until midday, there was a small group of elderly Lithuanians and a couple of students and teachers. We prayed in a half-empty church, stood by the Independence monument for a while and we all went home. In the afternoon, there were additional celebrations – a four-hour holiday program – organized by a Polish national community. It covered a historical play, a multicultural concert and some snacks. The Lithuanians do not have a tradition of putting up their tricolored flag. Only some Siberian deportees decorated their houses. This national holiday was a holiday just for drunkards. The headmaster went fishing. But is this all the fault of Poles?

On the other hand, these Lithuanians should learn how to coexist with other nations. During the last twenty years almost a million Lithuanians left their country. So far, we have not heard about any situation where they were persecuted for their nationality in Germany, England, the USA or anywhere else. Unfortunately, the Lithuanians in Lithuania do persecute Poles. And the EU membership, the Polish-Lithuanian international Treaty and the Convention on Human Rights are of no avail here.

The number of Lithuanians is reducing rapidly and this is not only because of emigration, but also the annual number (20,000) of abortions. But is this the fault of Poles? They fight this problem really hard in Poland. If foreign workers are not let into Lithuania, it will not be able to maintain its economy. There is already a Chinese family in Vandziogala.

When I was living in Kaunas, I did not think about the situation of Lithuanian society. I gave up in Vandziogala where I saw terrible the condition of a social democratic Lithuanian village. Some people accuse me of disloyalty to Lithuania. I will reply paraphrasing Vaižgantas and Donelaitis: How could one be loyal to a country of “villains and little shits” who do harm to each other, neglect temples, despise people and values and let themselves be eaten away by the cancer of socialism and civil hatred?

The Polish people in Vandziogala – it is not a fiction. They do not have to regret anything or ask for permission to maintain their national identity. They are not enemies either for Lithuania or Western civilization. They have been here for centuries, creating a dialectal and multicultural environment. They enrich the country by their influence on the social life. The land of the Lauda river, situated in central Lithuania, as well as its specific culture gave Nobel Prize winner – Czeslaw Milosz – to the world. His grandparents were buried in a graveyard in Vandziogala. His life, as well as the lives of other local people, and his work may be an explanation and answer to who the Polish people are in Lithuania and what it would have been without the Polish element. If I were to choose between the Polish Lithuanian identity, the Lithuanian social democratic identity or the schizophrenic Lithuanian identity of nationalists, I would choose the first option because there is no dissonance with the truth. Here, we stand up for culture and Western values.

This is the answer of the Vandziogala parish priest Rev. Oskaras Volskis to the article “The Vandziogala parish priest: Poles live here like in a ghetto!” by Saulius Tvirbutas in the “Kauno diena” newspaper on September 21, 2012.

Source:   http://pl.delfi.lt/opinie/opinie/volskis-litwa-polska.d?id=59627989

Tłumaczenie Marta Dubiel w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Marta Dubiel the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

Related post

‘Half a loaf is better than none’? New national minorities bill.

Up until now, the Lithuanian national minorities’ rights have been regulated partially by special laws (e.g.…

White-and-red march through Vilnius and a rally in schools’ defence. ‘Poles want normalcy’.

A two thousandth white-and-red march passed through the streets of Vilnius on Saturday, March 23. Participants…

Issues of Polish education have been raised in front of parents and teachers.

The discussion on current issues in Polish education in Lithuania was initiated by the Forum of…