• July 23, 2016
  • 461

Memories of the “Vilnius Word”: Every day I regret that there is no such a journal

It didn’t last long but it was worth it – former employees of the “Vilnius Word” newspaper, who met in the Polish Institute for the presentation of a book called “In the beginning was the Word”, clamed unanimously. The meeting was also an occasion to consider whether it’s possible now to repeat such a media project and how Polish community in Lithuania would look if the “Word” has been published nonstop for past twenty years.

An initiator of “Vilnius Word” was Dariusz Fikus, who was an editor-in-chief of “Rzeczpospolita” then and who also was connected to Vilnius by memories and a great sentiment – while escaping the Germans, he and his parents spent the whole war period there. Cofounders of a company from the Lithuanian side publishing the “Word” were Czesław Okińczyc amd Stanisław Widtmann. Widtmann also became an editor-in chief.

‘’We were convinced that the “Rzeczpospolita” had means and also a moral obligation to do something good for Polish minority in Lithuania. We wanted to share the ‘’Rzeczpospolita” success to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately, the future showed that some of activists from Polish organizations in Lithuania did not believe in a sincerity of our intentions’’-Jerzy Paciorkowski, the ‘’Word’s’’ good companion at a time, an assistant editor of “Rzeczpospolite’’, recalls.

‘’I did not want to be a colonialist’’

The attitude of a part of Polish society was not the only problem the newspaper had to face. After Dariusz Fikus’s death, new management decided to close the “Vilnius Word” due to lack of its profitability.

“It’s a pity it lasted only for two years but it was worth it. We succeed to create something out of nothing. We were building a team of young, talented people who then managed to perform well in their lives’’-Paciorkowski stressed during the meeting in Polish Institute.

Jerzy Haszczyński, an informal director of the „Vilnius Word” recalled he didn’t believe in the success of this initiative at the beginning.

In 1944, I was sent to the East and I didn’t know Lithuania at all. I didn’t want to play a role of a colonialist, someone who came from foreign country and instructed others because similar experience I had with representatives of the French owner of the company that was publishing “Rzeczpospolita”. However, when I firstly encountered the team, I thought we were not able to build a newspaper in 3 months. As it later turned out, I was wrong’’- Haszczyński said.

‘’It is a reckless comparison, but just like someone had been in Pilsudski’s legions and then became an elite of society, the people that had participated in creating “Vilnius Word” managed to take an important place in Polish society in Lithuania’’- journalist and publicist, who is now considered to be an expert on Lithuanian issues added.

Example of a reliable journalist

Zygmunt Żdanowicz, a ‘’Vilnius Region Weekly’’ journalist, confessed that he still feels the sentiment for the “Vilnius Word”.

It was an example of a solid and honest journalism. These experiences have added a lot to a professional word, further development because journalists should learn during all their lives. It was surely an interesting period rich in events’’- Żdanowicz said.

Lawyer and publicist Aleksander Radczenko stressed that the publishing of the book is in 90% a contribution of Wanda Zajączkowska as the idea and work on the project belonged mostly to her.

‘’It is a very interesting book in many terms: literary as a reader finds here great reportages that will be appreciated by the fans of a good literature; historical as in their texts Jerzy Paciorkowski and Jerzy Haszczyński uncover untold stories behind the creation of the newspaper. Finally, it is a highly valuable book for the former employees as we could get to know opinions and memories of our colleagues that we might have forgotten about’’-Radczenko pointed.

Translator Edward Piórko who is called by Wanda Zajączkowska a “god’s father” of the book, was wondering what would happen if the newspaper didn’t collapse twenty years ago. ‘’How would the Polish society in Vilnius region and our life here look if the newspaper was being published during these twenty years? I think that everyone might be considering the answer to this question’’- Piórko said.

School of workshop and lesson of humility

The Vilnius period was warmly recalled by the employees of „Rzeczypospolitej” of that time, called by their colleagues the „Slavic PL”.

“An important memory is the moment when we went to distribute the “Word” in one of towns near Vilnius. An old lady went out and asked why we come and distribute the newspaper only once a week. On the other hand, an old gentleman said that we crush local press and make harm. I think that this title stimulated Polish media in Vilnius regions, even though it didn’t managed to last’’-journalist Kazimierz Groblewski said.

‘’In ‘’Rzeczypospolita” we were taught like Pavlov’s dogs: we worked according to the same rules in Warsaw and Lublin. Thus, when we were going to Solecznik, we were coming back with material that we would gain in Gorzow Wielkopolski. Sometimes, we didn’t understand that we were violating some kind of a taboo, that someone might get angry with us’’-journalist Paweł Reszka recalled the Vilnius realities, adding that he believe that his best text in the “Vilnius Word” is still ahead of him.

‘’It was a great chance of a workshop but also a lesson of humility. In a private sphere, it gave me a double luxury that appears in life rather raraly – a job with a meaning and having a clever boss’’-Piotr Wosik said, who in the “Vilnius Word” took care of text editing.

Is a journalist free today

 ‘’The intellectually strongest people from Lithuania worked for „Vilnius Word” and people of a big letter arose from them. I’m proud to have being a part of it. The question is whether in today’s situation, after 25 years, those who work as journalists feel to be satisfied, feel to be the forth power or if they feel humiliated but continue to work in journalism because there is no other means to live. Is a journalist independent, free and can he write what he want? Unfortunately, 25 years of polish journalism in Lithuania is a big step backward. I would like to ask you to look critically on what you are surrounded by and show your readers different ways of perceiving the same issues’’-Czesław Okińczyc, director of ‘’Znad Willi’’ radio, stressed.

Despite many positive memories, the former employees of “Vilnius Word” think nowadays that repetition of such a medial project is impossible. The reasons for that are various and concern not only a passive attitude of Polish society in Lithuania regarding Polish media. A drop in popularity of newspapers that lose a fight with online flow of information concerns every market.

‘’Times have changes, everyone went their own path. Middle 90s were the happiest period for media in East Europe. Nowadays, journalists all over the world have loads of limitations, are not protected by editors who have their own political sympathies and primarily business involvements.”- Jerzy Haszczyński noticed.


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

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