- October 2, 2014
Polishness, Vilnius, citizenship – three elements of the identity of a Pole in Lithuania
I apologise that this time it will be very long but it is good to have this data at hand. The „Badania nad tożsamością polskiej mniejszości narodowej na Litwie” („The research on the identity of the Polish national minority of Lithuania”) full text has finally appeared on the Internet. The research was conducted by the group of sociologists and politologists of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius.
The research, in the times when it still was not published, annoyed Lithuanian and Polish nationalists (proving that it is not true that most Lithuanian Poles identify themselves more with “being from here” that with Polishness) who do not want to believe that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania represents the majority but not the majority of Poles in Lithuania. Maybe it is the most serious and comprehensive study of the topic. During a few years, the researchers carried out 30 interviews with Lithuanian Poles from Vilnius, Vilnius District Municipality and Šalčininkai District Municipality (qualitative research) and quantitative research in which 411 Polish Lithuanians filled a standard questionnaire which was the attempt to register the dominant attitudes, experience and remarks connected with national identity among Poles in Lithuania. The scope of the research is very wide (almost 550 pages!). I encourage you to read it especially because the basic data and conclusions are also presented in Polish language. I would like to present only two basic parts: pertaining to national identity of Lithuanian Poles and political identity.
The results of the research show that Lithuanian Poles does not identify themselves much with “a Lithuanian Pole” and “a Pole in Lithuania” (Lithuanian politologists and sociologists differentiate between those terms (Lietuvos lenkai and lenkai Lietuvoje) that in my opinion as far as Poland is concerned is a bit artificial because Lithuanian “Lietuvos lenkas” can be translated into Polish as “a Pole in Lithuania” and “a Lithuanian Pole”. 36.7 per cent of the participants of the research identify themselves with the term “a Pole” (without any additions), 24.6 per cent with the term “a Poles living in Lithuania”, 12.9 per cent with “a Pole from Vilnius Region” and only 11.2 per cent with “a Lithuanian Pole/a Pole in Lithuania”. To be honest, I was surprised by this research because I thought that the term “a Pole in Lithuania” is widely accepted (it has been always used in the names of basic Polish organisations in Lithuania: the Association of Poles in Lithuania, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania). The identity of “locals” seems to fade. The participants signaled that it is a pejorative, rude, nationalistic expression (“created by Landsbergis”). It pertains mainly to those Poles who speak incorrect Polish. Only 13.7 per cent of respondents said that they describe themselves as locals (usually it were people from Šalčininkai District Municipality, from Lithuania-Belarus borderland). It is interesting that the highest percentage of people who describe themselves as simply “Poles” is in Vilnius (41 per cent), whereas the lowest is in Šalčininkai District Municipality (23.8 per cent). At the same time, the research showed that all Lithuanian identities have a weak support of Poles in Lithuania (only 5.6 per cent) described oneself as a Lithuanian of Polish origin 1.2 per cent as a Pole of Lithuanian origin.
Being Polish, Vilnius and Lithuanian
Poles in Lithuania have a very strong feeling of the relation with Polish identity. It is interesting that 50.1 per cent of the participants speaks only Polish (14.6 per cent Polish and Russian, 10.2 per cent Polish and Lithuanian, 5.2 per cent speaks as locals (propos in Šalčininkai, the percentage of those speaking as locals was two times higher – 11.2 per cent)). The participants emphasised that their ability to speak Polish is not the sine qua non condition of being a Pole. 56 per cent of the participants say that the most important thing for a Pole is speaking Polish language (answering the question how important Lithuanian speaking is for a Pole in Lithuania, 59.9 per cent said that it is very important, for 33.1 per cent it is important, which proves that the statement that Poles do not want to learn Lithuanian is not true), 38 per cent says that considering oneself as a Pole, 34.8 per cent says it is respecting Polish tradition, 30.4 per cent says it is respecting family, 22.4 per cent says it is observing Polish customs.
The research also proves that some Lithuanian politicians are not right saying that Poles are not interested in the Act on National Minorities. Answering the question what issue is the most important for a Pole in Lithuania, 41.4 per cent of respondents said that “having the Act on National Minorities that will guarantee certain rights of minorities” (only 15.3 per cent of the participants said that the priority is the original spelling of names and surnames and legalising bilingual signs with street, villages and cities names), 38.7 per cent said that the priority is the preservation of Polish traditions and culture, 37 per cent – the possibility to have education in the Polish language, 34.1 per cent – having own representatives in Parliament, 25.1 per cent – having own representatives in local governments, for 23.6 per cent the priority is the possibility to speak Polish in everyday life and learn Polish history and culture. It is interesting that the number of the supporters of the Act on National Minorities and having own representatives in authorities is the highest in Vilnius District Municipality and the inhabitants of Vilnius emphasised the need to have the possibility to preserve the culture, Polish traditions, education in Polish language and solving the problem of the spelling of names and surnames and bilingual signs (this last postulate has the lowest numbers of supporters in Šalčininkai District Municipality).
The researchers of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius tried to understand what Lithuania means to a Lithuanian Pole. In the opinion of 45.3 per cent of the participants of the research, Lithuania is the motherland, for 29.2 per cent Lithuania is the country of residence, 11.7 per cent considers Lithuanian the country of which they are citizens, 10 per cent – Lithuania is the country of their ancestors. For Lithuanian Poles, “Polishness” is as much important as “being the citizen of Lithuania (42.6 per cent and 40.4 per cent). On the third place, there is the bond with motherland, that is, Vilnius (33.8 per cent). It is different from the year 1990 when only 10 per cent was in favour of independent Lithuania. Today, Poles in Lithuania feel the strong bond with both Lithuania and Lithuanian state (through the institution of citizenship). At the same time, Lithuanian public institutions have weak trust – Lithuanian Poles trust local governments, the police and courts most but even those institutions get only 4-5 points out of 10. The respondents think that the level of life in Vilnius Region is neither worse nor better than in other parts of Lithuania (56 per cent) but they draw our attention to economic and social problems and the need to pay more attention to Vilnius Region (69.9 per cent). According to the respondents, the fields that require the most urgent attention is the development of industry, agriculture and higher education in Vilnius Region. The vast majority assesses the economic and social situation as negative. Especially in comparison to Poland, Lithuania is almost a failed state for Lithuanian Poles and it is the biggest failure of Lithuanian authorities. The reluctance of the Lithuanian authorities to solve the problems connected with the original spelling of names and surnames and bilingual names of streets, villages and cities are not understood and evoke negative emotions. The respondents emphasise that on the one hand, those are minor problems and on the other hand, the fact that they are not solved is perceived as discrimination.
The relations between Poland and Lithuania are not bad
The relations between Poland and Lithuania are not as bad as it used to be presented in media. In general, 47 per cent of participants considered the relations between Poland and Lithuania average, 26.5 per cent – good, 17.3 per cent – bad. 3.6 per cent thinks the relations are very good and 1.7 per cent thinks they are very bad. It is interesting that the highest percentage of people that consider the relations good or average was in Vilnius District Municipality and Šalčininkai District Municipality. The inhabitants of Vilnius were the most pessimistic in their assessment (23.5 per cent of inhabitants said the relations are bad or very bad). Similarly, almost 57 per cent of respondents thinks that the relations between Poland and Lithuania are neither good nor bad.
In the opinion of respondents, the reasons that spoil the relations between Poland and Lithuania most are: Lithuanian educational policy (41.8 per cent), Lithuanian nationalism (32.1 per cent), negative articles in media (30.1 per cent), the reluctance of Lithuanians to fulfill Polish postulates (22.6 per cent), historical events (21.9 per cent), Lithuanisation practices (21.7 per cent) and radicalism (resistance) of Polish politicians in Lithuania (20.2 per cent). Over 70 per cent of respondents considered Lithuanian educational policy as negative with regard to Polish minority and around 55 per cent thinks that Lithuanian authorities make efforts to denationalise Lithuanian Poles.
The researchers noticed that both Lithuanians and Lithuanian Poles head toward common historical narrative. Answering the question about the history of Vilnius Land, 35.5 per cent of respondents said that the statement “Vilnius is the historic capital city of Lithuania” reflects the complicated history of this country best. 26.3 per cent said that the statement “Vilnius is the cradle of Polish culture“ is the best summary of the history of Vilnius Land. 22.6 per cent said that historical issues should be left for historians because they are not important. Poles and Lithuanians rather avoid talking with Lithuanians that they know about the relations between Poland and Lithuania. Only for 10.7 per cent of respondents, the majority of their friends are Lithuanians. For 42 per cent, the majority of friends and acquaintances are Lithuanian Poles and 1.7 per cent do not have any Lithuanian friend.
Against or in favour of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania?
Politics was not a bigger priority for respondents, especially for the respondents out of town. Only 39 per cent of Lithuanian Poles is interested in politics (both Lithuanian and Polish politics). Poles who are interested in politics are more interested in the policy of Lithuanian authorities with regard to Lithuanian Poles (55.3 per cent) and political events in Lithuania (51.1 per cent) more than, for example political events in Poland (29.2 per cent). 42.6 per cent of respondents are interested in relations between Poland and Lithuania.
55.5 per cent of the respondents said that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania represents their affairs well or very well, 26 per cent – average and 12.4 per cent – bad or very bad. The highest percentage of people who assess the activity of the Polish party as very good lives in Vilnius District Municipality (30.8 per cent) and those who assess the activity of the party as bad in Šalčininkai District Municipality (11.1 per cent). For people who assessed the activity of the party as negative, it was connected with Wademar Tomaszewski in most cases (for example “I am ashamed of Tomaszewski”, etc.)
The majority of respondents said that they support the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania because the party definitely fights for Polish affairs and manages its local governments well and has the feeling of Polish solidarity. Almost 60 per cent think that there is no need for any alternative of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. Around 30 per cent are of the opposite opinion. The opponents of the Polish political alternative give the argument that it would lead to breaking the Polish unity of Lithuanian Poles, the supporters – that the affairs of Lithuanian Poles would be represented better in this way.
Choosing the party for which a respondent would vote if he/she could not vote for the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, most Lithuanian Poles chose left-wing or populist parties: 24.3 per cent voted for Rolandas Paksas’ “Order and Justice” party, 24.1 per cent voted for Viktor Uspaskich’s Labour Party, 23.1 per cent voted for the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, 5 per cent would vote for conservatives, 3.6 per cent for the Zuokas’ Liberal Movement. In Vilnius and Vilnius District Municipality, Labour Party is more popular, whereas in Šalčininkai District Municipality – social democracy.
Remarks and conclusions
Not all went well. Describing certain facts from the social and political life of Polish community in Lithuania, there researchers were not right (for example when they described the staff of the Association of Poles in Lithuania in Parliament of the 1st term 1992-1996, they wrote that Ryszard Maciejkianiec and Jan Gabriel Mincewicz were the members of autonomists council at that time but the autonomy was liquidated in the September of 1991. Some other time, they say that the term “Lithuanian Pole” does not exist in Polish language. Is the choice between “a Pole in Lithuania” and “a Pole from Vilnius Region” possible? For me, both terms describe me in the same way. I am attached to both Lithuania and motherland so I do not know if this question in the questionnaire is good. Moreover, judging by the answers from qualitative interviews, you can have the impression that the researchers sometimes suggested answers to participants (“But in Poland studies are not free of charge in general?” “Her studies are free of charge.” “Let’s try to think about this. Doesn’t it mean that Poland buys?” “What does it buy? I do not understand the question…” “It tries to buy Poles in Lithuania.” “Oh, yes, maybe it tries…”)
In the case of questions connected with reading press and watching television, in my opinion the answers give too pessimistic image. It results from them that for example 54 per cent Lithuanian Poles reads press in Lithuanian regularly, 39.4 per cent – in the Polish language and only 21.2 per cent – in the Russian language (33.3 per cent of Poles sometimes read press in Lithuanian, 38.7 per cent – in the Polish language, 54.3 per cent – in the Russian language). Those numbers are completely at odds with the circulation of Lithuanian, Polish and Russian press that is spread in Vilnius Region. At the same time, only 7.3 per cent of participants said that the priority for Polish minority is having media in the Polish language. The results connected with watching television are closer to the truth: 52.1 per cent of respondents watches Russian television channels regularly, 50.4 per cent – Lithuanian, 31.4 per cent – Polish. This tendency is right but the numbers in the case of Polish and Lithuanian television channels are a little too high, in the case of Russian channels – too low. Perhaps, it can be explained by a much more number of people with higher education (51 per cent) among respondents than the average of the community and by the fact that the research was conducted before the analog television in Lithuania was switched off.
In spite of certain inaccuracy and flaws, it seems that in general “The research on the identity of Polish national minority of Lithuania” conducted by the group sociologists and politologists of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius can be considered successful and reliable. What is the image of a Pole in Lithuania after getting acquainted with the results?
First of all, a Lithuanian Pole feels the strong bond with Polishness, Polish nation (the identity “a local” and “a Lithuanian” have little interest and are perceived as imposed, artificial and marked with negativity) even if only the half of them speaks the Polish language in everyday life. Polish identity, identifying oneself with Polishness is the strongest in Vilnius and gets weaker out of town (in Vilnius District Municipality and even more in Šalčininkai District Municipality). At the same time, a Pole feels a strong bond with the country of residence – Lithuania and Vilnius Region. The Lithuanian citizenship is perceived as the reason to feel proud. A Lithuanian Poles sees the difference between oneself and “koroniarz”, that is, the citizen of United Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (the majority of respondents were not interested in emmigration or repatriation to Poland) but at the same time does not trust Lithuanian public institutions (neither central nor local so so called “one’s own”) and assesses the economic and social situation in Lithuania as pessimistic. The vast majority of Lithuanian Poles – contrary to what Lithuanian politicians say – thinks that good Polish speaking is necessary.
For a Lithuanian Pole, it is very important to have access to education in the Polish language, the preservation of Polish traditions, customs and culture and the guarantee of rights (although more media issues – the spelling of names and bilingual signs – are considered as minor by the majority of respondents. The incomprehensible resistance and reluctance to solve those problems annoys the respondents more than they are interested in having “W” in their name or street name.
The majority of Poles in Lithuania thinks that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania is their representative and it represents them well enough (the supporters of the party are generally ready to support all political decisions of their party, for example the coalition of with Russians is supported by as many people as many as the number of people who think that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania represents them well. The voting the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania is the indicator of Polishness. In spite of this fact, Waldemar Tomaszewski is far from supporting Vladimir Putin as Russians do – over 1/3 of respondent have various reservations regarding the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and almost 30 per cent would like to have some Polish political alternative. 1/5 of Lithuanian Poles thinks that too stubborn and radical politicians of the party are responsible for the current problems in the relations between Poland and Lithuania. Definitely, the majority of Poles has left-wing and centre-left beliefs. Only a little number is ready to vote for right-wing parties (even liberal).
This data is maybe not a discovery because it overlaps to a great extent with the data from the previous polls and research but undoubtedly it will be useful to have such a study at hand for every person who writes about the relations between Poland and Lithuania, Poles in Lithuania, Vilnius Region or doing some social or political activity in Vilnius Region. It is a great reference point for every discussion about Poles in Lithuania who cares for facts, not emotions. I also leave out regular propagandists of the only right option – such as Bogusław Rogalski – who think that such a discussion can happen only within the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and the Association of Poles in Lithuania (although 1/3 of Lithuanian Poles think that those organisations are not their representatives) and only when the rules of Polish unity and unanimity are assumed…
Translated by Marta Wojtowicz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.