Let’s abandon the damaging stereotypes. Polish-Lithuanian historical memory

Alvydas Nikžentaitis, fot. Wilnoteka.lt

Polish-Lithuanian dialogue is difficult if it is based on stereotypes and shallow knowledge. However, when it is based on conscientious research and free from prejudice – it can be creative and it can lead to constructive conclusions. One of the results of fruitful cooperation between historians from countries which constituted First Polish Republic is a book entitled “The dialogue of the cultures of memory in ULB region” edited by Alvydas Nikžentaitis and Michał Kopczyński.

The book is a result of the discussions held between 2011-2012 during a series of international seminars devoted to historical memory in ULB region (Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus). The inspiration for the project was Jerzy Giedroyć’s and Juliusz Mieroszewski’s (eminent representatives of Polish political emigration wo created ideological base for foreign policy of independent Poland, based on reconciling with the neighbours) idea. The book which was also released in Polish will be issued in the beginning of the next year in Lithuanian also. It is one of many translations which confirm that shared history, which was difficult at times do not have to disunite.

On scientific surface the dialogue concerning Polish-Lithuanian history has been conducted for many years. Alvydas Nikžentaitis* is one of its participants. The historian points to the fact that the consensus which has been reached on scientific surface is not easy to pass further. “Historians have been discussing it and they explained it all between themselves. The national question does not play a great role here. The society do not have such a wide knowledge as the hisorians from both countries do as it was not interested in gaining it,” explains Alvydas Nikžentaitis when talking to Wolnoteka.
The historian mentions also big differences between scientific knowledge and common knowledge in the field of history: “Nowadays we have as if two surfaces: the first one is the historical knowledge of the historians and the other is the historical knowledge of the society. The historical knowledge of the Polish and Lithuanian society have much in common. In both cases it is characteristic that the national movements dominate and it is through them that historical events are assessed”. Nikžentaitis points also to specific traces of the differences between Polish and Lithuanian attitudes: “We observe a visible asymmetry. If the Polish about Polish-Lithuanian relations the always mention the Union or the uprisings maybe but they are not interested in modern Lithuanian country at all as if present-day Lithuania did not exist. Similar phenomenon can be noticed on the Lithuanian side: the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania is a popular subject but it is a period when Poland was not a part of the history of Lithuania or it was presented as an enemy which is visible e.g. in the often recalled story about Witold’s coronation. Most often, however, Lithuanian society looks at Poland having in mind the Vilnius offensive in 1920. This kind of  looking at the past is noticeable and disturbs the dialogue”.

History as science is able to defend itself against ideology. It is more difficult with common knowledge. At the same time, it is the common historical knowledge that influenced the way people perceive the two nations. What can be done to purify historical memory? “According to me, projects popularizing historical knowledge are important. There are many cooperative research examining the past conducted by Polish and Lithuanian historians. Sometimes they lack interest in popularization, though. I wholeheartedly regret that we are waiting for the answer of the Polish side to the idea of beginning a new research program which would serve, among others, popularizing the results of historical research and our waiting is unavailing. We encounter a paradox: we have these programs with Ukraine and Belarus but we do not have one with Poland in the field of humanities.

It seems that those are schoolbooks which should shape the historical knowledge. There is no need to talk about their importance and poignancy. There has been a Polish-Lithuanian dialogue in this field also. Polish-Lithuanian Bilateral Commission has been working since 1992 looking into the problems concerning teaching history and geography. “The Commission discusses the issues important for both nations and is able to find appropriate solutions, for example in regard to naming particular events. However, the results of its work are not always reflected in schoolbooks as the Commission’s advice are not respected by the authors or the publishing houses. Sometimes experts hired by publishing houses are to decide on how a schoolbook should look like. In this field there is considerable amount of discretion, which is not good”.

“History overshadows the present, as a father overshadows his immature son”, as Juliusz Mieroszewski wrote. It is impossible to build a consensus in the present sticking to prejudice and stereotypes from the last century. We need a dialogue enabling reorganization of the way we think about our past. “The dialogue of the cultures of memory in ULB region” is one of the books which may help a reader to accept other way of thinking, which not always is wrong. The question remains whether good knowldege based on specific sources will not be shouted down by a mass of unimportant opinions which, basing on stereotypes, do not need confirmation or proofs.

More about “The dialogue of the cultures of memory in ULB region” here http://www.muzhp.pl/wydawnictwa/1361/dialog-kultur-pamieci-w-regionie-ulb

*Dr hab. Alvydas Nikžentaitis – a Lithuanian historian, a profesor at Lithuanian University of Ecology, between 2000-2008 a director of The Lithuanian Institute of History. Decorated by Polish President in 2009 for merits in developping the cooperation between Poland and Lithuania and for propagating knowledge about common historical heritage of the nations forming  Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the Knight Cross of the Polish  Revival.

On the basis of: inf. wł.

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/odejdzmy-od-niszczacych-stereotypow-polsko-litewska-pamiec-historyczna

Tłumaczenie by Gabriela Godek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Gabriela Godek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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