• October 10, 2014
  • 195

The image of a Pole in Lithuania

“Who are you? A little Pole” these words of Władysław Bełza’s catechism of a Polish child in Vilnius Region should have their own adaptation “a Pole in Lithuania”. Geographical location along with nationality is an important part of national identity for Lithuanian Poles.

A group of sociologists and politologists of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius came to such a conclusion. The case study “The study of Polish identity of Polish national minority in Lithuania” has been published recenty. It includes many aspects of the life of Lithuanian Poles. Although the results cannot be considered as representative for the whole population because of the methodology of the research, the authors are sure that the answers of the groups of respondents reflect the beliefs and stance of Polish community in Lithuania to a great extent.

“There is no possibility to conduct representative research of Polish minority in Lithuania because it is not objectively possible to separate all representatives of this society for the choice of the representative group of respondents. Nevertheless, conversations with Poles that did not take part in our survey or officially refused to answer show that their beliefs and opinions were not much different from the aswers of respondents in our survey,” explains one of the authors of the study and the editor of the case study based on this research dr Gediminas Kazėnas in the conversation with “Kurier”.

The subject area of the research, its geographical range and the combination of quantitative and qualitative methods that are supplemented by the conclusions from polish-language press give maybe the most complete image of a Pole in Lithuania now. “In Lithuania” because the research shows that for Lithuanian Poles, the geographical location “in Lithuania” and “from Vilnius Region” is an important element of national identity. Respectively, 24.6 per cent and 12.9 per cent of respondents described themselves in this way (altogether 37.5 per cent).

11.2 per cent describe themselves as „Lithuanian Poles”, which in the opinion of the researchers polarises the term “a Pole in Lithuania” but this language gap can be closed by the specificity of the translation because interviews and surveys were conducted mainly in Lithuanian language and between the meanings of expressions “lenkai Lietuvoje” (“Poles in Lithuania”) and “Lietuvos lenkai” (“Lithuanian Poles”), there is a more clear boundary than in Polish. Anyway, one of important conclusions is that the national identity of Lithuanian Poles is strongly connected with geographical location. Perhaps, that is why only 36,7 per cent of respondents described themselves simply as “a Pole”.

Another interesting and important aspect is the correlation between national identity and regionalism because although “a Pole in Lithuania” and “a Lithuanian Pole” can suggest that the nationality dominates over the ethnicity in the self-describing of Polish minority in Lithuania, a small percetage identifying themselves with being Lithuanian suggests that geographical location does not make ethnicity less important for the national identity of Poles in Lithuania but it emphasises the individuality of ethnicity both in opposition to being Lithuanian and to a certain degree to Polishness like this from the Association of Polish Teachers in Lithuania “Macierz”.

According to the authors of the study, it can be the result of three-level political and ethnic identity relations that overlap with each other. In the case of Poles in Lithuania, it is expressed in the general European identity when we identify ourselves with Europe (the European Union), as the identity of the nation state (Lithuania) and local-regional identity (Vilnius Region). The research shows that the latter identity is deeply rooted in Lithuanian Poles. Hence, perhaps, local Poles feel very attached to their small mother land, which unequivocally results from the research and which really surprised its authors.

“Poles’ local patriotism in Lithuania and their strong ties with the place they come from, with their small mother land, were the most surprising to us,” says dr Gediminas Kazėnas. In his opinion, Polish minority in Lithuania may be an example for Lithuanian majority as an instance of local patriotism and attachment to their small mother lands. The above aspects of the research showed the researchers that Polish minority in Lithuania has both ethnic minority and national minority character.

Another interesting phenomenon in the research on the identity of Lithuanian Poles is their diversity on the local level. The research shows that in Vilnius, the percentage of respondents identifying themselves simply as Poles, without geographical localisation, is 41 per cent, whereas in Šalčininkai District Municipality, it is 23.8 per cent. The fact that the border between Lithuania and Belarus is close contributes to the narrowing of the geographical localisation of national identity because the biggest percentage of respondents that describes themselves as “from here” (around 11 per cent) is among the respondents living in Šalčininkai District Municipality.

It is there that the biggest number of people declared that they simply talk every day, which means that they speak the mixture of Polish, Russian and Belarusian with some Lithuanian elements. These results dispel one of the myths dogmatically accepted by Lithuanian political elite, that is, that Lithuanian Poles are mostly polonised Lithuanians without clear national identity identifying themselves as “from here”.

It is not the only myth about Poles in Lithuania that is dispelled by the scientists of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius. Another one is the supposed aversion of Poles to learning Lithuanian language and their weak connection with Lithuania. The research shows that for the majority of Poles, their national origin (42.6 per cent) is as important as being the citizen of Lithuania (40.4 per cent). In this correlation, the geographical location (Vilnius Region) is at the third place (33.8 per cent). It also confirms that the authors’ conclusion that Poles in Lithuania are both ethnic and national minority.

Another correlation is the attitude of Poles to the place of living. For the majority (45.3 per cent) of respondents, Lithuania is the mother land. For 29.2 per cent, Lithuania is the country where they live and for 11.7 per cent, the most important bond with Lithuania is the citizenship. Only 10 per cent considers Lithuania the country of their ancestors, which strengthens the position of the group for which Lithuania is mother land.

Coming back to Polishness, there is another surprise, especially in the context of dogmatic identifying being Lithuanian with Lithuanian language, which is reason for tension in the relations between Poland and Lithuania because the majority of postulates Polish is considered a potential threat to Lithuanian language, that is, to being Lithuanian.

For Poles in Lithuania, Polish language is an important element of national identity (56 per cent) but not the only one. For 38 per cent of respondents, being Polish is simply considering yourself a Pole. For 31.1 per cent, Polish origin is important. For many, being Polish is also determined by family, Polish tradition and religion.

Another interesting and surprising, because dispelling the myth about Lithuanian Poles, is the attitude to speaking Lithuanian language. In the opinion of Lithuanian politics, Poles do not know the natural language and are not eager to learn it. That is why there are ideas to „strengthen the teaching of Lithuanian” in minority schools at the expense of the knowledge of mother tongue. The research shows that learning Lithuanian language is very important for the majority of Poles (almost 60 per cent of respondents).

What is more, 33 per cent of participants thinks that knowing the national language is important. Altogether, 93 per cent, which is much more than the number of those who think that speaking national language constitutes national identity. Youth and young generation does not have big problems with speaking Lithuanian but older generation does not always speak this language well. It does not result from supposed aversion of Poles to learning Lithuanian but from objective historical events.

The research of the scientists of Mykolas Romeris University on the identity of Polish minority also include economic and political aspects. For Polish minority, they are equally important but as dr Gediminas Kazėnas notices, if economic issues have its roots in authentic interest of the respondents, political issues seem to result from indoctrination of media and politicians.

‘Talking about political issues, many respondents used clichés that seemed to be taken from press headlines or politicians statements. It shows that those people present beliefs rather imposed on them by media and politicians,” notices our speaker.

Nevertheless, the results of the research show that Poles are really interested in political issues, especially those connected directly with them. The issue of National Minorities Act is the most important and for 40 per cent of respondents. Although educational matters and the issue of names and double names are last political priorities (around 15 per cent), these issues are directly connected with National Minorities Act which definitely makes this act a problem that most Poles in Lithuania are interested in.

Similarly, an important aspect is economic growth of Vilnius Region because as many as 69.6 per cent of respondents considers it the priority but the majority (56 per cent) thinks that the economic level of Vilnius Region is not different from the level in other regions of the country. The overall economic situation of the country is considered bad by the majority, especially in the cote of Polish economy. High percentage of respondents says that the situation in Lithuania will get worse or will not get better, whereas in Poland it will be the opposite. Here the authors of the research came to certain conclusions.

“If the economic and social situation in the country will get worse, the number of the supporters of the polish autonomy/separatism among Poles in Lithuania can grow, especially if Polish economy will be developing, and Lithuanian will get worse. Then the hopes and endeavour of national minorities living in worse developed regions may head for Poland. The economic situation in Lithuania will not get better in a short time due to big debt and emmigration on a large scale. In such circumstances, the minority can become pessimistic. People can feel disappointed in such a country,” we are reading in the case study.

The authors of “The study of the identity of Polish national minority in Lithuania” are the researchers of Mykolas Romeris University in Vilnius: Inga Gaižauskaitė, Adas Jakubauskas, Romualdas Kacevičius, Gediminas Kazėnas i Asta Visockaitė.

The research was conducted and described in the years 2012-2014. The group of 411 Lithuanian Poles in Vilnius (40.4 per cent), Vilnius Region (44.5 per cent) and Šalčininkai District Municipality (15.3 per cent) took part in the research. The average age of respondents was 42. With 30 members of Polish minority, individual interviews were conducted. The study also included the research on Polish press in Lithuania.

The authors of the research also faced the aversion or even hostile attitude to the research that were deemed having political tendencies, encouraging to disagreement and evoking tension. Bilingual study (in Lithuanian and Polish) is available at the website of Mykolas Romeris University and at the website of “Kurier Wileński”.

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

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