- April 21, 2023
Tomasz Snarski: “Culture is a means to preserve the best of the past for the future”.
Dr Tomasz Snarski, lawyer and poet, is interviewed by Ilona Lewandowska.
Ilona Lewandowska: This year you were among the winners of the City of Gdansk Cultural Scholarship for 2023, under which artistic and cultural projects and initiatives in the fields of literature, visual arts, theatre, photography, music and dance are created. Your project refers to the 700th anniversary of the founding of Vilnius, which is in 2023. Why did you choose such a theme?
Tomasz Snarski: I believe that this year, which we are currently celebrating, namely the 700th anniversary of Vilnius, is a perfect opportunity to intensify various cultural projects that deepen Vilnius’ heritage and showcase it in Poland as well. Particularly important to me are the initiatives that will bring some new hope for the development of cultural cooperation, and thus the bond between Vilnius and Gdańsk in the future. Only such active, vibrant cultural activities can ensure the survival of existing traditions and their passing on to the next generations. I think it is worthwhile to use all opportunities to remind people about Vilnius, and therefore I decided to apply for a cultural scholarship from the City of Gdańsk in the field of literature. I submitted a project called “NeMo. Pomiędzy Neris a Motławą (Between Neris and Motława.)” It foresees the creation of five different literary works (essay, reportage, poem, short story, interview), all of which form a single whole (pentalogy), dedicated to the cultural connections between Gdańsk and Vilnius. It is not a popular form, but it offers enormous possibilities, even referring to the Biblical Pentateuch, and I believe that Vilnius deserves as many as five interrelated works (not just two or three books). The title “NeMo” comes from the first two letters of the names of the rivers – Neris (Willia in Polish) and Motława – on which Vilnius and Gdańsk are situated.
In the works which are created as part of the scholarship, I attempt to find and understand the common ties between Gdańsk and Vilnius, which have been visible for years in such areas as culture. This cooperation between the cities is not accidental, and stems, among other things, from the special role played by Gdansk citizens with roots originating from Vilnius, who found their “new home” in the city on the Motlawa River after World War II. I trust that my texts, which will be written as part of the scholarship, will complement the reflection on the identity of Gdańsk with the perspective of Vilnius (Gdańsk-Vilnius). I also want to attempt to answer the question of what connects Vilnius and Gdansk in terms of culture and values in particular. While preparing for the work, I was able to identify five themes that I will follow. These are: solidarity, mercy, humanism, freedom and multiculturalism. A selection of texts will be published and presented at a meeting on Gdansk-Vilnius identity. Of course, I will also remember to ensure that the reflections contained in them reach an audience in the Vilnius region through my publications in the “Kurier Wileński”.
It is not the first initiative you have taken to commemorate the anniversary of Vilnius…
Indeed, since the beginning of the year, I have already managed to implement several social initiatives promoting Vilnius. I think that what these events have in common is that they are grassroots in character and stem from a genuine need. At the very beginning of the year, I wrote a poem for the 700th anniversary of the city. I am delighted that it was very well received. The graphic design for the poem was made by art historian Filip Maciejowski from Norway, and it was translated into Lithuanian by Birutė Jonuškaitė. The poem was featured on the city’s birthday in many media, and I am most pleased about the fact that it gained popularity among young people through social media, who were eager to share it. Its publication turned into an interactive event that showed that a great deal can be done with one’s own involvement, even without special projects or funding. Furthermore, on my initiative, the Law Library of the University of Gdansk organised an exhibition titled “700th Anniversary of Vilnius. Wróblewski, Vilnius, Miłosz”. The heroes of the anniversary exhibition include among others Bronislaw Wróblewski and Czeslaw Milosz – two prominent Vilnius citizens. Bronisław Wróblewski was one of the most eminent Polish criminalists, a lecturer at the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. Almost everyone has heard of Miłosz, but still few remember that he had finished his law studies in Vilnius. In February, Romuald Mieczkowski, poet, writer and editor-in-chief of the “Znad Wilii” quarterly, was a guest of the Gdańsk Poets’ Club in the Oliwa Library. At the end of March, I had the opportunity to organise a meeting with a well-known Lithuanian writer, poet and translator, Birutė Jonuškaitė, which took place at the Literary Restaurant in Gdansk under the patronage of the Honorary Consul of Lithuania. Of course, it is also important to prepare for the “Vilnius in Gdansk” Festival in September, which will be held for the twentieth time as part of the official cooperation between the cities.
On the occasion of Gdańsk-Vilnius meetings, it is often mentioned that due to post-war resettlement, the roots of very many Gdańsk citizens are found in Vilnius. However, Gdańsk is constantly changing, it is a university city where very many people from different parts of the world come every year. Is this sentiment for Vilnius also felt in the younger generation of Gdańsk citizens?
The world is changing very dynamically, and so too are Gdańsk and Vilnius. This makes it all the more important to have cultural activities that remind us of historical ties, while at the same time being open to the present and the future. My most important intention is that Vilnius, and Lithuania in general, should not only be of interest to those who have roots in Vilnius or have a sentimental attachment to the area. If the quality of the organised cultural offer, of the books written, of the meetings organised, or of the exhibitions presented, is simply culture in the best sense of the word, attracting everyone, then we will create something universally attractive. Unfortunately, when organising various events in Poland that are supposed to refer to the Vilnius tradition, this is often forgotten. It is clear to me that these efforts are only as valuable as long as the relationship between the cities and communities is preserved for future generations. As the years go by and various initiatives are created, I also notice that there are more and more people who feel a connection to Vilnius. Of course, there are school graduates from Vilnius coming here for studies, sometimes they are Poles, but there are also Lithuanians who speak excellent Polish. They often come up to me at the university and say: “Doctor, I know that you organise various interesting cultural activities here, please let me know if there is another event”. These are not people from “history”, they are here in the present, this new, young generation. And it’s great because it’s about preserving the best of the past for the future and building contemporary, wonderful partnerships. I believe that, based on cultural exchange, we can truly discover a universal community that revolves around the best of our values and our humanity.
You mentioned the “Vilnius in Gdansk” Festival. Do you already know what events will be planned as part of the festival?
We cannot yet speak about the details or specific events, but it will certainly be a special festival, as we have not one, but three occasions to celebrate. In 2023 we are celebrating not only the 700th anniversary of Vilnius but also the 25th anniversary of the partnership between Gdansk and Vilnius and the 20th anniversary of the Vilnius in Gdansk festival.
Translated by Jakub Teleszczuk within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.