• April 22, 2015
  • 258

‘Polish people are not prone to isolation, but they are also not assimilating’. Meeting in Polish Discussion Club.

Vilnius University conducted a study entitled ‘Psychological implications of tough traumas and social transformations and their overcoming’. A part of the study was dedicated to national minorities – experiences of Lithuanian Poles and Jews were analyzed, including those connected with discrimination and the time of social changes.

Polish Discussion Club held a meeting with the authors of this study: prof. Danutė Gailienė, dr Asta Zbarauskaitė oraz Elżbieta Grużewska, who presented the results of the study and answered the questions of the discussion’s participants.

The meeting was entitled ‘Do national minorities in Lithuania feel discriminated?’, however those who awaited any sensation and were ready to cry ‘did I not say how bad we have it, how we are maltreated’ should feel profoundly disappointed. From the first, quantitative part of study (not divided according to nationality) it can be gathered that we feel above average, therefore a lot better than (as was said by one of the speakers) ‘it is shown by the politicians and the press’.

No wonder then that more interest was stirred by the second, qualitative part of the study, dedicated to two national minorities: Poles and Jews.

‘The study took 3 years. We were not looking for any harsh sensations, but they did come up during the research. For a long time I have been dreaming about researching the Polish minority in Lithuania, immerging in its identity, however the nature of my work and lack of financing did not allow me to fulfil this wish. Now it happened. We chose two most interesting minorities: Polish and Jewish. For others we simply would not have the time’ – in the introduction said prof. Danutė Gailienė.

Researchers tried to find out why descendants of repressed people feel better, more valued? How do three generations in Lithuania feel in the context of reclaiming independence? To immerse themselves in their life experiences.

‘Taking into consideration result of people not falling under the definition of psychological trauma (e.g. people working on Chernobyl accident clean-up), the quantitative results of Lithuanians, Poles and Jews are comparable. With Poles some indicators are even higher. In general, there is nothing to complain about, everyone is well, there is no sensation’ – the professor explained.

Poles and Jews in Lithuania

One of the methods of qualitative study was an in-depth interview, when questions are not standardized, and the respondent talks about the given topic, without a fixed scenario.

‘We asked respondents to talk about their lives in Lithuania. We did not ask any questions. People said how it is, not how it has to be. With Poles we talked in Polish, with Jews – Lithuanian. After survey interviews (4 Polish and 3 Jewish) three primary issues emerged: identity, discrimination and social transformations, that is the life in Lithuania after reclaiming independence’ – said dr. Asta Zbarauskaitė about the details of the study.

After survey interviews, looking for people willing to talk about their lives commenced. The respondents were not specifically sought after, it all snowballed. The first respondents referred the next one and so on. In total, 30 people each of Polish and Jewish nationality agreed to an interview . The former were inhabiting Vilnius and the Šalčininkai Dictrict, the latter (due to smaller number) were scattered all over Lithuania. Interestingly, Jewish communities responded enthusiastically to interview requests. With Poles it was the other way around, no community expressed a desire to contribute, and even individual respondents, Polish people, often canceled giving an interview ‘fearing that someone will find out about it’ as they explained.

‘With Poles identity is better-defined and the bond with the mother tongue stronger. Jews often could not specify to which nationality they belong: Lithuanian or Jewish. Often they just called themselves European. Both groups emphasized the increase in cases of discrimination, compared to the Soviet era. In our opinion it is connected with the freedom of speech, as well as the fact that in the Soviet era discrimination was hidden from the society. Poles mostly fear discrimination at work, career, university, Jews on the other hand associate discrimination with physical violence’ – dr. Zbarauskaitė presented the study results.

Elżbieta Grużewska, a student, who conducted interview with Poles, quoted some of them.

‘In ’91 it was awful, we didn’t know what is going to happen, we were scared that we would have to leave the country we were born in, we were scared of independence’.

‘We are not visitors, we have lived here for years’.

‘You have to adjust, we attend Polish events with children, but we are citizens of Lithuania and we must participate in the life of the country’.

‘Most of Poles looked forward to independence, but with time there was disappointment with political decisions, lack of work because of poor knowledge of Lithuanian language and origin. Polish people are not prone to isolation, but they are also not assimilating, which is more noticeable with other nationalities. They attend most Polish events, by at the same time they vote, participate in social campaigns, in sport the support both Poles and Lithuanians’ – Grużweska summed up the statements of Poles.

Dr Zbarauskaitė mentioned that she was anxious about attending a Jewish event, as she does not know the language or the culture, but she was pleasantly surprised when people started to open up, confide.

‘One of the respondents recalled an incident at the ‘independence’ fire, when Lithuanian were singing Lithuanian song, and at one point he was asked to sing in his own language’ – the doctor mentions.

Someone in the room also asked about the Poles from Šalčininkai, with reference to the current geo-political situation, that is the possibility of Russification of poles in the Vilnius Region.

‘I did not encounter such a statement, although the youth was wondering how the older generation can miss the Soviet era. Perhaps they miss their younger years’ – answered Zbarauskaitė and Grużewska together.

Discussion seamlessly turned into an evening of recollections. Dr. Barbara Stankiewicz, the discussion’s moderator, mentioned how during the studies at the Vilnius University everyone called her ‘Lenke’ (‘Polishwoman’) and generally it was not discrimination because it ‘sounded proud’.

Blogger Zbigniew Samko mentioned how when he was a child at a camp where majority were Lithuanian, he fought with a boy for calling him a ‘Pole’.

To sum up, the authors of the study admitted that the results posed more questions than answers.

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

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