• April 20, 2019
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Association of Polish Scientists of Lithuania celebrates 30th anniversary

30 years ago, on 14 April 1989, on the wave of national rebirth, an initiative group in Vilnius established the Union of Scientists of Poles of Lithuania, later renamed the Association of Scientists of Poles of Lithuania (SNPL). Today, the Association is an active, creative, self-governing social organization, uniting scientists of Polish nationality and young students of science.

The Association continues the progressive traditions of the Society of Friends of Science, founded in Vilnius in 1907, and joins the pan-European scientific space. Moreover, over the last quarter of a century a group of young Polish scientists who have already been formed in the new reality, has appeared in the Vilnius region.

Look back 30 years ago

The beginnings were not easy. The founding of the organization took place at a turning point in Lithuania’s history, when independence tendencies, often based on nationalistic and anti-Polish slogans, were visible in the country, still a part of the USSR. Nevertheless, there were encouraging conditions for setting various social and cultural organizations, gathering Poles in Lithuania. On 5 May 1988, the Socio-Cultural Association of Poles in Lithuania was established, a year later transformed into the Union of Poles in Lithuania. There were also created organizations connecting particular professional circles.

Scientists of Polish nationality scattered across various Lithuanian universities felt the need to manifest their national affiliation and accumulate efforts to mark their presence in the country. They were aware that they could contribute to the reconstruction of the Polish intelligentsia in Lithuania.

– The initial meeting took place in the hall of the Presidium of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences SRS. Although Polish-Lithuanian relations were tense at that time, we sometimes encountered support from the Lithuanian side, as evidenced by the opening in the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences’ room – says Prof. Dr. Henryk Malewski, a lawyer, forensic scientist, professor of the Institute of Criminal and Trial Law at the Faculty of Law of Michał Romer University, President of the SNPL.

Professor Romuald Brazis, who organized that meeting, was unanimously elected president of the organization. Elected to the first board were: Dr. Medard Czobot, Dr. Emilia Iwaszkiewicz, Prof. Dr. Edward Szpilewski. One place was reserved for a delegate from Kaunas.

Priority: Polish university

The Association primarily sought to achieve its educational and scientific goals. These were almost identical with the goals of the Society of Friends of Science in Vilnius, whose activity was interrupted after the Red Army invaded the territory of the Republic of Poland on 17 September 1939. It is a symbol that when the first SNPL conference “Science and Quality of Life” was held on 20-22 September 1990, tanks of the former Red Army were still stationed in Vilnius.

The Lithuanian authorities reacted very well to the Polish scientific initiative. The government of the Republic of Lithuania financially supported the organization of the conference. It was attended by deputy ministers of education and science of Lithuania and Poland, as well as numerous scientists from both countries and from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine. The most important resolution of the conference was the decision to establish a Polish university in Vilnius. This news was received with enthusiasm by the Polish community. A month later, Professor Romuald Brazis was received by Pope John Paul II on an audience in the Vatican.

Unfortunately, the road to establishing Polish university turned out to be long and bumpy. – It was an important attempt to reconstruct the Polish university in Vilnius, which had several faculties, including medicine, law and pedagogy. But because of the negative reaction of the Lithuanian authorities, such a university could not have been established. Unfortunately, the authorities saw it as a threat of the repolonization of Vilnius. Formally, the university was not established, although classes for students were held in both Lithuania and Poland. Then the authorities added further obstacles, refusing, among other things, to approve diplomas,” says Prof. Henryk Malewski.

Efforts to establish a Polish university made sense. – Historical events led to the fact that in post-war Lithuania there was hardly any Polish intelligentsia left. The intelligentsia was destroyed by the German and Soviet occupants and partly left voluntarily or under pressure. The expatriation of more than 200 thousand people was to finally uproot Poles from the Vilnius region, which was left almost without the economic elite and intelligentsia,” notes Prof. Henryk Malewski.

The consequences of this loss are still felt today. – In comparison with other national groups, the level of education among Poles in Lithuania is much lower. According to the 2011 population census Poles had a rate of higher education almost 50% lower than the Lithuanian average. This situation looks even worse in the field of science. Fortunately, this is gradually changing, although we will have to wait for the latest research results – says the professor.

New SNPL priorities

In the autumn of 1998, Dr Jarosław Wołkonowski became the President of the SNPL. New priorities were set, including the establishment of a branch of the Polish university in Vilnius and the publication of the Association’s annual report. In 2002, a scientific journal was published: The “Yearbook of the Association of Scientists of the Poles of Lithuania”, in which scientific articles of SNPL members were published, as well as articles from scientific conferences organised by SNPL. Thanks to the support of the “Help for Poles in the East” Foundation and the “Polish Community” Association, the SNPL website was created. However, the most important and most labourious initiative of the SNPL was setting up a branch of a Polish university.

At the beginning of the 21st century Lithuania and Poland were actively preparing to join the European Union, which implied the need to introduce legal solutions also in the field of respect for the minorities’ rights and access to higher education. The novelty was the possibility of setting up branches of foreign universities in Lithuania at the beginning of 2003. At the meeting of 16 March 2003, SNPL adopted a resolution on taking measures to set up a branch of a Polish university in Vilnius.

– The SNPL Management Board under the leadership of Prof. Jarosław Wołkonowski started to work in this field. Activities were carried out in many directions: the aim was to acquire a university that would agree to open a branch. Negotiations were conducted with the University of Gdańsk, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and Warsaw School of Economics. It was not until the University of Białystok took up obtaining the necessary permits from Polish authorities to open full-time undergraduate studies in economics and computer science at the Vilnius branch of the University- says Prof. Henryk Malewski.

Several years of efforts have been successfully completed. On July 6, 2007, the authorities of the Economic and Information Technology Faculty in Vilnius were elected. Dr Jarosław Wołkonowski, professor at the University of Białystok became the Dean, with Dr Alina Grynia as Vice-Dean. On 5 October, the Polish Cultural Centre in Vilnius hosted the inauguration of the academic year with the participation of the Rector and the authorities of the University of Białystok, as well as representatives of state authorities.

The following years were a time of permanent struggle to maintain the university and solve financial, human resources, and especially housing issues. Today it is already known that the building of a branch of the Białystok University of Technology is to be erected in Makowa Street in Vilnius.

We’re betting on youth!

Between 2011 and 2014, the President of the SNPL was Professor Bogusław Grużewski. At that time, the association began to search for new goals, a new strategy of activity. In 2014, when Prof. Henryk Malewski became the President of the SNPL, the following slogan was up tp date: “We bet on young people!

– In order to attract more young people, we introduced the status of supporting members – for young people who do not yet have degrees, but have chosen a scientific path, phD students working as assistants at universities. The majority of SNPL members are people with degrees, referred to in the statute as ordinary members. For senior scientists, we have introduced the status of a senior member, we also have honorary members – stresses President Malewski.

Since 2015 the SNPL alternately, every second year, organizes two competitions for young students of science. One of them is addressed to students who write their master’s or bachelor’s theses with content related to the Vilnius region. The second competition covers young scientists (members or supporters of SNPL), and their works (phD theses or monographies) that concern issues important for the Vilnius region or Lithuania.

Currently, the association has 77 members representing several scientific disciplines. The most numerous representatives of the association are representatives of philology and pedagogy, law, political science and economics, several representatives of science and natural sciences (mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry), as well as representatives of technical disciplines and medicine. Among the nine members of the current SNPL Management Board there are three lawyers (Prof. Dr. Henryk Malewski, Prof. Dr. Katarzyna Miksza, Dr. Elżbieta Kuzborska), two philologists (Prof. Dr. Barbara Dwilewicz, Prof. Dr. Irena Fedorowicz), two physicists (Prof. Dr. Wojciech Stankiewicz, Dr. Jan Kolendo), a mathematician (Dr. Mirosław Szejbak) and a computer scientist (Prof. Dr. Krystyna Moroz-Łapin).

The most important directions of activity

The SNPL regularly publishes the SNPL Yearbook, which level of merit is becoming better and better, as evidenced not only by the opinions of its readers but also by the evaluation process of the ICI Journals Master List. In 2014 “The Yearbook was awarded an ICV (Index Copernicus Value) of 31.06 points, in 2015 it increased to 44.20 points, and in 2017 it reached 62.77 points.

Each volume of the “Yearbook of SNPL” contains from a dozen to several dozen scientific articles, scientific reviews and the chronicle of the SNPL. An interesting part of the yearbook is the column “Scientists from the Vilnius region”. Not only the members of the association and Lithuanian scientists (e.g. Prof. Dr. Alvydas Nikžentaitis, Dr. Rimantas Miknys), are among the authors of the Yearbook, but also outstanding scientists from Poland (e.g. Prof. Dr. Marceli Kosman, Prof. Dr. Zdzisław Julian Winnicki, Prof. Dr. Zbigniew Kurcz, Prof. Dr. Waldemar Paruch) and from other countries. From 2014 onwards “SNPL Yearbooks” are available at http://snpl.lt/roczniki.php.

An important direction of scientific cooperation is participation in scientific and research projects. The project “Knowledge without barriers – innovative methods of teaching adults”, carried out by scientists from the Higher School of Business in Dąbrowa Górnicza together with colleagues from the Czech Republic, Latvia and members of the SNPL, may serve as an example. This project has received funding from the Erasmus+ programme.

SNPL actively cooperates with the European Federation of Polish Scientific and Technical Associations. It includes engineering and scientific organizations from Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria and Lithuania. The EFPSNT quarterly ‘Info Flash’ regularly features information on SNPL. – This year, we are chairing this federation and we are working according to a schedule. There will be scientific conferences, lectures in Polish schools in Vilnius region, promoting engineering and scientific-engineering issues. Scientists have a lot to say in this field – says Prof. Henryk Malewski.

From the Lublin Union to the European Union

Speaking about plans for the future, Prof. Malewski mentions the international scientific conference “From the Lublin Union to the European Union and…”, which will take place on 25-27 April this year. More than 80 papers will be presented and over 120 participants from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Italy, Ukraine and Belarus will take part in it.

– At this conference, as at previous conferences, the issues of national minorities will be discussed in various aspects: education, security, culture and many others. Some of the papers will be published in the “Yearbook of SNPL”. – announced Prof. Henryk Malewski.

Conferences organised by the SNPL

* Science and education of national minorities in Europe: yesterday, today, tomorrow (educational, socio-political, legal and historical aspects). (2017).

* “National minorities – an opportunity, a challenge or a threat to national security?” (2016).

* Between Integration and Exclusion: Linguistic Rights of National Minorities in Europe” (2016). (2015).

* “Family Europe. European Political Thought and the Challenges of the 21st Century”. (2014).

Article published in ‘Kurier Wileński’ magazine issue No 14 (71); 13-19/04/2019

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

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