• February 12, 2015
  • 245

Andrius Kubilius, the leader of the parliamentary opposition: I love Poland, but I do not love Tomaszewski

Almost two years ago, my former economic counsellor, Mykolas Majauskas, initiated in a youthful and romantic way a public internet campaign called “Kocham Polskę” (“I love Poland”). Surprisingly, it turned out to be a huge success. Many Lithuanian celebrities took pictures of them with an inscription “Kocham Polskę” and put them on social networks. It spread like a computer virus. Soon after, Poles did the same thing, and the Internet in Poland started to be full of pictures with the inscription “Kocham Polskę” as well.

Last year, that lovely and vernal flash mob disappeared somewhere, leaving a good memory of human emotions, which are so rarely expressed nowadays. Today, much delayed, I would love to express my emotions as well.

I also love Poland. As much as the real love is complicated, this one is too. There are things that I really do not like, but when I try to fully define my emotions, and get the full essence of them, I say to myself: I love Poland. To be completely clear, I can boldly add that I don’t really like Waldemar Tomaszewski, but it’s a completely different subject.

However, in my clear and defined emotions, my love for Poland is closely related to my natural love for Lithuania, love for its history, in the course of which happened everything: victories and loses, but there was always Poland beside, with which our history was connected for a long time; that history was full of mutual harm, but also full of great sides.

It is the second time in the last couple of years that I write about Lithuania-Poland relations, about their current state. Almost two years ago, the hasty “apologies” to Poles made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs L. Linkevičius inspired me write the first text. I considered then the paradigms of the geopolitical and historical thinking that predominated among Polish political elites (Poland perceives itself as not only the leader in our region, but also the leader in Europe), and how they influence our relations. The conclusion was very simple – no “apologies” can help, until the beforementioned paradigms of thinking are changed, and Poland stops playing the natural, organic role of the leader of our region. I also said then that our great patience, and not the apologies, was the better formula for our proceedings in relations with Poland, in anticipation of changes of paradigms of geopolitical thinking of the Polish elites. The mentioned text was noticed by the Polish media as well: the famous Adam Michnik published it in “Gazeta Wyborcza” newspaper.

Now I decided to write another text, focusing not on Polish paradigms in it, but on the paradigms of our Lithuanian thinking, and on how they, together with other historical factors, influence today both our relations with Poland and the Polish minority in Lithuania. And again, I decided to offer some formulas. To write this article, I was inspired by the really valuable, recently read book by the famous American historian Timothy Snyder entitled “Rekonstrukcja narodów. Polska, Ukraina, Litwa, Białoruś 1569-1999” (“The reconstruction of nations. Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus 1569-1999”) (Lithuanian edition – “Mintis”, 2008, Polish edition – Foundation “Pogranicze”, 2006), and the book that is probably less known to the Lithuanian readers, which has been recently published in the United States, and which made a great impression on me, that is Peter Hetherington’s “Unvanquished. Jozeph Pilsudski, Ressurrected Poland and the Struggle for Eastern Europe” (Pingora Press, 2012). That is why I pointed out in the subtitle to my declaration of my love that it is the Lithuanian self-reflection, inspired by Timothy Snyder and Peter Hetherington. Undoubtedly, my inspiration was also influenced by the recent Kremlin aggression uniting us into one body, in which Poland has a special role. The last inspiration was Adam Michnik himself, recently encountered in Vilnius, who maybe simply out of the courtesy asked for another text about Lithuania-Poland relations.

The history of Lithuania – were T. Narbutt and A. Šapoka right?

I am not historian, and I do not intend to be one, but I like reading historical books. However, I know as much about the history of Lithuania as any ordinary Lithuanian who graduated from high school in the Soviet era, when the history of Lithuania was taught “in the light of” the history of CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and USSR. Reading a historical book wrote by A. Šapoka during that time was like learning about forbidden “national” historical truth, which I also believe that it shaped the unchangeable paradigm: before the Union of Lublin (1569), the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was rich and glorious – we were then “from sea to sea”, the Duke Mendog, Duke Giedymin, Duke Kiejstut, Duke Olgierd and Duke Witold – they are the stars of our Pantheon, Jagiełło – almost a traitor, and after the Union of Lublin and the eventual becoming friends with Poland, the history of Lithuania somewhat disappeared, and Lithuania became weak, and we, the ordinary Lithuanians, do not know much – there were almost no names of kings and dukes left in our Pantheon after the end of Gediminas Dynasty (maybe only Stephen Báthory, but even he was “borrowed” from Hungarians).

I thought for a long time that those gaps in my understanding of the history were caused by the fact that we all grew up with the history of A. Šapoka, who wrote his history during the time when Vilnius was occupied by Poles, and that these circumstances naturally depreciated the negative attitude of A. Šapoka to the Union of Lublin, and to the fact that after the Union there was no more history of Lithuania.

In his book, Timothy Snyder is kind of “validating” the history of Šapoka, showing that the Lithuanian historical thinking of the first half of the 19th century, starting from T. Narbutt’s “Historia Litwy” (“The History of Lithuania”) (1841), through the works of Daukantas, and ending with the generation of J. Basanavicius, was still faithful to the conclusion reached by T. Narbutt that “the history of Lithuania “broke” in 1569”. It was a conscious choice to understand history that way, since in the developing in the 19th century “The Europe of Nations” the creators of the ethnic Lithuanian country needed to form the Lithuanian identity, different from the Polish one. There was also a specific Lithuanian way of understanding history, in which the consequences of the Union were deliberately exaggerated. As Snyder writes in his book, T. Narbutt after reaching such a conclusion, and after creating ten volumes of his history in protestation against the historical error, which was the Union, broke his pen (with which he wrote the history) at the grave of the King of Poland and Lithuania, who blessed the Union.

Therefore, we are the ethnic nation, which since the beginning of the 19th century has shaped its national identity, basing on the specific understanding of the history: everything that happened before the Union with Poland was great and good; everything that happened after we made friends with Poles was bad; there are only losses and misery, not even worth being known and not deserved to be in the Lithuanian history course books.

I cannot tell how much of the historical truth is there in such a self-perception. However, we surely should understand that the history since the beginning of the 17th century was merciless for Poland and Lithuania, which were located between the growing power of Russia and “the old” Europe. Obviously, the Union of Lublin was constituted to stop the pressure from Russia, which was reviving from the Mongolian-Tatar reign. But as we know, even the Union was not able to resist the aggressive expansion of Russia, and all ended in partitions of the Republic of Poland. We are willing to associate that failure from the times of Narbutt to the Polish weakness, and not to the Russian power.

That is why we, the Lithuanians, entered the 21st century with a specific approach towards Poland encoded in our DNA since the times of Narbutt and Daukantas. Since even the 21st century, full of dramas and historical paradoxes, which nearly 100 years ago allowed for the revival of Lithuania because of the favourable historical circumstances, created at the same time “the Vilnian paradox” – J. Piłsudski, who during the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 defeated Bolsheviks and guaranteed Lithuania 22 years of freedom from the Soviet occupation, occupied the Vilnius Region himself. The efforts of the pro-Kremlin “Jedinstvo” in 1990 to create the supposed Polish autonomy in the Vilnius Region, and the activity of W. Tomaszewski in the recent times with the so-called “gieorgijewska koloradka”, and the common ticket with the Russian Alliance, again cause the same historical mistrust. These are the paradigms of our Lithuanian thinking, which are impossible to be changed rapidly to avoid waiting or emotions in our mutual relations, caused by the mistrust. I suppose that our paradigm of historical thinking is not well-known and understood by many Poles, and that is why there was not much of the sensitivity shown by them to our historical complexes. Poles also have their own historical complexes, to which we are not sensitive enough as well.

Let us restore the complete Lithuanian history

How to overcome historical complexes? How to change the history of a nation shaped throughout the centuries? There are no recipes for that. Maybe one should start from restoring the complete history of Lithuania?, realizing that after 1569 Lithuania had its own history as the history the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which ended the tragic partitions and became our history as well, with our kings and the kings’ residencies; with the Lithuanian, Polish and Russian gentry and wars; with the Polish-Jewish cities in Lithuania, and not only the Lithuanian towns and villages. And that history should be known not only by historians and academicians, but also by the common Lithuanian patriots, because it is the history of Lithuania. As patriots we should know our history not only from its glory days, but also of the times of hardship.

It is a paradox, but looking at history that way I also changed my views on the issue of restoring the Residence of Lords. When the discussions about restoring it started, I was skeptical about it because I did not want to spend the money from the public funds on such an investment, and since we also have Gediminas Castle in Vilnius. However, when I for the first time felt the renaissance splendour of the central courtyard of the restored Castle, I was overcome by the feeling of that historical cognition, and that after the Union of Lublin, Vilnius and Lithuania had their own, unique history, and the restored castle is the proof for that. The history of Lithuania does not end with the famous Gediminas Castle and Witold’s Trakai.

However, while restoring the complete history of Lithuania, we cannot escape from the historical reality, which can be seen at the old Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius (with only Polish inscriptions on gravestones), or felt while reading “Silva rerum” – the great cultural commentaries of K. Sabaliauskaitė on Vilnius from the 17th and 18th centuries. Vilnius in those times was famous for its rich Polish and Jewish culture, not only the ethnic Lithuanian one. It is not easy to track the historical changes of Vilnius and the number of its residents, and how the capital of Lithuanians established by Gediminas, to which craftsmen and merchants were invited, became the center of the Polish and Jewish culture. That was the history of Lithuania – Polish language was the language of cities, and Lithuanian was the language of villages. The paradoxes of the history led Lithuania, which since the times of Gediminas rapidly expanded its territory including Russian territories, to embrace the Old East Slavic language (that applied there) in its state administration. Then, after the Union of Lublin, the Rusyn language naturally pushes the Polish language out, used in the Catholic Church, and later at Vilnius University. The Polish language becomes the language of the Lithuanian elites. But it was still Lithuania, and Adam Mickiewicz, who expressed the most beautiful declaration of love for Lithuania in the Polish language “Litwo, Ojczyzno moja!” (“O Lithuania, my homeland!”), was the biggest admirer of Lithuania, but not a Lithuanian poet. And that history of Lithuania – with T. Narbutt, who wrote the history of Lithuania in Polish; with Simonas Daukantas, Gaon and Adam Mickiewicz, must be restored because this is our history of Lithuania, which is something more than just a Lithuanian history of Lithuania. And naturally, the polonisation of Lithuania that happened after the Union of Lublin, which lasted to the half of the 19th century, should not deprive us of our own history.

As a Vilnian, I would love, just humanly, to restore the actual history of Vilnius. Can one understand Vilnius if one does not know anything about it from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century? As the historian Z. Kiaupa writes in his “Historia państwa litewskiego” (“Lietuvos valstybės istorija”, 2004), in 1897 there were 155 000 people living in Vilnius, 43-47% of which were Jews. Liudas Truska in his “Długa droga do Wilna” (“Ilgas kelias į Vilnių”, “Kultūros barai”, nr 4, 2010) provides the following ethnic statistics of Vilnius: “in 1909, among 205,2 thousand residents of Vilnius (along with Naujoji Vilnia having 7,3 thousand residents), the Polish population constituted 77,5 thousand (37,7%), Jews constituted 75,5 thousand (36,8%), Russians (together with Belarusians) constituted 37,3 thousand (18,3%), Lithuanians constituted 2,5 thousand (1,2%). In 1912, among 5,6 thousand Vilnian merchants, there were 101 Lithuanians, and among 824 entrepreneurs, there were only 9 Lithuanians – all minor ones, employing only few workers.

But at the same time, the elites of the reviving Lithuania were born in Vilnius, from Jonas Basanavičius to Vileišis brothers; from Felicja and Jonas Bortkevičius to Andrius Domaševičius, Povilas Višinskas, Antanas Smetona. There, for a long or slightly shorter time, lived Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis and Jonas Jablonskis, and pr. Juozas Tumas-Vaižgantas as well; there, the revival of Lithuania was announced on the 16th of February 1918. However, during that time Vilnius was not a Lithuanian city.

Of course, one can speculate how Vilnius would look like in 1940 if it was not occupied by Żeligowski in 1920, which for 20 years made impossible for Vilnius to be the capital of the independent Lithuania; history does not allow for speculations, though. Today, it still seems sometimes that we are afraid to look “with open eyes” at the history of Vilnius, as if we are afraid and feel uneasy about the fact that now Vilnius is Lithuanian, and in 1940 it was the center of the Jewish and Polish cultures.

Maybe we feel responsible for the fact that Lithuanians also took part in the Holocaust; maybe we feel uneasy about the deportation of Poles from the Vilnius Region to Poland, which was conducted in the Soviet occupied Lithuania; maybe we do not feel to be “the hosts” of the Vilnian history from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, being Vilnians nonetheless, who “as far as their origins are concerned, are the Kaunas residents or villagers”; moreover, we avoid to know the origins of our city and its real history.

Meanwhile, I, born in Vilnius in 1956, while thinking about the history of my home town I want to see and feel not only the Gediminas Castle and the Cathedral and the Residence of Lords, but also how the life of the Vilnian Jews looked like, who occupied the significant portion of the today’s old town of Vilnius; how the saloons of the Vilnian Polish elites looked like; I would like to know and feel how really life looked like in the 19th century in “my Babylonian Vilnius”, and not only know about the life of its little Lithuanian community.

I do not feel like I am betraying my Lithuanian roots; quite the opposite, I feel that I enrich them, when I feel glad seeing in the programme broadcasted on the Lithuanian TV on the occasion of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah that Lithuanians from the South Africa, among whom 90% come from Vilnius, treat the cold soup and cepelinai as traditional dishes. Or, while leafing through the album from the 19th century Vilnian photograph exposition in Warsaw, I see the picture with an inscription “the view on Łukiszki from the Bouffałowa Mountain”, and I notice that the name of Tauras Mountain is simply the literal translation from the Polish language. And then it turns out that there was a famous Polish activist and entrepreneur Bouffał, who had many properties located on the Tauras Mountain.

All these paradoxes of the history of Vilnius make me happy, but at the same time never stop amazing me how reluctantly we, Lithuanians, go back to that history, and how we avoid to treat it as an integral part of the whole Lithuanian history. Do we have today any history written by the Lithuanian authors, covering not only the history of Lithuanians in Lithuania, but also the history of Jews or Poles in Lithuania? Do we have a “Museum of Vilnius”, in which we would not only remember about the Gediminas’s dream about the howling wolf, but also openly talk about how life in Vilnius in the times of Adam Mickiewicz or Gaon looked like?

The history of Lithuania and Vilnius is too complicated to limit it only to the history of people speaking Lithuanian. I well remember that not so long ago I was surprised when the daughters of the late maestro Mścisław Roztopowicz, with whom I spent a lot of time, asked me to seek the roots of his relatives on Rossa Cemetery. Trying to find any traces on the Internet was no good, but I found numerous references to the history of Rostropowicz House and his Lithuanian origins. The first mention about it is located in the Vilnian archives, where it is stated that at the beginning of the 17th century Jan Rostropovicz was the Vilnian clerk. Later, when the family moved near Warsaw, Mścisław Rostropowicz’s grandfather was baptised as Witold (Vytautas), and his brothers as Kieystut (Kęstutis) and Olgierd (Algirdas).

Adam Mickiewicz and the parents of Wiltold, Kieystut and Olgierd Rostropowicz gave that Lithuanian names to their children, since they were Lithuanian patriots; they were true Lithuanians from the beginning of the 19th century (according to the way of thinking back then), although they did not speak Lithuanian. Only the later ethnic divisions and the shaping of countries on the national grounds made all residents from the territory of Lithuania, though not speaking Lithuanian, non-Lithuanians. Nevertheless, it does not mean that in the 21st century we also have to limit the history of Lithuania and Vilnius only to its Lithuanian-language part. Let us restore the complete history of Vilnius and Lithuania, and we will become much richer.

It would be the first step to change the historical genetics formed by us in the 19th and 20th centuries in the mode of the 21st century. It would help us escape from the certain historical complexes, which today still pose an obstacle to our relations with Poland and Poles in Lithuania.

By restoring such an understanding of the complete history of Lithuania; by restoring such an understanding of Vilnius from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, we will be able to also better understand that historical, dramatic changes, which happened in Vilnius in the middle of the 20th century, when first Germans during the occupation conducted the extermination of the Jewish population, and then the deportation of Poles ordered by Stalin allowed for Vilnius to become Lithuanian.

To be continued.

The views of the author may differ from those of the editorial office.

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

Related post

A plaque in memory of Józef Mackiewicz was unveiled in the Literatų Street

On the initiative of the Polish Institute, a plaque dedicated to Józef Mackiewicz – a writer,…

Ordonówna affects next generations of Poles

One of the most anticipated proposals that the Polish Theatre “Studio” has recently presented to the…

“Vilnius my love” – outdoor photography exhibition by Jerzy Karpowicz

On Konstantinas Sirvydas Square in Vilnius you can see an exhibition of photographs by the prominent…