• October 10, 2012
  • 149

Savukynas: Polish-Lithuanian conflict is defensive war

Virginijus Savukynas © DELFI (T.Vinicko nuotr.)

A war in which no one attacks but everyone defends themselves. And a fierce defence only makes the conflict more intense. Since nobody attacks but both sides hold the pass, each of them believes they are right. And when everyone is right, it is difficult to find agreement. That is the way in which I see the Polish-Lithuanian relations. Let me explain why.

In the eyes of Polish people, Lithuania does not keep promises and makes the situation of Poles in Lithuania even worse. Firstly, it does not allow spelling last names with the usage of Polish letters (“w” or “ł” etc.); secondly, it does not allow using bilingual street names. And thirdly, the new educational law raises suspicions that it is planned to remove Polish language even from schools. In Warsaw’s opinion these actions show that Lithuania wants assimilation of Poles: their real last names are being taken away, they are not allowed to feel like home, and even education is going to be used as a tool of assimilation. When we see the case in this way, there is no doubt that one’s compatriots should be defended. Defended against Lithuanians, who attack Poles in Lithuania and want to make them if not Lithuanians, then at least non-Poles.

The same attitude is characteristic for some Poles in Lithuania. And I think that many of them really believe in it. That is why they defend themselves in all possible ways. But let’s ask Lithuanian authorities, the Prime Minister, a minister or any other official if Lithuania has a plan of assimilating the Poles, maybe even a secret one. They will honestly say “no” and they will not lie. I assume and I hope (but one can never be sure) that there are no people with mental problems among the authorities (at least not on the higher levels). I am sure that a Lithuanian, asked about that, will also honestly say that he or she does not want to assimilate Poles at all. But in the same time he/she will be against “w”. The argument for that will be the protection of the Lithuanian language. He/she will simply believe that giving the green light for the spelling that includes letters non-existing in the Lithuanian alphabet will prove detrimental for the Lithuanian language.

Similarly, he or she will be against bilingual notations, because it is in some way harmful for the Lithuanian language and culture too, and the education law is only supposed to give Polish children in Lithuania better conditions. At the end he/she will add that Poles in Lithuania are too brazen and one has to defend against them. He/she is leaded by a defensive logic. And the authorities only defend Lithuanians and the native culture. So is Poland. That is why I think that both sides wage a defensive war but the more they defend, the more splinters fly around.

This logic of Polish-Lithuanian conflict shows how hard it is to solve it. Politicians already do not know what to do, so they do nothing at all. You can attack and back away, but when you go to the trenches to defend what seems important to you, you cannot withdraw. This way, Polish and Lithuanian politicians maybe did not cut each other to ribbons but they surely entered a narrow passage in which they cannot pass by. 

A matter of identity

The argument is not only about the ambitions, it includes a much more serious problem- the one of national identity. As I have already mentioned, Poland believes that Lithuania is applying assimilative policy, that is it does not allow the Poles in Lithuania to maintain their national identity. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why some Poles have a hostile attitude towards Lithuanians: after all the Lithuanians raise their hand against things that are sacred for Poles.

A Lithuanian who is a patriot should understand it, because he or she thinks in a similar way: the Poles are preparing an attack on my identity. If Lithuanian language disappears because of the letter “w”, who will Lithuanians be then? A Lithuanian believes that in this way he or she defends the Lithuanian culture and the identity of his or her nation. Both parties defend their identity and no one can deny that the right to have a national identity is one of the basic human rights. Paradoxically, a problem arises when two identities meet.

What to do?

I will speak for the Lithuanian side because I know Lithuania better. Besides, it is Lithuania, not Poland, that is my homeland and therefore I am more concerned with its problems. Obviously in two-sided relations both parties matter, but I will leave the search for a solution for the Polish side to people who know the country.

The thing that Lithuania can do is in the same time easy and difficult. It is easy because the conflict can be ended by allowing the usage of original spelling of last names, legalising bilingual or even trilingual information boards and approaching the educational matters with a dose of attention and sensitivity. But for the above reasons it is also difficult: taking such decisions could suggest that we betray our national identity. And we touch the core of the matter here- an identity is not granted. The notion of what is Lithuanian was changing with time, more than once. A reflection about one’s identity is not a sacrilege, on the contrary- it is the duty of a nation. It allows us to survive. After one thinks about it, it may turn out that the “w” is not as black as it is painted.

Source:  http://pl.delfi.lt/opinie/opinie/savukynas-konflikt-polsko-litewski-jest-wojna-obronna.d?id=59721705

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

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