- January 9, 2013
Savukynas: Even Kudirka was ashamed of his parents who spoke Lithuanian
If two communities have the same name, one of them must yield. Virginijus Savukynas, journalist and semiotician, said in the interview for the LRT.it web portal that our history and folklore indicated that Lithuania and Poland were united by the sense of community for the longer period of time. Because of that, the formation of our nation is stigmatised by anti-Polish attitude and although we do not have to separate ourselves from anyone else, we can observe the results of this attitude today.
When did the national identity, nations and nationalism appear? When did the Lithuanians become the Lithuanians?
There are various theories about the emergence of nationalism and you can choose whichever you want: starting with the theory about the everlasting existence of all nations and ending on the concept that they formed at the end of 18th and at the beginning of 19th century. And the Lithuanian nation respectively a hundred years later.
Theories of nationalism are important. One should know and understand them, nevertheless the subject of my study concerns the identity of a community. It is hard to imagine a man without an identity; a person became a person because he didn’t live alone, but he was a part of some group. In this context, the Lithuanian social identity existed since Lithuanians were mentioned for the first time. Certainly, it existed much earlier but we cannot tell since when exactly. So the question arises: was the notion of the Lithuanian person defined similarly as it is nowadays – by means of a language? My answers is: not always. The term “Lithuanian” was coined more than a thousand years ago. However, its meaning is different now. Probably the Lithuanian from 13th century wouldn’t identify himself with the contemporary Lithuanians as he didn’t attach great significance to the language. Our contemporary national identity was shaped at the end of the 19th century.
In 19th century if Lithuanian peasant was asked about his identity, he usually said “Catholic”. Was it the same in 16th and 17th centuries? What was the Lithuanian identity before the Baptism of Lithuania?
It’s difficult to tell. We have only few historical sources. That is why, if we want to do the serious research into this matter, we should look for information not only at source but also in semiotics. However, in this case, because of lack of the historical sources, this type of reconstruction, though it might be every absorbing it would be also very hypothetical.
It is a very interesting issue to find out in what way did the Lithuanian identity change after the baptism, which has not yet been investigated. It would be a very fascinating topic.
In my opinion, the religious identity, at least in Lithuania and Poland, was shaped in the middle of 17th century when religious discords emerged. At that time, people started to associate Poles and Lithuanians with the Catholicism and the reformers were gradually withdrawn from public life and treated like strangers. It was by no means incidental that Siciński was accused of the both Polish and Lithuania’s downfall. Eighteen years ago I was doing practice in Biržai district municipality and I could hear people saying that “the reformers were not called Lithuanians.” It is a proof that at these times the identity was not perceived through the linguistic context – the reformers spoke in Lithuanian – but through the religious aspect.
You wrote in your book that in the 18th century and for the most of the 19th century the Protestants in Lithuania were pro-Russian, they were the so-called “Russophiles”. Why?
Let me explain it. This sort of attitude doesn’t mean that the reformers were taken with Russians and members of the Orthodox church, or that they felt some close bond with Russian culture; or that they were concerned with a tsar’s policy. These sort of justifications would be absurd and easy to debunk. Catholics, who were in majority, decided about that. The reformers were not treated as if they were friends, so for most of them the uprising in 1863 seemed very distant (despite the fact that E. Daukšys was among the insurgents). So that’s the reason for this pro-Russian attitude…
The anti-Polish feelings appeared in the reform environment much earlier, which in the future resulted in the emergence of Lithuanian nation. These kind of ideas were born more easily because, as I said it earlier, the reformers were opposed to the Catholic community which linked both Poles and Lithuanians together. However, this reformatory variant couldn’t thrive because the reformers were treated like strangers.
Why was the process of formation of Lithuanian identity at the end of the 19th century accompanied by the outbursts of anti-Polish feelings?
At that time a theory was suggested that only those who knew and spoke Lithuanian belonged to the Lithuanian nation. It meant the beginning of the fight for right to call oneself Lithuanian. We all know, that at that time the Polish speaking nobility tended to call themselves Lithuanians. Besides this, I propose the thesis that their identity was lost so quickly not only because of the process of Polonisation but also from the fact that the Lithuanian title was monopolised by Lithuanian speaking people.
If two communities have the same name, one of them must yield. Our history and folklore indicate that Lithuania and Poland were united by the sense of community for the longer period of time. And we’re not talking only about the gentry but also about the peasantry. When the community of Lithuanians limited itself by means of language, it was clear that everything connected with Polish identity should be negated. Because of that, the formation of our nation is stigmatised by anti-Polish attitude and although we do not have to separate ourselves from anyone else, we can observe the results of this attitude today.
Why did the Polish language became so popular in Eastern Lithuania in the 19th century? Why did Lithuanians, who had spoken Lithuanian before, started to speak Polish and, what is more, why did they start to feel like Poles?
At the first glance, the situation may look paradoxical: the stronger the Lithuanian nationalism become, the faster the dwellers of East Lithuania polonise themselves. Why is it so? It looks paradoxically only on the surface. What should a person do if a new trait – in this case the language – determining his national identity was introduced? He can happily accept this identity, after all it is based on something that was learnt in the childhood and it’s quite natural to him. Yet, he can choose another attitude, that is, he can oppose to it. We observe this tendency in East Lithuania. Naturally, some part of the population wanted the old identity retained but in the new reality it was only possible on condition that they would turn to Polish language.
The second aspect – as it was noticed by linguists – after the abolition of selfdom gave way to social advancement for everyone. Polish language was considered prestigious and no wonder why the Lithuanians who made a bit of pile decided to polonise their surnames. Their children, sent away to school, followed parents’ conduct. It was a common practice in Lithuania. Let’s refresh a memory. Even Vincas Kudirka used to speak Polish for some time and he was ashamed of his parents who spoke Lithuanian. This attitude was common among Lithuanian activists in 19th century. It proves that their identities underwent considerable turning points. But not all of them described their experiences so vividly as Vincas Kudirka did.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand this reluctance of East Lithuania’s population to acquire this new linguistic identity and be in favour of the Polish side. Can the notion “I’m Lithuanian because I speak Lithuanian” drive people away to that extent that they waive their mother tongue and start speaking Polish instead?
Peasants spoke Lithuanian at home, but they took part in Polish masses and prayed in Polish. When the identity dilemma turned out, the issue arose in which language should the Holy Mass be offered – in Polish or Lithuanian? Lithuanian was considered a pagan language, people believed that God didn’t understand Lithuanian and everything Lithuanian was associated with paganism, before and after the baptism. The pagan tag was invented at the end of the 19th century which was a result of ethnic and linguistic identity formation.
A person who at that time wanted to belong to the religious affiliation was really in a quandary. He could either take the Lithuanian linguistic identity or stick to the old identity and stay “closer to God.” Those who chose the second path stayed on the Polish side. I think, that people acted according to that logic and this I want to explain in my book.
New Lithuanian identity didn’t drive people away. It was not compatible with the identity based on the world view put in the religious context. Lithuanian was used at home, in everyday life and it was a language of labour on the field in the countryside. People didn’t care about the problem of language before 19th century. When the problem was visible and Lithuanian was juxtaposed with Polish, many people turned to the language of faith, science and social position, so to the Polish language.
In your book you single out two concepts characterising the formation of Lithuanian national identity. According to one of them, which is represented by Vincas Trumpa, the idea of Lithuanian independence was born as a result of Polish-Lithuanian conflict and that the contemporary Lithuanian identity has nothing in common with the old Lithuania connected with Tadeusz Kościuszko. On the other hand, Egidijus Aleksandravičius and Antanas Kulakauskas claim that the old “culture of the gentry is the essence of our cultural revival.” Which one of these concept is more familiar to you and why?
I bashfully tried to develop Rimantas Miknys’ thought concerning the formation of Polish nation and I propose new term for Lithuanian identity. Perhaps, in different historical reality this notion would have some chances to retain. Moreover, the Byelorussian element should not be omitted. Unfortunately, it was skipped in the book although it is quite obvious that Byelorussian identity was formed on the basis of the Lithuanian dimension. Byelorussians thought of themselves as the Lithuanian inheritors. This kind of identity still waits for proper research, which is indispensible if we want to understand better the identity processes that took place in our region in 19th century. It will also help to understand ourselves better.
Tłumaczenie Patrycja Olszówka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Patrycja Olszówka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.