- March 5, 2015
“Poles have freedom in their blood.” Balcewicz, Okińczyc and Rudzys in the Polish Debate Club
“Why do we need freedom?” – It was the mission statement of the yesterday’s meeting in the Polish Debate Club with the Polish signers of the Act of the Revival of the Independent Lithuania: Zbigniew Balcewicz, Romuald Rudzys and Czesław Okińczyc. The voting in the Lithuanian Supreme Council 25 years ago was only a springboard for the discussion about the today’s affairs, Polish-Lithuanian relations and the relations within the Polish community in Lithuania.
“Why do we need freedom? Why do we need independence? I do not understand this question. I cannot answer it. It is as if one asked: why do we need air? Why do we need to eat?” – stated at the beginning of the discussion Romuald Rudzys. In his opening statement, the signer referred to 1918, when the Council of Lithuania also made a decision about independence, and the Poles were part of it. Rudzys pointed out that no one doubted the decision back then because people knew what had happened 120 years earlier. In March 1990, decisions were made very quickly and there were more doubts about them.
“But Poles have freedom in their blood” – in that way Romuald Rudzys explained his decision from 25 years ago about voting for the Act of the Revival of the Independent Lithuania. According to him, 6 Polish deputies abstained because simply there was no time for that. If the talks with them had lasted a few days longer, possibly the result would have been different.
A Pole always fights for his or her freedom
At the beginning, Zbigniew Balcewicz praised the mere fact that the Polish Debate Club has been created. “I would love as many young people as possible to come to the club, because the future depends on them” – pointed out the former politician the chief editor of the “Kurier Wileński” magazine, adding that the decision about voting for the Act of the Revival of the Independent Lithuania was not easy – that not only Poles, but also Lithuanians were not sure about that. “I was also afraid. I was afraid of the fact that repressions would come after the voting” – explained Balcewicz. According to him, the Polish-Lithuanian relations were extremely tense back then. Therefore, the decision of the Polish deputies, who abstained, is somehow understandable for him, although it is impossible to justify it.
The counsellor and the signer, Czesław Okińczyc, pointed out, however, that he has never understood (and probably never will) those who abstained back then. “Those who did not vote for the independence of his or her country, cannot consider themselves Poles. A Pole always fights for his or her freedom” – pointed out the counsellor, giving the examples of Tadeusz Kościuszko who fought for the freedom of the USA, or the Polish aviators who fought for the freedom of Great Britain during World War II. According to him, freedom is necessary, so the people can freely discuss, like it is in the Polish Debate Club. “So we can hear different opinions about a single topic” – stated Okińczyc.
To a question about what we gained through the independence, what are the pluses and minuses of it, Rudzys answered that there are more pluses than minuses in the independent Lithuania, but the political transformation did not always proceed smoothly. Okińczyc pointed out, however, that “these 25 years showed that we had managed to run just in time. If we had not run; if we had not become the member of the European Union and NATO, no one knows what would have become of us. We would have shared the fate of Ukraine first”. He also pointed out that we live in a free country, we have open borders, and we can study or work abroad. Undoubtedly, there are also problems: unemployment, a tragic situation of many pensioners, problems related to the Polish-Lithuanian relations. “However, these are not the problems that cannot be solved” – said Okińczyc.
Balcewicz agreed with Okińczyc, claiming that we indeed have an opportunity to go the West, and the living standards are higher than in the time of USSR. “However, as a collectivity, as a Polish community, we did not gain much, or perhaps we even lost some. In 1991, there were amendments to the National Minorities Acts introduced, which allowed for using the Polish language in the Vilnius Region not only in the sphere of private life. They only needed a number of statutory acts, but in 2010 the opportunity to do so was lost” – noticed Balcewicz. Also, the signer pointed out that today many people talk about the original spelling of Polish names and surnames, but many local Poles do not even want to make their names and surnames non-Russian or non-Lithuanian. “Still in 1991, we introduced a proper legislature, which allows to do so, but it is enough to look at the web sites of Polish schools or the lists of the candidates from the Polish party to realize how many people did not exercise such a right” – said Balcewicz.
“It is my failure as a signer that those “my” Lithuanians are so stubborn and we still do not have legislation on surname spelling or double-language writing. I can only apologize for that” – said Okińczyc, adding that the Polish community would also need to fight for their rights differently, and that one cannot purely and simply focus on his or her ethnicity. According to him, we need to show that we were a loyal community group; the Polish party would prepare, for instance, a bill about local governments, basing on the perfect Polish statue. According to him, that would be beneficial for all citizens of Lithuania.
Autonomy – the idea brought from Moscow
There was also a question about the attempts to create the Polish autonomy at the beginning of 1990s and the signers’ attitude towards such an initiative. Okińczyc noted that during the fights for the independence there were many “anti-Polish moves” from Lithuania, but he suggested to look for the initiators of the autonomous movement in Kremlin. “This idea was brought from Moscow and it was a great threat to the integrity of Lithuania” – said Okińczyc. He added that during that moment, he himself and the other signers did everything they could not to let this movement change into a separatist one.
“In the beginning, autonomists dreamed about autonomy within USSR. Jan Ciechanowicz spread the idea of creating the Polish Soviet Republic from the former Polish Kresy. It would be very dangerous. I am glad that we managed to encourage the leaders of autonomists to be in favor of the autonomy, but within Lithuania. Thanks to that, the events that happened in the Vilnius Region had not happened in the way they happened in the current south-eastern Ukraine” – noticed Okińczyc. Balcewicz added that the idea did indeed come from Moscow, and its purpose was to create a sort of “protective umbrella” from the Lithuanian nationalism.
“We managed to convince the deputies of the Supreme Council that the Vilnius Region needs a special status, a sort of cultural autonomy. In January 1991, a proper resolution was adopted. But it was never fully realized because autonomists did not want to help to polish it, among other things; they preferred the policy of accomplished facts” – noticed Balcewicz.
If there are no effects, there should be the tactic or the chairmen changed
During the meeting, signers were really critical about the current situation within the Polish community. According to them, Poles in Lithuania lack the internal discussion; there is a lack of the independent Polish media by the means of which all could express themselves; there is a lack of statements issued by the Lithuanian Poles – except for the politicians from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – in the pages of the Lithuanian newspapers, which may seem like all Poles in Lithuania think as Waldemar Tomaszewski. The Polish leaders also very often lack the competence.
“All the fault of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and the Association of Poles in Lithuania, which joined their forces, is based on the fact that they do not attract thinking and educated people; it is based on the fact that they attract the average ones” – pointed out Balcewicz.
Okińczyc pointed out that the idea of a Polish party is something positive and that the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania has a highly successful track record. He added that the democracy within a party is necessary for its further development, since today it can be seen that the Polish party is not able to solve the so-called Polish postulates. “If there are no effects, there should be the tactic or the chairmen changed” – noticed the signer.
To a question about what should be done to change the situation, Okińczyc answered that “You the youth should think of a solution to that problem. You should stir the Polish community to action. Act within the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and the Association of Poles in Lithuania, create the Polish lobby in the Lithuanian parties, and we, the signers, will definitely advise and help you if it is necessary.”
Nearly 50 people attended the discussion with signers, which took place in the Human Rights Monitoring Institute. The young and the old, including a couple of members of the former Polish Debate Club, which operated with the Association of Poles in Lithuania, decided to come. There were many questions asked and many remarks made, including very scathing and critical ones, most often about the state of Polish-Lithuanian relations. The older generation more frequently blamed Lithuania for the problems; the younger one saw a lot of faults within the Polish community. Everyone agreed, however, that we should seek the Polish-Lithuanian agreement.
Translated by Tomasz Szatkowski within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.