- January 25, 2013
Is it difficult to be Polish in Lithuania?
On Sunday 27th January at 4 p.m, the final of the jubilee – the 15th Readers’ Poll of ‘Kurier Wileński’ (Courier of Vilnius), our daily’s popular competition ‘The Polish of the Year 2012’, will take place in the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius.
During the ceremony, this year’s winner will be awarded with traditional commemorative cup. The awards will be given also to those who reached honorary first ten places.
Moreover, the readers, drawn by the Chapter, that took active part in selecting the candidates most worthy of the title of ‘The Polish of the Year 2012’, will be also awarded. And there were many to select from because in the last year, a lot of people made a considerable contribution to the preservation and propagating of Polishness in Lithuania.
On the eve of the final, we asked ten laureates one but extremely important question: ‘Is it difficult to be Polish in Lithuania?’
Here are the answers.
Rev Dean Józef Aszkiełowicz, parish priest in Maišiagala
I want to say that I’m very proud to be Polish, a descendant of heroes and saints of our national history. I am the son of the nation that was and still is of great significance in the course of history of Europe and the world. Polishness is patriotism, it is a union of spiritual heritage and the Catholic faith; Polishness is a philosophy that one must grow up to and which is closely connected to the Catholic faith. The life of each of us is a way to heaven that should be made with the two legs – the leg of faith and tradition and the one of culture and language. On these two legs Jesus leads us, just like the spiritual climbers, toward Eternity. But there is someone that fights against the faith and culture – it’s Satan. He promises wonders to lead us astray. If a human being yields to temptations and disavows the language, he/she himself/herself amputates one of the legs and consequently becomes a spiritual invalid.
Blessed John Paul II and the current pope Benedict XVI ask: ‘Do not cut yourself off the Christian roots’. This loss of European cultural heritage which is Christianity, is also an example of evil. In fighting with the Church, Satan applies new tactics. The same as snipers trying to eliminate officers during wartime, now he wants to deprive Polish of their national identity. The Soviet times had shown how people, in return of money and for career, had joined the party and disowned God and the Church. This trial is still valid today. Some Polish people disown Polish identity, language, culture and traditions for a career. But it will come true as in the proverb: ‘They wanted what’s best, but it turned out as always’.
In my ministry I observe that if Polish children learn the prayer not in their mother tongue, after the First Communion they virtually stop going to church.
Father Pio used to say: ‘Reading is indispensable like air’. Polish children in non Polish schools cannot read in their native language. Someone else’s school, someone else’s child. On the earth we pass an exam whether we won’t sell our ideals – God, Honour, Fatherland. If we don’t live in accordance with those ideals, we will not find our way to heaven. It is not easy to be Polish, but one aims to the source against the stream.
Written down by Honorata Adamowicz
Stefan Kimso, the chairman of ‘Polonia’ Sports Club
It is not difficult to be Polish in Lithuania provided that you really want it. To want it unconditionally, because seemingly we all want and we all are Polish, but let’s think if the words are always backed up by action since only everyday actions decide whether we are Polish in fact.
So let’s start thinking and speaking Polish, taking care of our Polish language every day. These are strange times because we can observe nowadays that even our politicians who have been representing Polish interests for the last 20 years, do not always take care of their Polish language. After all, they ought to provide an example for others, particularly young people who, regrettably, also do not pay attention to their mother tongue correctness.
It is not that you declare yourself to be Polish and you are Polish. You need to want to be Polish every day since no one ties us down in this matter. It’s necessary to treat the language with reverence, that is to use the language correctly – personally, for me that is one of the most significant issues because I want my children and grandchildren to speak the mother tongue. So let’s convince to it our family and friends but also ourselves. We will speak Polish and think in Polish too because where there’s a will there’s a way. And then we will definitely be Polish people no matter what are the difficulties and limitations.
Written down by Stanisław Tarasiewicz
Michał Sienkiewicz, the chairman of Gymnastic Society ‘Falcon’
In my opinion being Polish in Lithuania is not difficult. Above all one must demand from himself/herself – to be diligent, open and sincere. That is the most important.
Considering the social or political issues, the situation is difficult. Whether it is the return of property, education policy, inscriptions in Polish or hypocrisy of the authorities that do not look after citizens’ interests but their own – it does not instil optimism.
I remember post-war years that were extremely hard but people were different – if a disaster happened to someone, everyone came to the rescue regardless of whether it affected Russian, Lithuanian or Polish. People were sensitive to someone else’s misfortune. Our politicians are losing this kind of sensitivity and they care only about themselves and not about a man in the street. Moreover, they get away from the life and problems concerning the majority of the people living in Lithuania. There’s a need for change in people’s mentality and the change among people holding high positions – more young and intelligent who would serve the society and not their own interests.
For me, the biggest stupidity of the government is the prohibition of placing Polish plates on houses. Why Polish people cannot have the inscriptions written in Polish, next to the ones in Lithuanian of course? The mass media only fuel the issue, diverting attention away from the real problems.
Furthermore, there is also a mess in the education; they want to impose Lithuanian language as the second native language. It is not allowed if we want to be Polish – the country has to hear us out. After all, nobody rejects Lithuanian Language but ‘Poles are no Anserinae – they have a language of their own’. The Lithuanian nationalism does not serve well. There is a need for the changes for the better – especially in the system of education.
I feel sorry for the young people who graduate from the universities and they can’t find a job in Lithuania. Consequently, they escape from here – many talented people leave this country. We say that the youth are our future – that is to say the country without youth has no future.
The words of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński are crossing my mind; I didn’t understand them in the beginning but I have grasped the real meaning recently: ‘Let’s not be afraid of socialism, be afraid of materialism because materialism will destroy us’. Currently, taking care of material goods counts more for many people than other values.
Written down by Anna Pieszko
Sister Michaela Rak, the founder of Sopocko Hospice in Vilnius
The answer to this question is contained in the answer to the question – how much of a human is there within me? Polish or Lithuanian – anyone should reply to that. Looking at the reality that surrounds me, I pray more and more heartily so that God would transform it in a way that there is more humanity in a human being. And all the more I would like to see God’s life inside a human being when meeting him/her. It hurts to realize that ‘there are so many people around and it is more and more difficult to find a human’. During my four-year stay in Lithuania, I met people of high level of humanity but there were also those who couldn’t hold a candle to them.
I’ve experienced that the difference does not lie in the nationality but in heart and mind. Certainly both heart and mind are shaped by domestic and environmental conditioning. However, in the age of cyberspace and countries without boundaries, one cannot rationalize ‘I am who I am since I had no opportunities’. There are opportunities, all you need is to want to be a beautiful human being. Furthermore, you need to be brave enough to describe others as ‘beautiful humans’, no matter if he or she is Polish or Lithuanian.
It is humanity and not the nationality where the hidden reserves allowing to discover the joy and sense of life are ingrained – even if it’s hard and requires an effort. Everyone should go to the trouble of building the beauty of one’s humanity, and not only decorating it from the outside. Decorations become dilapidated and fashions change but the beauty of humanity remains. And this in turn combined with the multiple of others’ beauty, make the world more beautiful, life more enjoyable and the hope for the salvation increases. Each of us – Polish or Lithuanian – is looking for the meaning of life; therefore, everybody should make an effort to built the unity within diversity of our humanity.
Raised from rubble and ready to serve the sick, the hospice is the clear evidence that, in Lithuania and beyond, I’ve met people of high level of humanity. There were moments when I couldn’t find them. But eventually, I did. I myself make an effort for my humanity and monastic vocation to flourish, to be a beautiful Polish in Lithuania. You are Polish from the beginning but you become or decline as a human in every moment of your life.
Written down by Julitta Tryk
Katarzyna Niemyćko, singer
Is it difficult to be Polish in Lithuania? Yes and no – to a large extent it depends on the attitude. Personally I do not ask myself this question and I do not start my day with pondering on the fact I’m Polish and due to that to have some difficulties. I just carry on and do not complain.
Of course it doesn’t mean that I didn’t experience any unpleasant situation because of my nationality.
Some ironic commentary could be heard about my career as a singer in Lithuania. Nonetheless, I am a stubborn and self-confident person and such inappropriate and silly behaviour bolster up the courage to keep moving forward. Therefore, instead of snivelling in corners and being full of self-pity or taking offence openly, I just told myself: ‘Hey! You’re going to hear a lot about that Polish girl!
And today I can confidently say that they did. I am grateful to people who voted for me in a television project ‘Welcome to the dance’ („Kviečiu šokti“) and in the Readers’ Poll ‘The Polish of the Year 2012’ – I was pleasantly surprised.
In being a member of a national minority, the most important is not to be ashamed of who you are. I have never concealed the fact that I am Polish; what’s more, I emphasize it on every relevant occasion. I have always valued the ideals instilled by my parents and the Polish school. And to those values and the care from the loved ones I owe my self-confidence and optimism. If you love your roots it is not difficult to remain yourself, no matter where you live.
Written down by Brygita Łapszewicz
Professor Bogusław Grużewski, Director of the Vilnius Institute of Labour and Social Research
I don’t know if I’m the only one who complicates the issue but this question is not as easy as it may appear at first glance. I need to ask right away – what does it mean to be Polish without making reference to the place of residence? The problem is that Polishness may be perceived in terms of the Polish nation, that is in national or country terms in relation with Poland. I hold a view that for many of us who were born in Lithuania, Polishness is perceived in either of these categories. Regardless of these differences however, being Polish is mostly connected with the use of Polish language, religiousness, cultivating the customs and traditions and with recognizing specific moral norms. Maybe I am old-fashioned when it comes to my views but I think that very often moral norms are decisive. Therefore I equate Polishness with courage, the love of freedom, honour, the social solidarity and mutual aid of course. Taking all this into consideration we may return to the question if it’s difficult to be Polish in Lithuania. With reference to what I’ve just said – no, it is not difficult provided that the need for being Polish does not dominate over the need for being a human and it goes hand in hand with responsibility and respect to other values, traditions, attitudes…
Of course, I am saddened by the tensions that are still present in Poland-Lithuania relations as well as some restrictions put on Polish minority in Lithuania. But I keep my hopes high that it is possible to appease many issues in not too distant future.
Written down by Anna Pieszko
Jarosław Narkiewicz, a member of the Seimas and vice-chairman of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania
I’m asked this question very often. The answer is simple. The most important is to be yourself and not to conceal your origin and not to have any complex about belonging to the national minority. I was brought up this way and I am proud of being Polish. I was taught to respect other people, regardless of origin or nationality.
As a public figure, at first I am perceived as Polish and then as a politician belonging to a particular party. As a Polish I feel more responsible for my words and actions; besides, all Polish members of the parliament are aware of the increased media attention – we are placed under the microscope. Nevertheless, I must emphasize with satisfaction that the political environment is changing and the participation of Polish in the political and social life has been perceived lately as natural.
Written down by Alina Sobolewska
Dr Józef Szostakowski, poet, literary historian, doctor of philosophy in bibliology, the lecturer of Old Polish literature at the University of Educational Sciences, a member of The Association of Polish Scientists in Lithuania, Vilnius tour guide
Being Polish in Lithuania is not a question of difficulty but of traditional ‘to be or not to be’. We are labeling ourselves as Polish but very often we do not realize what it means to us.
There is nothing extraordinary about it because this ‘being’ is marked by our daily work, our occupational and social duties. On what we do as well as how we do it and on our special achievements will depend what Polish people we would be like. And the competition ‘The Polish of the Year 2012’ could play a part in promoting the best ones and encourage others to cultivate their Polish national identity.
Unfortunately, the current format of this poll does not correspond to such guidelines. Leaving aside the personalities of all laureates and the achievements in various fields, during the competition a reader and the society are not acquainted with those accomplishments. Therefore, the opinion poll should not only present the names and the posts of the nominees but above all should give the public assessment of candidates’ acquirements – what did they manage to do during the year, what did they attain for themselves and for Polish community. I would like to be judged not for the fact that I am Józef Szostakowski, a Polish, but for the fact that we managed to publish three books about Polish literature last year. I’m sure that each of the nominees has their own achievements and that ought to be assessed and appreciated. Maybe it would be a good idea to divide the nominations into categories since the accomplishments of individual candidates are so diverse and, in consequence, hard to assess heedless of a domain. And of course the daily newspaper would have to introduce the readers to the profiles of the candidates and their achievements for the last year, namely the things they should be assessed for and the things the readers usually don’t know about.
Written down by Stanisław Tarasiewicz
Rev Rusłan Wilkiel, parish priest in Pavilnys
Frankly speaking, I did not expect to reach the final ten of ‘The Polish of the Year 2012’ because in my opinion I did not do anything significant but only perform my duties, both pastoral and human, as best as I can.
I come from the Šalčininkai district municipality and I graduated from the Vilnius Seminary in 2005. When I was still a clerical student, I didn’t like to be in the lead because I preferred to focus on my studies and praying in silence. I am certain that simplicity, being receptive to another person and offering help to others win hearts of both youth and the elderly.
Sometimes a priest should be game for anything. That’s true. I can equally play football with my altar servers and then attend Mass together. After a service we sometimes watch instructive films and then we have a discussion about them.
Sometimes older and young people, alcoholics and drug addicts pay me a visit to ask for advice or simply to chat with me. In such cases I try to put everyone on the right track.
For many years I was an organizer of Eišiškės – Gate of Dawn pilgrimage. It was a wonderful time of a prayerful mood, evening bonfires with spit-roasted sausages, football competitions and dancing. Polish and Lithuanian people, not only the young ones, participated in those pilgrimages in large numbers.
‘Is it difficult to be Polish in Lithuania?’ – I can say I could be as well Japanese because I do not judge people according to the nationality, religious denomination or skin colour. I value each human for his or her honesty, willingness to associate with people and being open to them. It is a rare situation to meet with dislike or hostility when one comes out with kindness and open heart to another human. After all, we are all children of the same God and that is the reason why we must be like brothers.
Written down by Julitta Tryk
Tłumaczenie Barbara Rożek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Barbara Rożek the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.