Why do we “fight” with our oldest allies, Poles?

Fot. BFL/Kęstutis Vanagas

There the topics on our cause list that are tried to be avoided. On a rare occasion they are raised, but even then they are talked about in a brief common sentences like about something distressing and shameful. And what if it is something different – maybe those topics continue to irritate some interlocutors just because some irrational and incomprehensible things happen? What I mean are the relations between Lithuanian and Poles, between Lithuania and Poland and mainly between Lithuanian country and its Polish citizens.

The fortunes of Lithuania and Poland had already intertwined in the 14th century when Lithuanian lord Giedymin got related with Polish king Ladislaus the Short. By the historians, that period is called the dawn of Lithuanian Europeanization when through relation with Poland Lithuania started to be influenced by Catholic faith, writing and everything which can b labelled as European culture. A natural consequence of this was the Union in Krewa (1385) and Baptism of Lithuania (1387), which changed the cultural choices of our people for ever. All that taken into consideration, the Lublin Union and the establishment of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Abiejų Tautų Respublika, ATR; 1569 m.) were not a breakthrough, which could disturb the natural course of events as it only meant a bigger consolidation in the face of external threats (at that time, particularly from more and more dangerous Russia). In that way, the alliance of Poland and Lithuania probably became the longest one in the European history and because of that Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is sometimes, half joking half serious, called a forefather of the European Union.

The story of the other kind are partitions of Poland and Lithuania (1772, 1793, 1795), which, according to the enemy’s will, finished 470 years of our common history. However also after that, for almost whole century of uprisings (1794, 1812, 1830-1831, 1863) we did not give in to foreign abetment and we stayed close till the establishment of ethno-cultural national movements (later also ethno-political national movements).

Modern nations (at all society levels) developed quite late on the historical lands of Lithuania. They appeared only in last decades of 19th and first decades of 20th centuries. The obstinate divisions had begun, not only of the historical heritage and territories but also among local citizens. They revealed a mutual aversion between neighbours, friends and brothers (often literally).

The areas which at that critical moment were dominated by Lithuanian languages soon developed modern Lithuanian nation. On the other hand, in places dominated by Catholics using Slavic dialects new Lithuanian vernacular of Polish developed.

Their national identity determined that relatively small intellectual movement of natives aimed to maintain the unity of bilingual Lithuania; the rest, both Lithuanian majority and Polish minority, chose to live it “their” national countries. Michał Romer was right in this respect claiming that “Eastern Borderlands and Vilnius were disconnected with the centre and by that excluded from Lithuania. Lack of social bonds (…) cut Eastern Bordelands off” (M. Romeris „Valstybė”, v. II p. 236).

Let us have insight into those somewhat actual words of that wise man and true patriot, who spoke about lack of bonds between Vilnius region and the rest of Lithuania. Because of the historical turbulences of the 20th century, Polish part of Lithuanian (by which national majority is meant) came back to our country. All the same, happiness from returning the capital and its surrounding areas to the country was overshadowed by the events of last 75 years and the fact that the Nazi and Soviet occupation did not allow for a full integration of Vilnius citizens with social, political and cultural life of Lithuania. All of these is known and understood but the most distressing is fact that in the last 25 years nothing have been done and that nobody even see a need to do anything.

In 1994, after the signature of the Polish-Lithuanian Treaty of friendly relationship and neighbourly cooperation, for a while it seemed that there is an agreement and mutual understanding between our countries, at least at the political ground. It seemed that “time is the best cure” and that it will heal us of all the stereotypes and phobias.

And it could have been like that if it was not for some irresponsible statements of particular activists, which were quickly caught by the media looking for bombshells. It that way, the grain of hatred started to fall at the soil which was fertile from our shortsightedness.

I do not imply that there have never been (and that there are not) any objective reasons for mutual distrust. Indeed, there were ups and downs in our common history, especially in the mid-war period, but even today we are not free from stupidity and meanness. It must, however, be admitted that both Poland and Lithuania, as the post-totalitarian countries of Eastern and Central Europe, are still deep into the anachronistic period of “national countries” and that is the reason for their painful reaction on real or alleged sufferings of “their” compatriots at the other side of the border.

And, if it was not bad enough, all of these is closely observed and used by Russia – a long-term enemy of Poland, Lithuania and the whole western civilisation and the creator of new Euroasian empire. It seems that in the face of existential threat we should pull ourselves together, reject insignificant misunderstandings and follow the challenges of the time. It is not so, however…

As Lithuanian politician, I am particularly interested not in someone else’s but in mine own homework. There are not only one or two but more tasks of that kind, but still changing left and right governments pass them to each other like hot iron, which they are afraid to touch.

For example, how can we explain the fact that for around 5 years Lithuania has been functioning without a new National Minorities’ Act (apropos, the last one was not so bad) and without any national institution which would create, coordinate and lead national policy?

Certainly, nobody is interested in giving a formal answer to this question. In the Ministry of Culture there is a small department for national minorities and there is a main specialists in the government office, but there are no results coming from these facts.

I have written about the lack of results and I thought – maybe that is the result that someone wanted to achieve? Decidedly, the old Act of National Minorities stated that the areas inhabited by the national minorities public signs can be bilingual and only in January 1st, 2000 when the aforementioned act lost its legal force, those signs suddenly became “illegal”.

Public signs with Polish names were suddenly demolished, in the media chauvinistic hysteria began, judgements were made, fines were given and there was a general growth of national hatred.
Amid the roar of Russian bombs in Donbas, the question “who actually benefits from that?” appears to be of rhetoric…

The problem of the absence of Department for Nationalities is also not about existence or non-existence of a bureaucratic institution, as it points to the fact that presently there is no national politics in Lithuania. Different, uncoordinated with one another “national politics” are led by everyone who are not lazy – some of the exalted deputies, incompetent clerks, marginal organisations abetting to national disagreement, internet-provocators and, of course, the main in initiator of ethnic policy (that is ethnic conflicts) in all the post-soviet period – Russia of Putin with of its specialistic services, residents and embassies.

With the support of its adherents, Russia has already sparked real ethnic conflicts in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine. Infiltrated “green people” from the Baltic countries are also waiting for their time. It is impossible that they would not use a disagreement between poles and Lithuanian. Absolutely, despite the fact that young poles in Lithuania have very good command of Lithuanian, there is some psychological barrier between our nations.

But the situation cannot be different since in former and present authorities we can constantly observe the lack of competency in national policy issues, ignorance to national feelings (which can be so easily hurt) of quarter of a million citizens, primitive tolerance towards polophobic instincts of so called common people and originating from these indecision concerning necessary solutions.

What can we expect from the country led by a unrestricted and unpunished party, which at its time made an unconstitutional revolution, as well as by other organisations and media spreading ethnic hatred?

It is understandable that some part of Polish minority is pushed into arms not of Lithuania or even Poland and controversial Waldemar Tomaszewski’s party but into the arms of Kreml itself.

It is also clearly visible that such a polophobic “Lithuanian” is not making our country stronger but it poisons and destroys it.

Some can say that Poles in Lithuania (at least some of them) are not particularly loyal to our country. Maybe. I would like to, however, remind such opponents that only in totalitarian countries a man is forced to prove his loyalty to authorities. In places, where there is true democracy, it is the other way round – there, it is a country which proves its loyalty to the citizens, hence variety of local languages is there considered to strengthen a country and its society, not like a factor which os dangerous to its territorial integrity.

So called “Polish issue” is one of the most important ones for us. It is not only because Poles of Lithuania are our own brothers (kraujo broliai) and the only (of course, next to Lithuanian) ethnic group created on this land from its former inhabitants. So they are also the autochthons of this land.

“Polish issue” (more precisely – proper solution for it) belongs to the most important also because Poles are the largest in number minority group in our country, they inhabit south-eastern part of the country and their ethnic territory surrounds the capital from each side.
But the issue that is crucial is that only when the solution to “Polish issue” will be found, we will be able to admit that we solved also our own issue – ”Lithuanian issue”. We will be able to admit that we became normal Europeans who are no longer bothered by xenophobic complexes of a small and allegedly continuously harmed nation.

To achieve this goal we need to consolidate our efforts and possibilities of national institutions of Lithuania, political parties, non-governmental organisations, academic society and all other strong social forces. I use the words “of Lithuania” not “Lithuanian”, because it is civic duty, which cannot be fulfilled without the agreement of Poles living in Lithuania.

In this respect, what is particularly important is the voice of Polish intellectuals in Lithuania, as an intellectual of any given nationality has no moral right to be passive in the situation when he is expected to give a piece of advice.

Valuable social orientation depends not only from the politicians, but also from educated people, who has influence on political will of Poles in Lithuania and the direction it takes – either towords Europe or a “people republic” of Russian type.

I encourage everyone to an honest discussion on that issue, as well as on other, related to this, topics.

Artūras Melianas – Lithuanian politician, economist, member of local government, former deputy of the Sejm of Lithuanian Republic, in 2012 secretary of interior affairs. From 2013 to 2014, the last chairperson of Association of Liberals and Centre. Presently, vice-chairperson of Lithuanian Liberty Association (the liberals).

Source: http://zw.lt/opinie/dlaczego-walczymy-z-naszymi-najstarszymi-sojusznikami-polakami/

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

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