- January 11, 2014
Paweł Rogaliński: Wilno should free itself from the inferiority complex
Vilnius is a beautiful, worth sightseeing city but it will not free itself from the inferiority complex as long as the Lithuanians will perceive themselves that way. To solve this problem the city`s authority should get rid of the false belief about the endless threat from the side of Warsaw and the Poles – says in an interview with Radio Wnet a resident of Łódz, Paweł Rogaliński, a journalist, publicist and blogger who in December visited Vilnius in celebration of the Lituanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
What brought you in the middle of December to Vilnius?
I got an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania. During my stay I took part in the deliberations summing up the European Year of Citizens 2013 or in the closing ceremony of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. 15 media representatives from the whole Union were invited to this event. The deliberations took place in the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, whereas the solemn ceremony was held in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.
Who did you meet there?
Among the meeting`s participants there were many personages, as for example Vice-President on the European Commission Viviane Reding, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, Prime Minister of Lithuania Algirdas Butkevičius and many Members of the European Parliament(including Waldemar Tomaszewski), ministers and chairmen of the biggest non – governmental organizations. It is worth noticing that during my stay in Lithuania I had a possibility not only to sit on the front bench or to take part in the public examinations, but first of all I could compare my present images about the city and its residents with the reality.
I wanted to ask about these images. People traveling to Lithuania have often conflicting feelings. Some of them commend the Lithuanians` hospitality, the other ones are rather disgusted with the questions whether they came to take Vilnius back from them. What kind of receiving did you have?
I think, I had a chance to get to know both the Lithuanian hospitality and to understand better complicated relations between Warsaw and Vilnius. Beginning with the first experience, surely there is also the rule: to keep up with the Joneses. The Lithuanian Presidency there spare no money for the decent receiving of the foreign guests. Already since the very beginning, when I got out of the plane at the airport Wilno-Porubanek, I noticed the delegation waiting to greet me. One of the young women held a small board with my name. When I went to her, she greeted me very kindly and then walked me to the governmental BMW that was parked in front of the building.
What was after that?
The driver, who was fluently speaking polish, took us to the hotel Amberton in the very centre part of the city. There were organized a couple of trips during our stay: we sightsaw the monuments of Vilnius, the buildings of the authorities there or finally we set off on a trip to see the Lithuanian brewery. A great crowning of it was the ceremony in The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. I have to admit that although I took part in quite many other, similar trips organized by the European Union or the Presidencies of different countries, I have never been received in such a warm way.
How does this “second” experience look, then ?
I think that unfortunately the history and the historical politics play a very important role in Lithuania. I got an impression as if the Lithuanians still felt our “worse brothers”. I heard quite often the allusions that the Poles are the conceited race, the descendants of the nobility from the West (we were always perceived that way by the Lithuanians), whereas they, as a result of the Polonization the whole Lithuanian nobility, are just the descendants of the local peasantry. What is more, during the official trip through Lithuanian Parliament I heard from the guide that until recently even the priests in Vilnius tried to convince people to pray to God in Polish, since God does not understand Lithuanian language. It was also added that “Polish was always a language of the manor and townspeople and the Lithuanian is a language of uneducated peasants”. The thousands of such critical opinions considering their own culture or the history caused a complex in the collective memory of the whole nation.
Do you think that the Lithuanians have grounds for such a low self – esteem?
No. They can take pride in their great achievements and culture. On the other hand they are scared of our dominations over them, because in Vilnius live a considerable part of the polish minorities (about 20%), whereas their economy depends strongly on ours. As an example, one of the sponsors of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, which is one of the richest venture of Lithuania, was… polish Orlen Lietuva, incidentally the biggest company in this country. There are many other polish brands, like for example PZU Lietuva, Reserved, Cropp, Inglot, PLL LOT, Atlantic, Big Star, Tatuum, House, Gino Rossi, Wittchen, Coccodrillo in Lithuania. We also need to consider the fact that a lot of people living in Vilnius, with the President Dalią Grybauskaitė at the spearhead, speak Polish fluently, and at the marketplaces Zloty functions as a second currency. And that is why the Lithuanians feel hemmed in and assume that the better way to defense is to attack, they discriminate against minorities in many ways. Our compatriots living in Vilnius hit back at them and exhort to win back Vilnius. On the building`s walls, on the tables in the pub and many other places there are easily findable inscriptions like: “Vilnius ours” or signs of “Fighting Poland” (Polska Walcząca). The tension between these two countries is visible at every point.
You came to Lithuania within the framework of the events of the Lithuanian Presidency – what is your impression, was Lithuania well prepared to this event?
Absolutely. Lithuania took by the handful from the Polish Presidency`s experience and in respect of organization everything was geared up. Unfortunately some difficulties appeared that could have been easily avoided. For example, no one was appointed to slightly modify the deliberations program when they lasted. When one of the meeting`s parts was extended, there was no time for a break between the deliberations, because the next meeting had already begun. The journalists also had not enough time for the interviews. Often they had to do it during other meetings. One of the former, often mentioned by the media mishap of this Presidency, was the meeting of European Parliament`s Delegation with the president of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė. Asked when the problems of the minorities will be solved, the president said nothing, what had wide repercussions in Brussels and just confirmed the negative attitude of the authorities in Vilnius towards the equal rights of the Poles in here.
During your visit in December you spent most of the time in Vilnius. For most of the time the city had the inferiority complex: first, as the capital of the voivodeship of the Republic of Poland , later as the Soviet Republic and a small country in the middle of Europe. As for today, did Vilnius – according to you – become a real, European city?
Vilnius is a beautiful, worth sightseeing city, but it will not break itself from the complex of minority as long as the Lithuanians will perceive themselves that way. To solve this problem, the city`s authority should get rid of the false belief about the endless threat from the side of Warsaw and the Poles and to eliminate from its policy the prevailing minority`s discrimination. I think that Vilnius is a real European city, although perhaps not as attractive, when it comes to tourism, as for example Cracow, Toruń, Wroclove, Gdańsk or Warsaw. Vilnius still rebuilds its precious monuments after the decades of the negligence, still tries to regain the former conditions, when it was a significant metropolis. I think that the inferiority complex that appeared in Vilnius after the II World War, since formerly, together with Warsaw, Cracow, Lvov, the city was one of the biggest cultural and scientific center of the Republic of Poland.
On your blog you wrote that the Lithuanians serve great beer and appetizers in their eateries. What can you recommend the guests from Poland? Is there anything that everyone should definitely taste?
Yes, it is true – the Lithuanians love unfiltered, unpasteurized beer from the small, local breweries. A lot of pubs serve the guests their own, nearly “homemade” beer. It is almost unbelievable, although in Poland this tendency starts to develop. In Lithuanian bars a wide range of the snacks is served: from various kinds of cheese, to smoked pig ears, onion rings, peanuts, saltsticks, cooked broad beans, pickled cucumbers, various smoked and cured meats, and – my favorite – bread wholemeal. Some varied gravies, mayonnaise or melted cheese are served as well. I definitely recommend you visiting two great pubs in Vilnius: „Alaus namai” where you can taste the best snacks and „Šnekutis” where its owner – an older man with a long beard – brew the beer on its own for the need of the pub. Other interesting pubs are: „Alaus kolonėlė” and „Alinė Leičiai”. These are well known, easily findable places.
Paweł Rogaliński – a journalist, publicist, blogger, the Spokesman of the Polish Democratic Association. The author of the book: „Jak politycy nami manipulują. Zakazane techniki” (“How politicians manipulate us. Forbidden techniques.”) The Citizen Journalist of 2009, publishes in the domestical and Polish minority magazines, he practised as the Assistant of the Spokesperson of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, MEP office in Brussels and Strasbourg. He cooperated with European Commission, as well.
Tłumaczenie by Martyna Kołtun w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Martyna Kołtun within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.