- June 25, 2014
Aleksander Srebrakowski: I do not know whether the opinion about autonomy makes sense
Poles in Lithuania did not organize hit squads, furthermore they were continuously underlining their desire to form the autonomy within Lithuania, but not detaching from the republic, said to zw.lt Aleksander Srebrakowski – Polish historian and the lecturer at University of Wrocław (pl.Uniwersytet Wrocławski).
Referring to the last events in Ukraine, becomes topical the question of national policy in countries, which were forming The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR (pl.Związek Socjalistycznych Republik Radzieckich, ZSRR). Do You think that the example of Crimea shows how dangerous can be unsolved problems of national minorities and nationalism in the post-Soviet states?
History has a few models of the state functioning. Until XIX century the factor that determined the cohesiveness of the state was the government. XIX century brought us change in a form of nationalism. You have to be careful with understanding of this because for us nationalism definitely has pejorative meaning and describes the state of mind, thoughts and attitude to the world. The idea of nationalism is that every nation creates its own place on the Earth. There is a maxim which claims that if society wants to function, it has to be at least minimally nationalistic. Really often we become victims of mythologizing certain issues. We should remember that during World War II nationalism of German people changed into heinous chauvinism. By the way, remember not to call perpetrators of crimes Nazis because they were not aliens with unknown origin (just like in the famous comic book) they were German people beguiled by contorted ideology. After World War II everyone avoided to avow himself as a nationalist because it was perceived unambiguously negative.
The mottos of internationalism, which replaced nationalism, did not change people’s attitude to the world. National prejudice was hidden, but in such situations which are taking place in Ukraine now, all reveals. Every wise and broad-minded person, who analyzed what is going on in Ukraine, saw the tension between nations.
I consider the decision of so-called ‘Euromaidan Seym’, that is banning from using the Russian language, to be an obvious stupidity. [what is a mistaken opinion just referring to the fact that about 50 percent of the population speaks Russian- translator]. It might have been a spy who has put the idea into their heads. Unfortunately, it caused the chain of specific events. This resolution worked on the principle: let the ball of snow roll down the hill and it would be continuously growing and would become a destroying power. And it would be really difficult to stop this process. If someone (in our situation Russia) is prepared for such things, it can be used.
With reference to the today’s events how do You assess the attempt to form the Polish autonomous territorial unit on Wileńszczyzna in the early 90th of XX century?
I had the opportunity to observe the discussion of events. It was an attempt to solve the problem by resources available at that moment. It is important to say that the opinion about autonomy was suggested and supported be the press and media, where under the loud discussion were not only so-called ‘semi-raions’ (polrajony) [Polish Autonomous Districts in the USSR: Dzierżyńszczyzna in Belarus (Polski Rejon Narodowy im. Feliksa Dzierżyńskiego) and Marchlewszczyzna in Ukraine (Polski Rejon Narodowy w im. J.Marchlewskiego) – author]. A lot was written mainly on the topic of the autonomy of so-called the Volga Germans. An intensive discussion started on the pages of the media. The documents were spread and solving the questions about autonomy was absolutely clearly decried by Stalinists. Furthermore, the tensions in Caucasus also caused the topic of autonomy as the best solution of the problems. Therefore we can claim that this thought was in fact ‘given’ to the minorities. Another issue is the question whether the public discussion was directed specifically to the Poles in Lithuania. According to the scale of what was happening at that time in the USSR, it is possible that the whole propaganda of the USSR dealt only with Poles in Lithuania. What is more, later some processes were used for satisfying self- interests. I emphasize that all this appeared in the fervor of events, happening all over the country. As time went by, the USSR was crumbling. The policy which limited, for instance, the functioning of self-governments was unfastened. Much easier spreading of information made it possible to organize different assemblies and mobilization of the population. Gradually, the drastic change of the old system was brought about and everyone was trying to find his own way. Unlike the Ukrainian separatists are doing today, Poles in Lithuania did not organize hit squads, furthermore they were continuously underlining their desire to form the autonomy within Lithuania, but not detaching from the republic. Their actions were the reaction on the Lithuanian policy and not solving issues important for Poles. What is significant is the fact that the action was taking place while the case of self-government in Lithuania has not been regulated yet. Self-governments were only starting forming and making everything alone. Thus the Polish community was looking for something that could quickly help to ‘defend their interests’ locally. Generally, we should remember to analyze and look at this not in the context of big policy, but thinking about an ordinary human and his needs.
Why does the word ‘autonomy’ have only negative connotation nowadays?
This is the result of the work of the media. This problem does not apply to specialists like me and my colleges, who are following the events and know the documents. An ordinary man just turns on the TV and receives a short and clear message: autonomy is evil, they are traitors and collaborators. In fact, such a system of concepts is encoded in minds of consumers. And it causes the result – let us call a spade a spade – propaganda.
How do You assess the influence of Poland on the activity of Poles in Wileńszczyźna during this period?
Poland reacts on those events really mechanically. The majority took the side of the policy, which is described as ‘the environment of Gazeta Wyborcza’ now. Appeared individual statements, in which the activity of Polish minorities was considered to be an ‘assassination’ of the Lithuanian independence. Poles in Lithuania were treated as soldiers, who will queue up and march in a certain direction under someone’s command that has been far away from the reality. Personally I do not know whether the opinion about autonomy made sense, whether we would cope with all these difficulties. I just know that all attempts to form the Polish autonomy cannot be treated unambiguously. The discredit of the idea when it is only forming seems to be baseless.
Is the Polish foreign policy still determined by the ‘Giedroyc Doctrine’ (pl. doktryna Giedroycia)?
I would say that in Lithuania it is not so often messed up. Those territories, which Lithuania got at the expense of Poland in 1939-1940 are the areas where exists the problem of national minorities, other parts of the country, within the prewar Lithuania, do not have such a problem. To a certain extend imbroglios were taken on our shoulders. What is more, all problems are mainly connected with the economic situation in the country. Worth remembering that the lifeblood of all public disturbances are normally the ordinary people, who are pivoted on the present economic situation. When the lack of money, submissiveness and tolerance towards others decisively decreases. In the case when people are dissatisfied with the economic situation appeared Nazis and Bolsheviks. When there is a strong – in a political sense- government, which clearly set rules and provides welfare, most problems disappear. The situating becomes worse if there is no perspective. At that time comes out radicalism, national problems become actual.
Why during last 25 years it has been impossible to decide the dispute over the so-called ‘feast of the alphabet’?
Lithuanian language was the cornerstone of forming the Lithuanian nation. The second element of Lithuanian identity is Vilnius, the symbol of the country. And these are, in fact, those two things, where Poles ‘interfere’ the most. The attitude of the Lithuanian government to the Polish minority arises to some extend from the complexes and fears that the power of the Lithuanian culture and language is so weak that it can be easily conquered. We should take into account the fact that even fathers of Lithuanian national revival, Basanavičius i Vileišis, at the beginning of their activity were corresponding with each other and discussing Lithuanian issues in Polish. Therefore the cornerstone of forming the Lithuanian nation is anti-Polonism.
During the last election the Lithuanian and even Polish media drew the special attention to the fact that Poles in Lithuania enter into the alliance with Russia. As far as we know the 5 percent electoral threshold imposed on them many years ago. To Your mind, is it a long-term alliance?
It cannot be forgotten that to this alliance also belongs the political formation of Kazimiera Prunskienė’s son. The relation of some Lithuanian people the Polish and Russian minority is similar. Poles in Wileńszczyzna consider them to be citizens in the same situation. They will cooperate as long as they would have common aims.
Dr Aleksander Srebrakowski (born in 1961) – Polish historian andand the lecturer at University of Wrocław. Expert in the area of contemporary history, the history of Eastern Europe, history of Eastern borderlands with the special consideration of the Polish-Lithuanian relations and the situation of Poles in Lithuania. From 2002 is the member of Polish-Lithuanian course book commission (pl. Polsko-Litewska Komisja Podręcznikowa).
His works: ‘Sejm Wileński 1922 roku. Idea i jej realizacja’ (Wrocław 1993) [Vilnius Seym in 1922. The idea and its realisation], ‘Polacy w Litewskiej SRR 1944-1989’ (Toruń 2012) [Poles in Lithuanian SSR in 1944-1989], ‘My nie bracia, my sąsiedzi’ (Wrocław 2013) [We are not brothers, we are neighbours].
Tłumaczenie by Diana Doniczenko w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Diana Doniczenko within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.