• September 10, 2014
  • 264

End of summer in Verseka

The summer holidays have come to an end in the blink of an eye. Its last weeks I spent, as every year, in the Vilnius Region. I hid deep, far away from the tumult and crowd, in the forest of the Kalesninkai municipality. The weather was bad, however after a couple of days of heavy rain, mushrooms sprung up. And they were a sight to see. Xerocomus, Leccinum aurantiacum and the best of the best – real aristocrat – boletus. Resting, without Internet, and sometimes without reception, I watched the monotonous life of the Vilnius countryside and talked with its inhabitants. From this visit I have an image of the Vilnius countryside which I see as a multicoloured mosaic of stones and pebbles.

The village, spread between the forest and the river, in which I lazed for nearly two weeks, belongs to the rich ones. Next to the well-kept houses there are orchards and bee yards. The land does not lie fallow. When I came, it was actually after the harvest period, buckwheat remained lonely on the fields. How much energy, tenacity one has to have to cultivate this ungrateful Vilnius soil, full of stones – I think – but mind you this is patrimony. This is the land that those people regained after it had been a kolkhoz for years . They waited for years for it to come back to them. And, although as we know, not all the Poles in the Vilnius Region were able to get it. And though it is hard to live from a couple of hectares, because on the one hand the winter is long, and because of it the vegetation period is short, the quality of soil is poor, then on the other they keep this land and somehow manage. It would be a lot easier if Lithuania took  more care of their farmers – for instance in the way they are taken care of in Poland. The Lithuanian authorities evidently slept through the period of negotiations before the accession to the European Union, at least in the area of agricultural subsidies. Therefore, today, a farmer in Lithuania receives a several times smaller subsidies than a farmer in Poland. So it is hard to compete and be astonished that the shops in Lithuania are full of food products from Poland.

But the farmers do not wring their hands. Most of the Polish farmers that I met in the Vilnius Region are resourceful people, full of energy. More than one is moonlighting. People engage in different additional businesses and works. One will hire himself out as a carpenter or construction worker, the other will “import a machine from Germany”, recondition it and sell with a profit, and someone else will invest in agritourism. This is what my hostess did a couple of years ago. Mrs Krystyna, always smiling, full of vigour, bursting with energy and ideas (if she reads this article then I would like to give her my best regards), fully conscious, together with her husband decided to focus on agritourism. Today she has two houses next to the most beautiful river in the whole Vilnius Region, Verseka, which she rents to tourists. Her courage and effort put into it paid off. As far as I know, in the season Mrs Krystyna does not complain about the lack of tourists. Here come people from Lithuania, who for example they do not want to spent enormous sums of money on a house in Palanga or they just simply cannot afford it, and also from Poland.

Agrotourism , for those who would decide to opt for this form of earning money, in most probability will not become the main source of earning one’s living, however it may become a significant cash injection for farmer’s budget. Some may say that it requires some outlays. However, obviously, what in any case is done in Poland, one can apply for support from the EU funds. It requires a little bit more effort and clashing with bureaucracy, but I would say it is worth it. A pessimist will maybe say that the Šalčininkai Region does not have the same landscape advantages as the environs of Vilnius and Trakai that are full of lakes. I would reply that it has others. Fantastic forests of Rudniki, beautiful wild rivers such as Šalčia and Verseka and the villages inhabited only by Poles. The last one can be an important advantage. Most of all I have in mind my countrymen from Poland who will choose for example the southern lands of the Vilnius Region because of the fact that they will not have any problems in communicating with their hosts. Such people come to Mrs Krystyna. I myself have met a very nice couple from Poland who took a liking to the house next to Verseka, till now they have been coming there for years. They rest in an idyllic atmosphere far away from the tumult of the city and nobody forces them – which lately has been very common for the Lithuanians in e.g. Vilnius – to use English. By the way this Lithuanian characteristic is funny considering that, as I have noticed, a certain considerable group of Lithuanians (even young ones) doesn’t speak English very well.  Fortunately, at least Mrs President is fluent in English and, as one could learn from her,  more fluent than the politicians from Latvia and Estonia.

As I have previously mentioned, I talked a lot with the local inhabitants. The dominant concerns are high prices and fear whether it will not be worse after accession to the euro zone. The young people talk about emigration. Actually I noticed that, although I may be an exaggeration, the generation of people spanning from 20 to 30 years old is divided into the following categories of people. Those who have already emigrated, those that are preparing to emigrate, those that are thinking about emigrating. Up till now I have thought that the problem of emigration concerns mainly young people from little towns, now with horror I see that it also affects the inhabitants of rural areas. It is sad to observe the descendants of the proud parochial gentry of old times from the environs of Eišiškės or Kalesninkai, who are forced to leave their family homes and wander through this world to earn a better living. Will they come back? I hope so, currently the number of children born it the rural areas is decreasing. In most probability one of the main reasons is the emigration of young adults. I was sad to learn that in the Polish school, situated in Versoka, in the beautifully renovated manor house of Witold Stankiewicz, the provost of the Stefan Batory University, only one child signed up for the first grade. If something doesn’t change, in a couple of years the school could be threatened with closure.

The topic of schools is one of the issues that are very emotional. At least in the group of citizens of Vilnius Region who, to write it in a perverse manner, belong to the circle of anachronistic Poles, that do not understand the Zeitgeist and contemporary politics of Lithuania. The parliamentary debates in July, during which the “chosen ones of the nation” proceeded the law on national minorities, have stirred a serious anxiety as to whether the schools teaching in Polish will remain. It is not out of the question that they will be closed by virtue of the statutory law. Anxiety and fear are palpable and have also reached the rural areas.

As soon as I arrived home and I already missed the beautiful Vilnius countryside. I missed those people, those forests, baths in hot banya and cold Versoka. I will certainly come back in the near future, maybe till then all the young people will not emigrate and the parents of the youngest ones will be calm that their beloved ones will be able to learn in Polish. I would very much like that.

Translated by Alicja Dudzik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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