- May 21, 2013
Vilnians abroad: People in Lithuania are glummer and more embarrassed
Lithuania appears to be a country of intolerance and dullness on one hand, but on the other hand Poles from Lithuania who live now abroad confess to PL DELFI, that memories bring tears to them. The persons interviewed by us live in Poland, Canada and Spain.
“Why Canada? My husband has been living here for more than 25 years, he has got a good job, so after considering all pros and cons, it came out of it, that it is easier for families with children to live in Canada than in Lithuania” – Sabina Giełwanowska, the former speaker of “From Neris” – Polish radio station, told PL DELFI. Sabina has been living in Canada from 2008, she married a well known Polish radio journalist Irek Lemans. It is because of him she still can work for media.
Attitude towards national minorities
She has got a long list of reservations about her country of origin. Polish-Lithuanian relations, irrespective of long distance, are with no doubt affecting Lithuania’s image. “One can see the differences; for example in the national minorities treatment. I do not need to mention that Lithuanian people have to work hard on this. It seems that Polish people are more politically conscious, can fight for their rights, can influence their politicians decisions. Poles in Lithuania stand out against Lithuanians in a good way”- Walenty Dunowski, who has been living in Warsaw for over 10 years, is convinced about it.
Sabina Giełwanowska is of the same opinion. “The national or ethnic minorities discrimination in respect of their mother tongue, nationality or race is not an issue in Poland. Does it exist anywhere? I think it does not. I have not seen such a thing. Neither in the real life, nor in the media. Perhaps in Quebec, where they discriminate the English language and notices, official documents etc. are in French. Many people use faltered English without arousing any amazement or outrage from their interlocutors. They do display their national flags, put on their national clothing”- the former radio speaker adds.
Lack of openness
The persons interviewed by us say that there is no openness in Lithuania. “ I think that the biggest difference between Lithuanian people and Spaniards is that Spaniards are more open, they enjoy their life, they can appreciate the smallest things. They are very sociable and family people. You can hear quite often, that someone has no time for you on Sunday, because they have a family lunch or dinner”- Walerian Butkiewicz, a member of Vilnius Vagrant Club, who lives and works in sunny Spain for many years, reflects.
“Canadian people are multicultural people, there is such a diversity of races, languages, traditions, dresses, symbols, small shops, churches and clubs. One can live his whole life speaking his mother tongue, contacting only his compatriots in the districts where his minority lives with his language notices. But one can integrate with Canadian people as well, the options are open to him and free. The new immigrants can learn English or French on the free courses, can join the integration programs, and find job at the job centers. And they enjoy the free public medical care and high school education”. – Giełwanowska shared her views with us.
The city as if after the war
Visiting the home country after long time brings about some positive and negative feelings. “When I got off the plane after long stay in Spain it shocked me how green is my old country… There are quite different colors there than in Spain. But very soon you can see how gloomy it is as well. All these streets and buildings… Some of the places are still looking like just after the war, jerkwater town it is…. Than you start looking at the people – they are glummer and more embarrassed”- Butkiewicz thinks.
Sabina Giełwanowska believes, that lack of contacts with the other races and nationalities is behind the Lithuanian people attitude. “Canada is accepting 250 thousands of immigrants each year. It appears from the last registering list that every fifth resident of Canada is not born in Canada”- The Vilnian explains.
Lithuanian economy and infrastructure is far from good for Dunowski. “It is a big surprise that the streets in Vilnius are not very well maintained. It looks like the city is economizing on their maintenance, which is a big mistake. The goods are quite expensive in the shops. Most of them are imported from Poland, and I am happy with that, but I worry about Lithuania not developing its own agriculture”- the present man of Warsaw thinks.
Munchies for beer and the city cleanliness
There are many advantages of Vilnius and Lithuania apart from their disadvantages. Lithuanian pubs are quite nice, there are always good munchies for beer, which is not the case in Poland”- Walenty Dunowski lists. The Lithuanian coffee shops are better than Polish for Walerian Butkiewicz as well. “You can receive excellent meal in a small coffee shop in Lithuania, as if in the most expensive place in Spain. The Spaniards visiting Baltic countries were very surprised , because they do not decorate the meals, they prefer more practical way of serving them.”- adds Burkiewicz.
The Lithuanian cities are much cleaner and prettier than Canadian towns, where the practicality is more important than the look – in Sabina Giełwanowska’s opinion. “People in Lithuania are more dressed up than Canadian people. Wealth is exposed pointedly. You can see people ostentatiously carrying about the designer clothes or showing up their cars. It seems like the Lithuanian people are much richer than Canadian people”- Giełwanowska emphasized .
“I usually go to the Lithuanian seaside resort Palanga, for my holiday. It has a unique climate, some kind of charm, which is not available on the Polish seaside. And my wife likes it there, since she does not speak Lithuanian and she does not have to worry about anything, there”- Dunowski adds.
The ambassadors and the stereotypes
Sabina Giełwanowska says she still lives like in Vilnius. She starts a day with browsing Polish websites in Lithuania, watching TV Polonia and listening to Polish radio “From Neris”. The other interviewed persons also say that they are up to date with Lithuanian affairs. “We are the ambassadors of Vilnius in Winnipeg, and we promote the Vilnius history, culture and tradition on every possible occasion”- Giełwanowska admits.
The Western people know very little about Lithuania. “Spaniards do not know about Lithuania much. They know Lithuanian basketball and they know the basketball players names. They think it is very cold in our country. It happened one day, that a friend of mine was going to visit Lithuania in July and she brought the winter gloves and caps with her. People know that we were one of the Soviet Union republics once. And that is all they know about our country”- Butkiewicz says.
The negative sides of emigration
Although most of the interviewed people feel comfortable in their new countries, still these new countries do have their less comfortable sides. “Shock. There are Indians whom you have to call First Nation, Aboriginal People, or Native, because of political correctness. 1 million unemployed people living on the dole. People wandering around the streets, lying on the streets, drunk, stoned, at night – dangerous knifers. A taboo subject, which are not brought up by anyone, and about which the police statistics say “some of the social groups” – Giełwanowska lists. We live in Winnipeg – Central Canada, prairie. The Manitoba province has got 1.2 million residents, its capital city – 700 thousands. Most of them live in private houses of different sizes and cost. There are very safe districts there, as well as dangerous slums inhabited mostly by Indians living on the dole.”- ex-speaker of Lithuanian radio adds.
Spaniards do have the darker side as well. “I think they are two-faced. You talk to your best friend, and a minute later he runs you down. But they know all about it themselves… And they joke about it. The most important difference between us and Spaniards is well known – we are more hard working people than Spaniards”- emphasize Butkiewicz.
But irrespective of all pros and cons coming back to the country of origin is very unlikely. “We do want to live in Vilnius. But the reality is that we are forced to stay in Canada. How long? I do not know”- Sabina Giełwanowska says. “I even do not know whether I want to go back to Lithuania, life is much easier in Spain, you live not only from one payout to the next one… If you have a job and you like your new homeland- it is OK. I grew fond of Spain”- Walerian Butkiewicz sums up.
Tłumaczenie by Jadwiga Granowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Jadwiga Granowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.