- June 26, 2015
“We don’t need bilingual plaques in Kłajpeda”, says The Russian Alliance’s (Alians Rosjan) politician
I’ve never been in the situation in which someone says to me “you’re not Lithuanian so go away”. “No, there’s never been something like that. I just hear such stories all the time. People say that others ask them why they speak in Russian all the time and not in Lithuanian. It’s visible when one is looking for a job. They prefer to hire those who speak Lithuanian”, says Siergiej Bondar in the interview for zw.lt. He is a teacher in the Russian junior high school Žaliakalnioin Kłajpeda. He is also a local journalist and politician.
Tomasz Otocki, zw.lt: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
Siergiej Bondar: I was born in Kłajpeda and I’ll be 50 years old this year. My parents came here as a result of the allocation known during Soviet times. My father was born in Khmelnytskyi Oblast (Chmielnicki province) and he graduated from an Institute in Lviv. Later, he was sent to Riga. Since he was a naval architect, he was sent to Kłajpeda where there was a lot of shipyards. He chose the city. Later, my mother and her sister came here from Ukraine. We started living here. I was already born in Kłajpedy.
Your family is from Ukraine. How do you describe yourself? Are you an Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainian, Russian-speaking Ukrainian or maybe just a Russian whose roots originate from Ukraine?
I’m a Russian-speaking Ukrainian living in Lithuania.
How long have you been working as a teacher?
More than 25 years; since 1990. I graduated from a University in Saint Petersburg.
How many Russian schools are there in Kłajpeda?
There are 3 primary schools and 2 junior high schools so together there are 5. In Kłajpeda there are 15 schools in total.
Could we say that most of Russian inhabitants of Kłajpeda send their children to Russian schools?
For now, yes, but there’s been a new tendency to send children to Lithuanian schools. In order to ease and induce their adaptation, integration and prevent them from feeling a national minority? In order to make it easier for them to communicate with their Lithuanian friends.
What are the pros of Russian schools in Kłapjeda?
The advantage of those schools is the fact that it’s easier to learn in your mother tongue. After completing education in a school a student can choose to continue his or her education in Russian language in Russia at local “wuzy” and then return to Kłajpeda. Yes, but such a programme is available only for the best students.
Vilnius University and other universities in the capital are very popular among those who want to stay in Lithuania. Our students who are going to write their matura exam (a high-school exit exam) know Lithuanian very well because they have learnt it in Russian schools. Moreover, nowadays, there are no major dissimilarities in curriculums so everybody knows what to expect on the exam.
You’ve said that in school where you teach the majority of subjects are taught in Russian and that children also talk in Russian at home. Are there really no problems with speaking in Lithuanian?
Most of the children don’t have problems. Maybe there are some problems but they’re not very serious. To give you an example: I teach maths and there are problems with translating instructions to math problems because books for 11-12 classes are in Lithuanian. However, students write the translations down and they learn them because they want to have such an opportunity. The same happens during Biology and Chemistry lessons. Let’s take my case. If I’m present during a biology exam it’s more difficult for me to translate vocabulary connected with this subject than with mathematics.
Do you think that Russian-speaking community is discriminated against in Kłajpeda?
In the course of my life I’ve never been in the situation in which someone says to me “you’re not Lithuanian so go away”. “No, there’s never been something like that. I just hear such stories all the time. People say that others ask them why they speak in Russian all the time and not in Lithuanian. It’s visible when one is looking for a job. They prefer to hire those who speak Lithuanian, while speaking many languages should be treated as an asset. On the other hand, when you work in a state enterprise having a good command of Lithuanian is a must.
As a teacher I’m obliged to know Lithuanian. But I don’t feel being discriminated against. However, it’s hard for my parents because they started working when speaking Lithuanian wasn’t compulsory so they have’t learnt it. They have Russian friends and they don’t move in different circles.
I should thank the doctors who work in hospitals. My parents are old and they are often taken to hospital. Nurses and doctors are very respectful towards them.
So you do not witness discrimination?
But there are people who are going to ask “Why don’t you speak in Lithuanian?” It’s been up and down…International situation affects the Russian language. Nowadays people don’t like Russia and the repercussions of that are felt by Russian-speaking inhabitants of Kłajpeda.
Whether Polish should be recognized as a regional language in the Vilnius Region has been currently under discussion in the Seimas. One may ask if Russian also should be an official language in Kłajpeda since every fifth person there speaks in Pushkin’s mother tongue.
I don’t think it is necessary. I don’t see a need for having bilingual street names in Kłajpeda; there’s no problem with that. If there is something written in Lithuanian, mind you, I can read it…
What’s the biggest problem of Russian minority in Kłajpeda currently?
Preserving our language, having the right to education in Russian and being able to speak Russian. Let’s take my case. Despite the fact that I live in Lithuania, I work in the Russian school all day and I speak in my mother tongue. And it’s important for me. But when I have to go to an office, shop or hospital I have to switch into Lithuanian. If I were working in a Lithuanian collective I wouldn’t have such a problem, I would talk in Lithuanian.
So the language and education are important for Russians. What about a different point of view on history of the 20th century?
It comes in waves. You cannot left out history just because it’s trendy or easier that way. You have to remember about the past. People understand that. Politicians are those who don’t…
Do you believe that the Soviet occupation took place in Lithuania or not?
Yes, it did take place. Lithuanians have the full right to talk about it because no country or nation has a right to persecute others just because it suits those who are currently in charge. Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 without its consent and therefore Lithuanians have the right to think about themselves as a nation which was under the occupation.
But at the same time this big country called the USSR developed; a lot of money was invested in Lithuania. Those who governed Lithuanian SSR were called “mołodcy” and they distributed money well. Good roads and enterprises were built. This is not so simple. It cannot be denied that there were great disadvantages of that political system but there were also pros. To my mind, Lithuanians who lived at that time received education, work and were successful. They should be thankful for that.
It’s obvious that if someone’s family has been deported and persecuted, they will always believe that they’ve been under the occupation.
Some of the politicians think that if the Russian community clearly stated that the occupation took place and apologized for it, relations between those two communities would be better.
Let me give you a German example. Germans apologized to the whole world for their doings during the war. They still do it; they pay some kind of compensation. That’s the example. Maybe someday Russia will be ready to do it?
Is it even possible?
In Ukraine there is a war; Putin and such rhetoric…
Not now but everything is a matter of time. With time everything will fall in its right place. Politicians create such situations and simple people have their own lives. A person is the most important and not one nation or the other. Maybe in the future there’ll be a government in Russia which will decide that they should apologize to Baltic countries for what happened in 1940.
You’re not only a teacher but you’0re also a journalist and politician. In Kłajpeda there are two Russian political parties: The Lithuanian Russian Union (Związek Rosjan Litwy) and The Russian Alliance. Why did you decided to join the second one?
I didn’t face a choice between this party or the other. I simply joined the Russian Alliance because there are a lot people who think just like me. I’ve gone to school with people from the Alliance; I’ve known them for sometime now and I’ve been in touch with them. And speaking about other parties, I don’t know them very well. I’m not in conflict with any of them.
I just support those whom I know well and can rely on.
In the March election to the self-government a Russian Alliance’s candidate almost entered the run-off election. Why do think she would be a good mayor?
Firstly, you may say, as a joke of course, that she’d be a good mayor because she’s a woman (laughter). Secondly, she has good ideas and she puts things in perspective. She’s a professional. She’ll never waste her time on intrigue; she’ll just do her thing. I know her well and I support her activities.
We’ve talked about what is important for the Russian community. What is important for the Russian Alliance? Is it also Russian language and education?
As a Russian-speaking political party we don’t want to concentrate solely on that. Everything that’s important for the city is important for us and we want to concentrate our activities only on those aspects. When talking about our “Russianness” I should say that we’re thankful that in Kłajpeda there is The Centre of National Cultures (thanks to The Russian Alliance). All nationalities are welcomed there. I also cooperate with management of the Centre. We just want make sure that nobody’s rights are restricted, common projects can be carried out and holidays can be celebrated without worrying whether they’re going to let us celebrate them or not…
Every year there is a holiday in Kłajpeda celebrating the liberation of the city in January 1945. Do you participate in that celebration?
If I had the time, I had celebrated it. But, more often than not, the celebration takes place when I’m working.
Was there a liberation in 1945 or not?
When we belonged to one big country, we fought Nazis and Kłajpeda was liberated from them. If Nazis had not been here then indeed what liberation we have in mind. But if they had been here…Whole Europe was liberated in such a way at that time.
Do think that Russian schools might be closed?
There is such a tendency. But not because someone wants to persecute or offend us. This is just a process. Number of Russians has been decreasing and therefore there are less children in schools. It may happen that after decades just one Russian junior high school will remain. We’re realists and we know that Russian schools aren’t closed just because we have different nationality.
And do you think that the scenario in which in Lithuania more and moe lessons in Russian schools will be taught in Lithuanian is probable?
It all depends on politicians. If in the future politicians are radical, they can propose such a motion. Naturally, they’ll say that it’s for children’s sake. But retraining as a teacher who teach in Lithuanian is also a difficult work. We’ve already experienced such a situation, though. In our school there have been a geography teacher who is Lithuanian. She talked to children in Lithuanian and it was not an issue for them because they’ve the European mindset and they also understand Lithuanian.
The Russian Alliance is in the coalition with Waldemar Tomaszewski’s political party. What do you think about this coalition? Is it needed?
Very much. It’s a productive coalition. Members of Tomaszewski’s political party are professionals. They concentrate on real things and not on making empty promises and talking instead of doing. People see it and they vote for them.
I would like to ask you about international policy. A horrible war has been waged between Ukraine and Russia. As a Ukrainian, what do you think about it?
It pains me to witness this war because my whole family lives in Ukraine. To tell the truth, they’re far away from war because they live in Równem but they’re scared of what is happening. Personally, I think that when firstly Baltic countries and then Ukraine separated from the USSR they could choose the direction which they wanted to follow. They could slowly achieve their aims and realize things they had dreamed about so that everything was like in Europe. But Ukraine haven’t managed to do any of that because it’s so strongly divided into East and West. Moreover, politicians who have been are and in charge still have a pro Soviet mindset and they couldn’t manage to do anything with that. There was a lot of thievery, corruption and no one needed people. Those in charge had only one goal: take as much money as possible. Pribałtyka (the Baltic countries) have managed to bounce back but Ukraine haven’t managed to do anything during those 20 years. When Juszczenko and Tymoszenko came to power there were attempts to do something about it but the Russian mindset remained. And that’s why there is such a conflict in the country.
In terms of Russia I will says this: you should have been there in order to believe in everything that is said about it. Both sides say different things. For example, it’s hard for me to believe that Russian army is in Donbas.
And do you think that Crimea (Krym) should return to Ukraine?
It’s hard to say because Crimea belonged to Russia and then it was given to Ukraine…
But is it a Russian or Ukrainian land?
I don’t know that. All I know is that people who live there should have a good life. It’s their decision whether they want to achieve it as a part of Russia or Ukraine. I wish that they had a good life, they didn’t fight, they didn’t die and they had a taste of normal life. If they can achieve it as a part of Russia, so be it. If the situation has been better when Ukraine has governed over that land then let it be Ukraine. But I don’t know, it’s hard for me to tell…
Is it because you are not interested in international policy?
No, it’s not the reason. I watch news every day. You cannot separate yourself from the rest of the world…
Which channels do you watch? Pierwyj Bałtijskij Channel?
I watch everything. Pierwyj Bałtijskij Channel, Lithuanian channels and I listen to radio. And I watch Euronews. And I watch and read news on the Internet.
Are there many Ukrainians in Kłajpeda?
There are more Ukrainian associations. To be accurate, there are two: one more Western-oriented and the other more Eastern-oriented. But they’re very amiable, good people who love to dance and sing. Ukrainians welcome all festivals where there are members of different nationalities. In Kłajpeda there’s recently been built an Ukrainian house (a kind of cultural centre).
Do you have contact with Ukrainians?
No, I don’t. I was born here and i don’t identify myself with Ukrainians who were born on that land. Fate has decided that I live here. My parents also don’t belong to those who are going to visit Ukrainian communities.
We have talked about school, politics but you’re also a journalist in a “Raduga” radio. Could you tell us about this part of your life?
I’m a host in a programme in which from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day you can listen to news and win prizes. We also have the programme in which there are birthday and name day wishes…Before that I was responsible for news in “Raduga”.
Why is it important for you to be the journalist?
I wouldn’t call myself the journalist because I graduated from my university with a degree in pedagogy. I do a lot things. At the same time I’m an artist, a journalist and that isn’t all… I got the job in radio by chance. They needed hosts for their programmes so their launched a competition and I won it. I have a right voice for radio because I host various events in my school. They liked me and I started working in “Raduga”. I worked on my voice as well.
One should have a good voice, positive attitude and use correct language in radio. If you have all of those qualities you can work in radio (laughter).
Siergiej Bondar,49 – is a journalist, teacher and politician in Kłajpeda. He completed Maksim Gorki’s school in Kłajpeda and then he graduated from Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia in Saint Petersburg (Uniwersytet Pedagogiczny im. Aleksandra Hercena). Since 1991 he has been working as a teacher in the Russian junior high school Žaliakalnio in Kłajpeda. He works also as a journalist in the Russian radio “Raduga” in a city near Baltic sea. Bondar is a member of The Russian Alliance political party and he has been one of their candidates in elections to self-government and to the Seimas many times. The last time when he was the candidate was in March 2015.
Translated by Barbara Żur within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.