- December 24, 2012
Šalna: Mickiewicz was most of all a Polish poet
Rimantas Šalna, the director of the Adam Mickiewicz Museum in Vilnius said to PL DELFI: “When I lived in Lipówka all my friends were Polish and we talked in a mixed language.” Mickiewicz initiated not only Romanticism in Poland, but also in Lithuania. Šalna claims that Basanavičius and Kudirka modelled their artistic work on Mickiewicz’ writings.
The 24th of December is not only the day of Christmas Eve, but also Mickiewicz’s birthday anniversary. What does this date mean to you? Do you celebrate it in a special way?
We celebrate a religious holiday on this particular day and this is why it is so special. I think that if we met on the 24th of December to celebrate Mickiewicz’s birthday, it would be inappropriate. We organize celebrations only when there is an anniversary or a jubilee. In general, each our festival is devoted to Mickiewicz. For example, the year 2012 was the Year of Museums and every our initiative was related to Mickiewicz. We have published several books. In the upcoming days we are also publishing a book which will include information about the events in 2013. We will organize literary evenings devoted to Mickiewicz’s friends – the Philomaths. These evenings will relate to the prewar, Vilnius, beautiful, Polish literary evenings with Czesław Miłosz. Lithuanians also participated in such literary evenings. Obviously, the evenings which we organize now are more modest. During the year everything revolves around Mickiewicz. We aim to popularise Mickiewicz’s work because still there are many new facts about him to discover.
When have you read Mickiewicz for the first time? Was it at school?
No, it was not at school. I have heard about Mickiewicz from my family. I was very lucky that my mother was a history teacher. She had taught me a lot. I had learnt even much more from my mother’s mother who was a very enlightened person. She was able to quote long excerpts from “Grażyna”. Every evening, before I went to bed, I asked my grandmother: “Grandma, tell me a story, please.” She always said: “All right. I will read you “Grażyna”.” She declaimed “Grażyna” so beautifully, as she was telling me the story.”
Did you grandmother declaim poems in Polish or Lithuanian?
My grandparents spoke Polish very well. They tried to teach me this language. We talked in both languages at home. My grandmother always said in Polish: “Our Adam Mickiewicz”. It was a very nice family which could speak three languages. I grew up in Vilnius, lived in Lipówka and all my friends were Polish. I was a Lithuanian so we used a mixed language which we may call a ‘local language’. We were really good friends and we still keep in touch. Wojciech Piotrowicz, a Pole, is one of my best friends. Another one is Lisauskas, a Lithuanian, whose wife is Polish. I would say that we are real Vilnius people and we want to keep this characteristic. If someone is a Pole it is fine. We do not want Soviet times to come again. We do not want the times when you were told who you are supposed to be. We should respect and be happy about the fact that we live in such a beautiful and ‘mixed’ surrounding. We should be proud of the fact that we can speak Polish, Lithuanian and Russian.
Mickiewicz is known mostly as a poet. However, he was also a political activist and a mystic. Which personality of these two appears to be the most interesting to you?
The first book that I read was, as I have already mentioned, “Grażyna”. I got it from my grandmother and I had it for a long time. Later, I lost it somewhere during the move. It was a great loss for me, even a tragedy. Every period of Mickiewicz’s life and artistic work was interesting – when he was in Lithuania, in Russia and when he was in emigration. We all, Lithuanians and Poles, love him because he is a part of our life. You have asked a very important question: Is he more important as a poet or as a patriot? Each period of his life is interesting. The period of cooperation with Towiański is still very mysterious.
By the way, Towiański was also from Vilnius…
Towiański was from Pabradė, he studied in Vilnius so we regard him as one of Vilnius people. Wojciech Piotrowicz and me saw his patrimony. I think that Mickiewicz got fascinated with mysticism in Russia and it was not connected with Towiański. Later, he wrote books about Polish pilgrimages…
“Dziady. Part III” (“Forefather’s Eve. Part III”) is also mystical…
Exactly. In general, “Dziady” is something mystical. This is why he was not fascinated with mysticism because of Towiański. Later, Mickiewicz had abandoned this issue for some time, but returned to it when he met Towiański. I suppose Towiański had planned this meeting. He known Mickiewicz’s biography very well. He knew about a serious illness of the poet’s wife Celina. Mickiewicz was not aware then that Towiański wanted to use him. I think Towiański had some hypnotic abilities and in a way helped Celina. She believed that he is someone chosen by God or that he is even Christ. Mickiewicz was under a great influence of Towiański and became his vice-master. We can even say that they formed a sect because they confessed and married people. The Church and authorities of the university, where Mickiewicz was a lecturer, got interested in this case immediately. Mickiewicz crossed the border and got dismissed from the university. He lost his opportunity to become a prominent lecturer because of Towiański. He ruined his academic career. He could become a lecturer as good as Groddeck (Gotfryd Ernest Groddeck, the professor of Vilnius University – PL DELFI) and even better. We are certain about the fact that he reached Olimp, the pick of poetry. It is important to stress, despite some Lithuanian opinions, that this was the pick of Polish poetry. It was a beautiful language. This rhythm and melody is difficult to convey in any other language. Let us listen how it sounds: “Litwo, ojczyzno moja. Ty jesteś jak zdrowie” (Oh Lithuania, my homeland, you are like health). It does not sound so well even in the best Lithuanian translation. It is because Polish language is a very melodic language.
Does everyone in Lithuania know Mickiewicz?
Certainly, at Polish schools he is well known. This is why I would like to thank such teachers as Ludmiła Siekacka. If there was a competition on the knowledge about Mickiewicz and students from Polish schools took part in it, our students would be as good as them. However, Lithuanian school pay less attention to Mickiewicz’s work. Another thing is that our museum is much smaller than the Władysław Syrokomla Museum and I think it is time to look for a bigger building. Małgorzata Kasner, the director of the Polish Institute in Vilnius, supports my opinion. I think that excellency Skolimowski will help us with it. They are real enthusiasts of Mickiewicz.
Why do Lithuanian schools put not enough attention to Mickiewicz? Both Maironis and Kudirka were inspired by Mickiewicz…
I think that even our patriarch Basanavičius and other Lithuanian National Revival activists valued both Mickiewicz and Kraszewski. Mickiewicz has initiated Romanticism not only in Poland but also in Lithuania. Basanavičius and Kudirka were inspired by him. Even Baranauskas wanted to prove that you can write beautifully also in Lithuanian. Unfortunately, he managed only to write „Anykščiu šilelis” (The Forest of Anykščiai). Once I wrote the poem: „Baranauskas – biskup czy poeta?” (Baranauskas – a bishop or a poet?). However, after writing it, I realized that he was more interested in being the bishop rather than a poet. Later, when he visited Lithuania he said: I am a Pole, you are Samogitians. Mickiewicz gave a lot to us Lithuanians. He reminded us about patriotism and taught how to respect our homeland. He was a Lithuanian in an ethnographic sense. But for him, we would not have our own literature now. He gave a lot to Poles and Lithuanians.
What do you think of this new attitude to Mickiewicz which can be observed in the play “Mistras” written by the young Lithuanian writer Marius Ivaškevičius or in the novel “Messiahs” by the Hungarian writer Spiró?
I have seen this play. I am very cautious about things like that. Freedom of speech allows everyone to say want he wants. I love Mickiewicz but I would not call him a Polish writer of Lithuanian nationality. I think that a writer chooses his nationality by choosing a language in which he wants to write. There is no point in delving into genetics, genealogy and other similar things. There is a theory that he had some Jewish roots. It is not important for us. All languages are beautiful, for example Russian. One can sing such beautiful romances in this language. I always stress the fact that he is the poet of both our countries but, most of all, he is the Polish poet.
You have mentioned that you keep in touch with Polish artists. A few weeks ago, young Polish poets from the Vilnius literary group “Nowa Awangarda Wileńska” (New Vilnius Avant-Garde) organised a poetry evening in a museum. What do you think of it?
I was delighted. We have great poets who have real future prospects unless they stop writing. There was a wonderful young poet Tamošiunas. He participated in our poetry competitions and always won the first or the second prize. The girls were fantastic as well! If they all are going to spread their wings, I do not even dare to think what may happen.
Recently, Polish-Lithuanian relations have cooled. Can Mickiewicz help in retrieving the situation?
Yes, he can help. Sometimes we say something that is understood in different ways by different people. We cannot let people offend one another. For me, my Polish friends are the same citizens as Lithuanians. I do not divide people according to their nationality. They have said on the news today: The Labour Party and Poles did not vote in favour of the budget. You can say things like that. We should be proud that we have wonderful Lithuanian and Polish citizens. Sometimes when I go by car from Poland, together with Piotrowicz and Józef Szostakowski, they start speaking Polish. I tell them: Come on, do not offend me. I want to learn Polish. Later, we sing Polish and Lithuanian songs, and even Komsomol songs. However, the latter may seem inappropriate.
Tłumaczenie Katarzyna Kurowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Katarzyna Kurowska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.