• April 6, 2019
  • 503

Balcewicz: What happened to 100,000 Poles?

In the 1989 census, 257,944 Lithuanian citizens declared Polish nationality. Meanwhile, the Department of Statistics claims that at the beginning of 2019, only 156,463 qualified as Poles. In the last 30 years, the number of Lithuanian Poles has decreased by 39.36% with the general demographic decline of 23.97%.

While in 1989 Poles accounted for 7.02% and Lithuanians for 78.56% of the Lithuanian SSR, according to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, at the beginning of this year, Poles accounted only for 5.6% and Lithuanians for 86.6% of our country’s population.

‘Locals’ with a ‘simple’ mother tongue

During the Soviet era, Lithuania participated in four General Population Censuses, which indicated that in 1959, after the end of the mass migration of Poles from Lithuania, the republic was inhabited by 230,107 Poles, in 1970 by 240,303, in 1979 by 247,022 and in 1989, as already mentioned above, by 257,944 people of Polish nationality. Today, it is difficult to say to what extent the statistics above reflected the actual state of affairs, and to what extent the results of censuses were “adjusted”. Oddly enough, every decade the number of Poles in the Lithuanian SSR increased on average by almost 10,000 people. However, it is not a secret today that the communist authorities of the republic have never been interested in increasing the number of Poles in Lithuania. The best evidence of this is the passive promotion of Russification of the inhabitants of the Vilnius region, as well as the hidden support of dubious controversial theories by some of the Lithuanian scientists about the origin of Poles as “Polonised Lithuanians”, which became popular with the wave of the national revival.

During the preparations for the All-Union Census of 1989, some facts emerged, which allowed officials to manipulate nationality statistics when compiling the census results. Both the content of the questionnaire, which was filled out during the census for each person, as well as the USSR Goskomstat [the governmental statistics agency, TN] Dictionary of statistical nationalities and languages, according to which the results of the General Census were to be summarised, were based on the comments and proposals of the State Committee of Statistics, republic committees, a number of scientific institutions, including the Institutes of Ethnography and Linguistics at the USSR Academy of Sciences, as well as relevant scientific institutions of the union’s republics. Most probably, on the initiative of Lithuanian institutions, it was established in the general rules of the census that people who do not determine their nationality during the census and instead indicate that they are “local”, should be counted as Lithuanians or Belarussians depending on which mother tongue they indicated. This caused an outrage among the Lithuanian Poles. The editorial staff of the “Red Banner” [a Polish language daily, TN] received a substantial number of letters on the subject. It turned out that during the previous General Census in 1979, the “locals” were counted as Lithuanians.

Due to an intervention by the editorial office, and my personal visit to the head of the Population Statistics Board of the USSR Statistics Committee A. Isupov in Moscow, a decision was made that the statistic bodies of the whole country should act according to the principle that “persons who indicate ‘local’ in question 8 of the census questionnaire and ‘Polish’ in question 9 about the mother tongue, should be counted as Polish in the course of developing the census materials.”

General Population Censuses in Independent Lithuania

After the restoration of independence, the first universal census took place in 2001. It indicated that on 6th April 2001, 234,989 Poles lived in Lithuania, which was 8.92% less compared to 1989. In the same period, the number of Lithuanian residents decreased by 5.2%, while the number of Lithuanian nationals decreased only by 0.58%. Another population census took place in 2011, in two stages: from 1st to 14th March, when residents could submit their data electronically, and from 15th April to 9th May, when the pollsters visited homes of those who for various reasons could not complete surveys online. According to data from the 2011 census, 200,317 residents of Lithuania declared Polish nationality, which was 14.76% less than in 2001. The number of Lithuanians in this period decreased by 12.64%, while the number of Lithuanian nationals was lower by 11.91%. Lithuanians accounted for 84.16% of the general population. In 2011, Lithuania because the most “Lithuanian” in its post-war history.

Who are you?

According to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, in 2011-2018, the number of Lithuanian citizens declaring Polish nationality dropped by as much as 21.9%. In the same period, the population of the country decreased by 8.2%, and the number of Lithuanians – by only 5.3%. The sharp decline in the number of Lithuanian Poles cannot be explained by high emigration from Lithuania because in areas inhabited by the Polish diaspora the rate of emigration is the lowest. In 2011-2018, respectively 8,017 and 2,301 people left from the regions of Vilnius and Šalčininkai, which are mainly inhabited by Poles. Much smaller, compared to other regions of the republic, was the emigration from the regions of Trakai, Švenčionys and Širvintos. In contrast, in the same period, the predominantly ethnically Lithuanian region of Kaunas recorded the emigration of 9,526 people. Data from 2011 comes from the General Population Census and is based on direct declarations of residents, while data from 2019 is based on the information received from the Registry Centre.

Under Article 9 of the Act on Lithuanian Resident Registration, the Registry collects basic personal data, including nationality. The first entry on nationality is made on the birth certificate. If the parents are of different nationalities, the child, with the consent of its parents, is given the nationality of either the father or the mother. If the parents cannot agree on their child’s nationality, it may not be indicated in the registry. Then, the statistics bodies qualify the person’s nationality according to their own whim.

In other civil documents and certificates (with the exception of registry entries about birth and birth certificates), nationality is indicated upon request. It is worth recalling that the right to have nationality indicated in one’s passport existed already during the Soviet times and was provided under Article 2 of the Regulation on Rules of Issuing Passports to Lithuanian Republic Citizens of 1991. In 2003, the parliament of Lithuania changed the law and decided that the section on nationality would be removed from Lithuanian passports. On 10th July 2014, Seimas adopted an amendment to the Passport Act, which introduced the possibility of entering one’s nationality in their passport upon submitting a written application. Passport is a document certifying one’s identity and citizenship, and nationality is an inherent part of that identity.

Meanwhile, many of us, for various reasons, do not have nationality indicated in our passports. Anyone interested in adding the information on nationality to their passport must first check whether there is an entry about their nationality in the Resident Registry Service database. This information can be obtained directly from the office located at A. Vivulskio g. 4A in Vilnius or online. If the information on nationality appears in the registry, one can immediately go to the migration office and apply to change their passport. However, if there is no entry about the nationality in the registry, the person should check their birth certificate. If an entry on the nationality is indicated on the birth certificate, the person should address the Resident Registry Service with a request to enter said information into the system. Afterwards, one can submit the application to change their passport. In a situation where one’s birth certificate does not contain information about their nationality but there is information about the nationality of their parents, one should turn to the respective Civil Registry Office with a request to enter nationality into their birth certificate. After these changes, the resident’s data will be sent to the registry automatically, which will allow for the request to change one’s passport to add an entry about nationality.

How many will we be in 2021? – the officials can decide without us

Lithuanian state institutions are now preparing for the General Population Census which will take place in 2021. For the first time, it can be done automatically using data received from the main state registry and information systems. As announced by the Department of Statistics, “it is planned that the residents will not have to participate in the census directly, that is, by accepting an interviewer or declaring any data online.” The general population and housing census are expected to take place on January 1st, 2021. Its results are to be published in 2022. The Department of Statistics is to conduct a trial census from January 2019 to June 2020. How many of us will be counted? – it is not difficult to guess.

In order for the state officials to use reliable sources during the census, it is worth that each of us makes sure who we are on paper. For this purpose, you should check whether you have any entries on your nationality (and if yes, which?) in the Resident Registry Service database and correct it, if necessary. For while our activists speak loudly about the successive victories of a “strong unity”, it may turn out that statistically there are not that many of us left in Lithuania, which would suggest that the problem of our unsolved postulates may expire on its own. Is our case not headed in this direction?

I don’t remember who said that “There’s truth, half-truth, and statistics. Statistics can be manipulated, intuition cannot. It rarely fails.”

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

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