• January 30, 2015
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The Vilnius region: anniversaries of squandered opportunities

The Vilnius region: anniversaries of squandered opportunities

On January 29 the Lithuanian Parliament, much to the surprise of many, passed a regulation on the rights of minorities which met a number of Polish minority demands. Among the demands met were the use of the mother tongue (such as Polish or Russian) in public offices and minority languages being allowed where topographical names are concerned. Also permitted was the spelling of Polish surnames in Lithuanian passports.

Moreover, the Parliament passed a special resolution which regulates the Vilnius region in isolation as a self-governed unit on which land the national minorities are guaranteed a number of rights. Unfortunately, this event, although true, took place in 1991.

Today, after 24 years, there is not even a trace of the adopted resolution. The new edition of the Law on National Minorities that was passed was long-heralded as an exemplary model by other countries. In Lithuania, for years it has remained only a model that has never been implemented. In 2010, the law was finally removed from law circulation and ended up in the expired files archive. Life of the resolution of a separate administrative unit was even shorter. Probably because even though it was never canceled, it too had never received the statutory regulations enabling the realization of its objectives. These, in accordance with the resolution of January 29, 1991, which was signed by then current President of the Supreme Council Restitutive Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis, were to be developed by the government, parliamentary committees and the Committee on Eastern Lithuania  to the end of May of the same year. They never came into existence. And those proposed then by the Polish social organizations were forever lost in parliamentary drawers.

– In accordance with the resolution adopted by the local government unit of the Vilnius region, the Statute of the unit had to be developed. As the institutions, which were responsible for the preparation of this document did not express any initiative, we proposed our draft of the Statute. I personally gave it to the then-president of the Supreme Council- Restitutive  Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis – says Stanisław Pieszko, a former deputy in the Supreme Council- Restitutive  Parliament, a member of the Polish fraction. He adds that after he had passed – this document was never seen again, and there is no trace of it. – Perhaps it still lies somewhere in the parliamentary drawers – assumes our guest.

Social and political situation in Lithuania at that time was both equally complicated and dramatic. Lithuania, striving for liberation from Soviet occupation, on March 11, 1990, passed the Act of Independence Rebirth. At the same time it began to strengthen the foundations of an independent state, especially the state language- Lithuanian. Minorities also were obliged to learn the state language in obscenely short term. Non-Lithuanian part of the society received the decision as discriminatory, which confirmed earlier concerns of the Polish minority that the emerging state of Lithuania shall assimilate minorities. Therefore, Polish organizations that were already operating, as a defense reflex, began to generate the idea of creating Polish national-territorial autonomy in the Vilnius region.

“In the fall of 1988, during the meeting of the NPC of Šalčininkai district for the first time I talked openly about the need to create autonomy in the region to defend national, cultural, social and economic businesses of citizens. On May 12, 1989, in Mickunach, the first congress of deputies of  the Vilnius region took place that announced the declaration and raised demands for the Lithuanian authorities, concerning resolution of political and economic problems of the Vilnius region. The deputies then stated that with no national-territorial units our issues would be resolved. The Coordination Council was created to Establish such a body “- we can read in” Kurier” from 1991, a deputy Stanisław Pieszko statement.

Today, in an interview with the “Kurier”, he points out that the proposed autonomy was to be a part of independence-gaining Lithuania, and most of Polish society approved of such resolution. However, there were people who under the influence of the so called Communist Party of Lithuania on the platform of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mykolas Burokevičius, tried to implement the plan of so called Polish autonomy, which assumed the separation of the Vilnius region from Lithuania and leaving it as the part of the Soviet Union.

– But they were in the minority – says Stanislaw Pieszko in an interview with us. He also reminds that during the session of local council of the Šalčininkai district, one of the secretaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union came to it and wanted to talk privately with councilors belonging to his part

 – He stood in the doorway and announced that only members of the Communist Party may enter. I removed him from the door so that all MPs were able to enter the hall – says our guest. It took place on September 6, before the establishment of Šalčininkai Polish local government area. And in spite of the pressure of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the area was established.

On September 15 1989, in Nemenčinė, the MPs announced the Vilnius region as of Polish nationality. In turn, on October 6, 1990, in Ejszyszki, the II congress of deputies of local councils of Vilnius region took place.

Majority of people gathered voted in favour of  the establishment of Polish National-Territorial Region in the Vilnius region composed of independent Lithuania. Communist option of detachment of the Vilnius region from Lithuania lost, but still not permanently, as it came back in the middle of 1991, during the so-called Soviet coup d’état attempt.

Then part of the Polish Members of the council, mainly of the Šalčininkai district with chairman Czeslaw Wysocki, sided with the so-called Putschists. This ultimately influenced the way in which the later issue of Poland in the Vilnius region was settled.

After the Moscow revolt was repressed, the Lithuanian Parliament decided to dissolve the local government council areas of the Vilnius and Šalčininkai region .

Region commissioner order was established in the Vilnius, and  the completion of Polish demands, at least those concerning the resolution on national minorities and the administrative unit in the Vilnius region from January 29, 1990, were forgotten for many years. Then for good.

Although still in the middle of 1991, in an interview for “Kurier of Vilnius” one of the architects and  then contemporary symbols of Lithuanian independence, the socialist leader Aloyzas Sakalas admitted that Polish demands are completely accurate and a compromise must be met.

 “We have received from the Polish faction draft  of a document on the establishment of the administrative-territorial units. I believe that the Lithuanians, as a majority, must take into account the legitimate demands of the minority “- said then Aloyzas Sakalas, then a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Council. He also assured that the problems of Poles will be resolved “by consensus”.

“The most important thing is that the Poles had the same rights as other nationalities and their legitimate demands were taken into account. We want to live peacefully in Lithuania, we want to encourage Poles and also have their support. We need to fight against evil, against those who hinder our lives. Together we will win, “- said Aloyzas Sakalas to “Kurier”.  His words were not an element of pathos, as he said them after verification of the events of January 13, 1991, the Polish-Lithuanian union and a common victory.

In the face of threats, Lithuanian community and the political elite could see that the Polish minority is not the enemy of the Lithuanianess, Lithuania, its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thousands of Poles who two years earlier had stood with Polish flags next to the Lithuanians on the Trail of the Baltic, so also during the events of January with Polish flags they had stood by the Lithuanians in the parliament and the TV tower and defend the independence of the country.

“All those black days and nights spent with my wife at the Parliament. In this bloody night, I went home to rest  for a few hours, my wife stayed there. When I woke up, television was already closed. I was looking for any radio station. Nearly in the morning, “Radio Free Europe” announced the bloody events. I went on a search for my wife. People were crying on the bus. Everyone told me: Soviet gunmen wounded people. At the place where we parted, I did not find my wife. When the search among the crowd failed – I rushed to the hospital. She was not there neither . Every now and then I called home, but the phones did not work, so I went alone. She was in the house, weeping and just unconscious. After a short relaxation and rest, again, we both went for the night. It was cold, but people brought us sandwiches, coffee, tea. At the sight of red and white, many people shaked hand warmly. Some asked why I defended Landsbergis and the Parliament so  fiercely , and did believe that they were holy? I come to defend quite not holy and unholy. I have come to defend the sacred freedom, which I currently identify with these people, who were democratically elected to the Supreme Council “- says Józef Sipowicz in his memories in the article” Do not stain the white-and-red “, which appeared in ” Kurier “after the tragic events of January 13 . When asked if he still believes in democracy, the guest of the newspaper said: “I believe, but not in the Soviet and Gorbachev one. This “democracy” once again showed its true face. I am in favor of genuine democracy in the name of freedom and I am ready for any sacrifice “.

In the face the January threats to the Lithuanian independence Poles stood firmly in its defense.  On January 11 the Polish faction in the Supreme Council issued a proclamation to its countrymen, “Let us still be faithful to the slogan- For our an your freedom ” where we can read: “Let’s now forget what divides us, let’s go what we do not always want to understand, let’s look for what connected us and will connect – aversion to the dictates from a position of strength, joint aspirations for freedom, democracy and independence.

Understanding of other side came, but today it turns out, it was temporary, so disingenuous. After the events of January in Parliament started working on the new edit of the Law on National Minorities and the self-government of the Vilnius region.

Parliament also supported the initiative of the “Sąjūdis” movement.

In its statement of 22 January 1991, the “Sąjūdis” was in favor of the recognition of minority languages as auxiliary languages in local administration, for the right to the spelling of names in their native language, for minority language names. It also supported the establishment of national self-government units in the Vilnius region. Later, these rationing were included in the resolutions adopted on January 29.”

Decisions which were waited by the thirsty Vilnius region were made. I think that on January 29 of this year will become a momentous day in the history of the Vilnius region … (…) Yes, the things moved on. I will note that none of the current MPs did not vote against these documents. Only two people abstained “- we read in” Kurier ” the full of joy relation from the Parliament of Jadwiga Bielawska of then current newspaper journalist.

Today we can only wonder if these documents had been unanimously adopted as maybe the voters “for” knew that they would never be achieved?

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

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