• April 15, 2015
  • 352

Rapidly decreasing number of Poles in Lithuania

The number of Lithuanian Poles has rapidly decreased in the last three years. According to the 2011 census, the Polish identity was declared by over 200 thousand of the country’s inhabitants, whereas according to Statistics Lithuania, in 2014 the Polish identity was declared by around 165 thousands of people. Within this short period of time, the decrease reached 17,5%. In numbers, the decrease is about 36 thousand people.

According to talks conducted by „Kurier”, such a gap is difficult for an unequivocal explanation and the answer for the question „What happened to so many Poles then?” demands a detailed analysis.

– We cannot provide the one and only cause for this gap – tells us head of demographic and migration statistics divison at Statistics Lithuania, Inga Masiulaitytė-Šukevič. As she explains, the statistics from 2011 and 2014 might differ both on grounds of various methodologies applied in assessing statistical data, as well as for objective reasons such as emigration.

– The data from the 2011 census are based on the inhabitants’ direct declarations. The 2014 data, on the other hand, is based on the information obtained from the Centre of Registers, which not always contains data concerning nationality. In such a case, the potential nationality is ascribed to a person based on, for example, the documented nationality of their parents – exaplains to us Inga Masiulaitytė-Šukevič.

MP Kęstutis Masiulis from Homeland Union/Lithuanian Christian Democrats parties, on the other hand, puts, as he customarily does, a blame for enormous disproportion in the number o Poles in 2011 and 2014 on the leader of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, MEP Waldemar Tomaszewski. Conserative MP posted statistical data on his social media profile and provided it with a comment in which he said that it was Tomaszewski’s politics of “dividing Polish and Lithuanian communities” that led to the decrease in the number of Lithuanian Poles.

Asked for an explanation, MP Masilius said to „Kurier” that in his opinion the probable cause for the decrease in the number of Lithuanian Poles is emigration.

– Mr. Tomaszewski’s actions concerning the polarising of Polish and Lithuanian communities are effective in the political dimension and they perhaps influence electoral results, but they have also another dimension – the exclusion of those who do not want to associate themselves with the politics of this man and choose emigration – says Masilius.

He notices, however , that the term „emigration” can have a double meaning in this case – a literal emigration abroad or an alienation from the life of Polish community and a deeper integration with the Lithuanian community, or even a total assimilation.

As it can be observed in the data, even though a general emigration between 2011-2014 retained at a high level (around 170 thousand people left the country), the number of people emigrating from the areas tightly identified with the Polish community remained low.

From the so-called Polish regions – Vilnius and Šalčininkai Districts – respectively 3644 and 1107 people emigrated during this period. Just to compare it with the so-called the most Lithuanian region, Kaunas Region, 4739 people left the region during the same period.

Dr Gediminas Kazėnas, one of the researchers and editor of the scientific study “The research on the identity of the Polish national minority of Lithuania,” purports that external emigration is one of the reasons, but most definitely do not explain the rapid decrease of the number of Lithuanian Poles.

– There is most definitely not the single and only cause – says to „Kurier” dr Kazėnas. He also points out that in the period analysed, the percentage of Russians and Poles rapidly declined, with as much as the 2 per cent increase of Lithuanians in the national structure of the country.

– The general population of the country decreased, including the number of Russians, Poles, and Lithuanians. At the same time, however, the number of people declaring the Lithuanian nationality increased. Thus, it is a reason for a more in-depth analysis – says the scientist. According to him, some people in the event of potential danger might consider national identity through the prism of their own safety.

– In the event of danger, people tend to identify themselves with the group with which they feel safer, and which, in their opinion, can protect them. Perhaps, this is the way in which part of the national minorities might behave, or people who hitherto have not identified themselves with any nationality whatsoever. The Polish and Russian minorities due to the political situation are negatively perceived by the society. Therefore, this might be why some identify themselves with the national majority – explains the scientist.

In the statistical data it can be observed that even though between 2011-2014 the general population of the country decreased almost by 100 thousand people, the Lithuanian nationality increased from 84,1% to 86,3%.

During the same time, the number of Russian and Polish minorities declined respectively from 5,8% to 5,0% and 6,6% to 5,6%. In terms of numbers, 29 and 36 thousand, respectively. The number of people declaring the Lithuanian nationality at this time decreased only by 21 thousand people. At the same time, there was increase in the Belarusian minority (from 36,2 to 42,4 thousand people) and the Ukrainian one (from 16,6 to 21,3 thousand people).

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

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