- February 26, 2013
Would Lithuanians fight on German side in battle of Grunwald
The battle of Grunwald caused many questions and arguments between nations in various historical periods. Who won, who lost? Today, Grunwald has lost its ideological meaning, and whether the neighbours would fight against each other would depend on a few circumstances.
The Book Fair in Vilnius, which lasted four days, has finished. During the event, a book written by Rimvydas Petrauskas, Darius Staliūnas and Dangiras Mačiulis was presented. Its title is Kas laimėjo Žalgirio mūšį? Istorinio paveldo dalybos Vidurio ir Rytų Europoje (Who won the battle of Grunwald? Divisions of historical inheritance in Central–East Europe.) When they were presenting the book, the authors said that it does not matter how often Poles, Lithuanians and Germans used to disagree on the topic. Today, the battle of Grunwald is regarded differently.
In Germany, the battle is not an important issue anymore, although in the past the Teutonic Order attempted to prove that the victory of Poland and Lithuania was unlawful and unfair, because Tatars were fighting with Poles and Lithuanians against Christians– that is, the Teutonic Knights.
In Poland, during anniversary celebrations, there always is a staging of the battle. In the opinion of Darius Staliūnas, a co–author of the book, it proves that the battle has no ideological meaning now.
“A few decades ago a Pole, one of the organisers of the event, asked: «Listen, maybe we should drop the tradition? Maybe we should allow the German to win?» In other words, Grunwald has lost the ideological meaning that made the battle the key element of the historical memory of all the people from the region.” – said the historian.
Alvydas Nikžentaitis, who was present during the meeting, said that anniversaries are sumptuously celebrated. Already in the times of the People’s Republic of Poland it was a common theme of anecdotes.
“There is one typical feature of the socialistic system – there is always too little of something, there is always something missing. In a shop, selling goods of which there are usually shortages, there is a note: “Participants of the battle of Grunwald may skip the queue.” The queue is moving forward slowly, nobody tries to go to the front, only one elderly Pole comes to the shop assistant and says “I am a participant of the battle of Grunwald, can I have this item, please?” The shop assistant says “Can I see your certificate, please? You need to prove that you are a participant of the battle of Grunwald.” The man says: “You know, miss, the ability to write was not so common back then, nobody gave us certificates.” The shop assistant replies: “A second ago there was a Teutonic knight. He had his papers fine.” – says Alvydas Nikžentaitis.
Different opinions of Poles and Lithuanians
In 1960 in Poland a film by Aleksander Ford, Knights of the Teutonic Order, was produced. The film made the painter Vladimir Kasatkin really angry, because Lithuanians were portrayed in a very unfavourable way in it.
“I knew that in Soviet Kaunas there lived a painter, Vladimir Kasatkin, who painted a picture dedicated to the battle of Grunwald. He told me how the idea was born, and it was really surprising for me. He explained: «I went to cinema in Kaunas, I watched the film and I was so angry that I decided to paint Vytautases.»”– told us Dangiras Mačiulis.
Darius Staliūnas related one more unknown story about the historian Jurij Tronik, who finished a few grades of upper– secondary school in Vilnius and after the Second World War he moved to Poland to continue his education. There, during his first class, he had to talk about the battle of Grunwald.
“Taught in a Lithuanian school about the victory of Vytautas and the manoeuvre of the Lithuanians, he told the story in this way. Then he heard a loud laughter of his fellow classmates. And he got an F. If, after a few years, he would go back to continue the education in a Soviet school, he would not get an A for that answer either. This ideological difference is still alive today, but it is not so strong anymore.” – said Darius Staliūnas and he added that such events are very unlikely to take place in the present times.
Event connecting nations
How is it today? Is the history of the battle of Grunwald shown in the same way in Lithuanian and Polish history textbooks?
“In textbooks we can find a bit old version of the story, written by Johannes Longinus. Since there is a working Polish – Lithuanian committee for textbooks, the version is rather gentle.” – explained Alvydas Nikžentaitis. When it comes to Poland and the attitude to the battle in this country, we see completely new tendencies.”
In the historian’s opinion, it is a growing commercialisation of the annual celebrations of the battle of Grunwald. Additionally, there is the fact that people try to make an event showing community, from a battle that used to divide nations.
“If we take a look at the 2012 celebrations, we can see that one did not have to be a Lithuanian to become the Vytautas in the staging. There was a multitude of various exhibitions, dedicated to the theme of the battle, where, next to Polish descriptions, there were Lithuanian ones. In Poland, there is an observable tendency to present the battle as an event that would connect various nations, instead of diving them. In time, the presidents Valdas Adamkus and Aleksander Kwaśniewski played their role in the process as well. They met in Grunwald and talked about the battle as a peculiar example for both countries, which were joining the NATO.” – explained Alvydas Nikžentaitis.
Lithuanians with Germans against Poles?
The matter of the battle of Grunwald is more important for Lithuanians than it is for Poles – claims the historian. We look for and we see the special role of Lithuanians, whereas in Poland this conflict is much less important, and the battle is a story of a beautiful cooperation of nations.
“Discussions, updating the view on the battle, took place in 1990, whereas in Poland we could observe these events earlier, in 1960. Although we can observe the same phenomenon now– the importance of the battle decreases for the Polish and the Lithuanian identities– the Lithuanian society had much less time to establish a critical approach to Grunwald” – explained Alvydas Nikžentaitis.
He also added that despite all this, surveys show that the battle of Grunwald still remains one of the ten most important events in the Polish history.
Asked for an opinion– which would take into account all the misunderstandings between our nations– if, were the battle of Grunwald to take place today, Poles and Lithuanians would fight on the same side, the historian said that it would depend on particular things and circumstances.
“If Poles and Lithuanians agreed on the construction of energetic bridges, “Rail Baltica” and “Via Baltica” and they believed that the infrastructure is useful, then, of course, they would fight together. But if these matters were still in the phase of discussions, then maybe we would fight Poles on the German side” – Alvydas Nikžentaitis was wondering and smiling.
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.