- January 24, 2018
Radchenko: Young Poles choose lithuanisation or frustration
I have repeatedly written that in my opinion there is no problem with discrimination of national minorities in Lithuania. There is no state policy aimed at systemic and absolute assimilation of minorities. At the same time, however, there is no state policy supporting the preservation of the identity, culture and language of national minorities. Therefore, activities in this field are sporadic, uncoordinated, chaotic, and everything depends on the caprice of a given politician or official.
Hence you can find either positive examples (support for cultural and media projects, more funding for national minority schools) or negative, when decisions are undertaken – usually guided by the best intentions – and affect national minorities (see the education reform of 2011 or reorganization of the school network in Vilnius in 2015). However, this problem could be easily sorted by creating a coherent policy strategy for national minorities and then incorporating it into practice. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if our elite can afford such an intellectual effort. The creation of such a policy is contrary to the characteristics of both Lithuanian society and the communities of national minorities living in Lithuania. Both sides lack sensitivity to the needs and fears of the other party, and this leads, on one hand, to accusations of discrimination, and on the other to disloyalty. In the meantime, the core of the problem is the hermetism of our worlds.
However, the Lithuanian society is still very hierarchical and it takes a lot of determination to break free from regions, towns and suburbs inhabited by national minorities. To break free and do not lithuanise yourself. Young Poles from Šalčininkai, Nemenčinė and Naujoji Vilnia do not believe that they have the chance to join the Lithuanian elites, hence some of them choose lithuanisation, not only in terms of their names. I once had a CV of a young boy from Šalčininkai, a graduate of the Polish Jan Śniadecki Gymnasium, written in Lithuanian with glaring errors, where Lithuanian was stated as his native language. Others choose frustration, and frustration creates a harmful fronde. – “Who is your favorite hero?” – “Putin!”
We are from here
On the street, on the Internet, they often hear that they are not Lithuanians, that they should go back to their country. But what does it mean “their country”? For a Pole from Lithuania Poland is just a land from movies, books and textbooks, from grandparents’ stories. They are from here, they are at home. I participated in a conference on Vilnius identity organized in the Vilnius Club a few months ago. At some point one of the moderators asked those who are Vilnius residents at least in a third generation to raise their hands. There was only one hand raised in the room and it was mine.
In the case of Lithuanian Russians, perhaps it is not so obvious, because if not their parents, then grandparents came to Lithuania from Russia. But for most young Lithuanian Russians Russia is also just a myth, a picture from television. At best, they were there once in their lives, clearly feeling that they were treated not like Russians, but Lithuanians. And very often they are treated as an (un)necessary evil in Lithuania. “They’ll must be Russians…” – during the Cold War it was enough to call someone Russian and any other arguments did not matter. The same scheme works currently in Lithuania, hence I’m not surprised that Lithuanian Russians are afraid to declare their nationality in legal documents. According to the 2011 census (and therefore based on anonymous declarations) in Vilnius, 14% of citizens constitute Russians, according to the data of the Registry Center (and therefore on the basis of official declarations in passports and/or birth certificates) – 6%. There are also differences between declarations in documents and censuses among Poles and Lithuanians, but they do not exceed 10%.
Why are there no Poles in Lithuanian movies?
Representatives of the Lithuanian elite, of course, will not tell a Lithuanian Pole: “go back to your country”. But in practice, they are also closed in their hermetic, Lithuanian world. In the Lithuanian television or even press discussions about relations with Poland or problems of national minorities are very often held without the participation of representatives of Poles or Russians. Think about American, British, French, German or Scandinavian TV series or movies. Minority languages are pervasive in them (i.e. Spanish in American or Welsh in British productions, etc.), in each of them there will be also a positive minority hero: black, Scot, Mexican, Turk, Indian, Muslim, homosexual… Maybe it seems like an intrusive political correctness, but it works. It familiarizes the general public with the fact that society is not homogenous, it opens people to otherness, and at the same time creates positive patterns. And now think about Lithuanian series in which a Polish hero appeared. How about a positive Polish hero? Representatives of minorities, if they appear in series at all, are presented in a grotesque version. Like Negroes in American productions from 50 or 60 years ago…
There are, of course, positive examples of Poles in Lithuania who did their careers without renouncing their nationality, such as Antoni Mikulski, Andrzej Maciejewski, Zbigniew Gulbinowicz, Czesław Okińczyc or Jarosław Niewierowicz. A few years ago, Poles stepped in the Lithuanian show business – Black Biceps, Katarzyna Zvonkuvienė, Ewelina Saszenko or Agnieszka Olszewska. There are quite a lot of Polish actors in the Lithuanian cinema and theater too. Nevertheless, such models are still lacking, and they are more a happier coincidence or the result of enormous personal effort, rather than of social advancement.
When a black child from a slum in Chicago looks at the portrait of Barack Obama, it probably thinks: “Yes, I can! I can become president someday”. That kind of an attitude is nowhere to be found in Lithuania. I am not saying that the Lithuanian president in 2019 must be Polish, but there is a lack of ethnic diversity among the elites, primarily political. There are 14% of people in the country who belong to national minorities, but only one Pole from outside the EAPL-CFA list got to the parliament in the last Sejm elections, just because the success of the “green peasants” exceeded all, even the most fantastic forecasts…
Squaring the circle
In response, minorities close themselves in their ghettos. We have our own party, local governments, organizations, teams, media, schools and kindergartens – we do not need more. We can live without contact with the Lithuanian majority, without knowing Lithuanian language. With enemies around, we need a strong hand, ferroconcrete unity, even higher barricades, even more protests. People at the rally – let’s raise our fists!
Squaring the circle: the more minority protests – the greater the distrust of the majority. The more the majority do not trust minorities – the greater is the temptation to impose their own vision on minorities, their own solutions without consultation. The greater the pressure of the majority – the bigger protests of the minority. Probably you can do some objective research and find out who started first, who bears more guilt and responsibility for this situation. Only what for? Even without any research we know that such closing in impenetrable communities is a road to nowhere.
Lithuania is the home of all of us and I sincerely believe that we can live happily together there, but it requires effort. The effort of national minorities, which should become an integral part of the Lithuanian society, get out of trenches, from ghettos, but above all the effort of Lithuanians, who should make a place for them in their society, not for the price of assimilation.
This commentary appeared on January 23 on the Polish Broadcast of the Lithuanian public radio LRT Klasika.
Translated by Katarzyna Kądziołka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.