- October 15, 2012
Electoral Naujoji Vilnia: fight for Polish identity
“How dares a Pole ask another Pole for whom he voted?!” an old man leaving polling station no. 466 in Naujoji Vilnia, one of Vilnius districts, answered me outrageously. After a while he added firmly: “Of course, I voted for our people!”
“Our people” means a national list no. 7 of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania [Polish: Akcja Wyborcza Polaków na Litwie, AWPL] and Tadeusz Andrzejewski, a candidate of AWPL in Naujoji Vilnia single-member constituency. Mr. Wiktor, my partner in the conversation, assured me that his whole big family made the same decision. “I together with my deceased wife brought them up this way. I’m only not sure about my youngest granddaughter. You know, she’s married a Lithuanian man recently but she promised me that she would vote “properly”.” confessed the man.
Mr. Wiktor was born and have spend his whole life in Naujoji Vilnia. It is said that Naujoji Vilnia is the most Polish district in Vilnius. However, for over 20 years of Lithuanian independence AWPL has not even once won the parliamentary elections in this district. In two previous terms of office the voters of Naujoji Vilnia chose Lithuanian candidates. Before that even one Russian candidate had won there.
Waldemar Szełkowski, a history teacher in J. I. Kraszewski Polish School in Naujoji Vilnia, said: “The district can be called Polish only unofficially. It’s true that we are the biggest national minority but we constitute only nearly 30% of all residents. Next 30% constitutes Lithuanian people and the rest are Russian and Belarusian. And their votes are very important because they decide who will win in the district”.
Waldemar Szełkowski and Waldemar Dowejko, a geography teacher form the same school, are standing for election to the Parliament form AWPL’s list. Both of them are graduates of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. “No, no, I can’t see myself in the Parliament. I’m only standing for election so I can help others enter the Parliament. A teacher is a quite well-known person here so we can attract some people to vote for AWPL” explained Waldemar Dowejko. Waldemar Szełkowski agrees with his colleague. The teachers form the Polish school said: “This year’s elections are very important for the Polish community”. The preservation of Polish education in Lithuania is a prime issue. “The reform of national minorities schools carried out by the current government harms not only the national minorities schools but also our students as individuals. We experience it in our everyday cooperation” the teachers explained their participation in the elections.
Year and a half ago Lithuanian Parliament made an amendment to the Law on Education and consequently, forced the students of the national minorities schools to take a standard Matura exam on Lithuanian, the same one as students form Lithuanian schools. Students had only two years to prepare to the new exam. “Students ask us a question “Why did the students form Lithuanian schools have whole twelve years to prepare to the exam while we have only two?” said the teachers.
“The authors of the amendment might have expected that the amendment would help the students form Polish and Russian schools integrate with Lithuania. However, everything has turned out differently. The amendment has made the students feel that they are citizens of the second category. They feel reluctance towards the country that clips their wings at the very beginning of their adult life. Before the acceptance of the amendment, during basketball matches (basketball is called a second religion in Lithuania) the older generation supported Poland but the Polish youth in Lithuania supported Lithuanian team. They said “But Lithuania is our country”. Now they do not say something like that. We can hear them saying completely different things.
Even younger students gradually stop asking us: “What is the fifth column? People call us like that on the street when they hear we speak Polish” said Szełkowski. Both teachers are convinced that the Parliament should cancel the amendment and that is why AWPL must have a strong representation in the future Parliament. They think that in order to achieve this task they need the votes of Russian and Belarusian minorities.
“Belarusian people have been with us since long ago. As far as Russian minority is concerned, the situation is different. Since the beginning of the independent Lithuania a lot of them have left the country. Those who decided to stay were very disappointed with Russia. In their opinion, Russia abandoned them and they started to integrate with Lithuania. Not long ago a Russian school in Naujoji Vilnia experienced many difficulties in gathering the students of the first grade. They were also politically dispersed. They had few feuding political parties and many Russian people voted for Lithuanian parties. However, in recent years the Russian community have experienced serious changes. Firstly, as result of the improving position of Russia, they began to feel proud of the country of their ancestors. Secondly, we, Poles form Lithuania, motived them in some way. They have been observing our fight for our national identity for over 20 years. This year the Russian school in Naujoji Vilnia have three first grades. And finally, the educational reform, which affected the Russian education as well, is our common problem” said Waldemar Szełkowski. After a while he added: “We are not with Russia, we are with Russian people in Lithuania, it doesn’t mean the same”.
We can observe Russian influence in Naujoji Vilnia almost everywhere. According to the local people, despite the fact that Lithuania has been an independent country for over 20 years, here, 10 km form Vilnius, Russian language dominates. “It can seem strange but when at one of Naujoji Vilnia streets Polish, Lithuanian and Russian people meet, they usually talk in Russian” said the local people. The results of the elections will show if Poles managed to convince Russian people form Lithuania to their proposals.
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.