• June 20, 2018
  • 349

Radczenko: Let’s stop thinking about Polish identity in romantic categories and start in marketing categories

All statistic data show that Polish identity in Lithuania is shrinking. Slowly but unavoidably. As it results from a common census from year 2011, Poles  are still the biggest national minority in Lithuania. Officially, there is 6.6 percent of us in Lithuania, but  over a decade the percentage of Poles in Lithuania has dropped by 14.8 percent.

It means that in year 2011 in Lithuania there was 34 thousand less of us than in year 2001. Today, according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, there is much less of us than 200 thousand in Lithuania. As it results from the census from year 2011, only for 79 percent of  Lithuanian Poles, Polish language is the mother tongue. During years 2001-2011 the number of Lithuanian Poles who use Lithuanian as mother tongue increased by 20 percent. By another 20 percent increased the number of Poles regarding Russian as their mother tongue. According to study of Vilnius University 26 percent of Lithuanian Poles consider as prestige Lithuanian language, 17 percent  – Russian, Polish language – only 8 percent.

It is not the time or place to write at length about the condition of our Vilnius Polish language but it is worth mentioning that according to findings of specialists in Polish studies from Vilnius Pedagogical University, during years 1996-2006 the number of Russianisms in the dialect of the Polish youth in Lithuania increased by 10 percent! Someone may say that the vanishing of minority languages is a natural tendency. During the last century in Europe a few languages have vanished(one of the last was manx gallic from Man island which vanished in year 1974 as the last person speaking it died). Almost 100 of 150 European languages is today in danger, many of these languages is used only by a dozen or a few hundred people. Nevertheless, there are inspirational examples, where a dying language has been reborn. Such case is e.g. Cymraeg.

As early as in 1891 more than a half of the  Welsh inhabitants communicated in Welsh language. However, from the beginning of the XX century the number of people speaking in this dialect successively decreased. Linguists recognised that soon the Welsh language will vanish completely, since it has got no chance in a clash with the English language, the world’s new lingua franca. However, the Welsh people decided to oppose that tendency. The language revolution in the 60. of the previous century started from drivers who forced on British authorities the right to settle formalities during the payment of road tax in Welsh language. From year 1982 in Wales the national television is broadcasting in Welsh language, there are bilingual subtitles. During the last 20 years children from 16 years old have been included in Welsh language teaching. Only in the last years, the number of Welsh inhabitants who are using a local language increased by 60 thousand. Today, more that 20 percent of the country inhabitants use it on a daily basis. It is more and more common that its knowledge opens career doors and paradoxically the popularity of Welsh language – as opposed to Polish in Vilnius county – increases notoriously among youth in Wales.

Can Poles in Lithuania become the Wales of Eastern Europe? Can the Polish language in Lithuania be reborn? Can the decreasing tendencies of Poles in Lithuania be changed? Undoubtedly yes. However, we should stop thinking about Polish identity in romantic categories and start – in marketing categories. Polish identity – is the same “product” as any else and one needs to know how to sell it. Polish identity in Lithuania should become a brand, offering to its users not only beyond standard possibilities of fulfilling their use expectations(e.g. carrier) but also emotional. Strategy of promoting this brand should be created and this strategy should be consistently implemented.

Consistency at implementation – it is an important word. Since, as Mike Tyson used to say:

“everyone has got a strategy until they get beaten”.

The sheer fact of having a strategy does not settle anything, despite the fact that it makes a key starting point. The role of strategy is to determine long term aims and set the general direction, at the same time assuring cohesion of actions. Through strategy everyone, who are engaged in promotion, know what they should do and what decisions they should make.  Nevertheless, the fact of having a strategy is not enough, one needs to want and know how to implement it in a systematic and consistent way. Because if a strategy starts to gather dust on the shelves, then it is not worth neither the time nor the money spent on its creation.

Unfortunately, at this moment not only we do not implement such strategy(since we don’t have such) but we don’t even have written down demands, for which – allegedly – we have been fighting for since thirty years. We have no document, that would present the vision of future of Poles in Lithuania, set a long term aims, which would not only include the period of immediate self-government elections, but the period of several dozen years. I don’t believe that such document may be created by – not comparing – Central Administration of Polish Union in Lithuania, which is recently stuck in financial scandals. However, I believe that there are still vigorous forces in Polish community that can take up this challenge. Because it is up to us whether we will be the new residents of Wales, or the Man island.

This commentary emerged today (19th June) on the air of Polish broadcast of Lithuanian public radio LRT Klasika.

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

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