• May 27, 2023
  • 105

Polish literary presence in Lithuania obliges

It is worth reflecting not only on the rich heritage of Vilnius in the past, but also on the state of possession in Polish literature and art in Lithuania today – says Romuald Mieczkowski, poet and director of the International Poetry Festival “May on the Neris”, whose XXX jubilee edition will soon begin.

This year is the 30th edition of the festival. What will we see? To whom or to what will it be dedicated?

This year’s “May on the Neris”, which will take place from May 28th to May 31st , will be held under the slogan: “30. Festival in seven centuries of the City of Vilnius”. These dates correspond nicely with each other, although the festival thirty in the history of the city on the Neris is not much, just a tiny window, maybe a vent, in human life it is a significant period. During this time, we have grown a new generation of creators. Hence the opportunity to reflect not only on the rich heritage of Vilnius in the past, but also on the state of possession in Polish literature and art in Lithuania today.

Polish literary presence in the past obliges, it is about taking care of its continuation and our present time. Over the years, we have celebrated important anniversaries, but I have always prioritized regional issues. In order to gain its own face, each festival had its own slogan,

e.g.: “In the footsteps of the Marshal – literary legend and reality”; “Vilnius Żagary”; “Michał Kazimierz Sarbiewski”; “Understanding Milosz”; “Konwicki’s love for the Vilnius region”; “In memory of the Mackiewicz brothers”; “What is left of the old legacy of the Jagiellonians?”; “Cities with difficult fates. A place lost and regained’; “Žalgiris means Grunwald. Skirmishes over culture”; “Polish writing abroad”; “In the footsteps of Sienkiewicz’s ‘The Deluge'”; ” About the Witkiewicz family in Lithuania’; “In the footsteps of Melchior Wańkowicz”; “For the 100th anniversary of Tymoteusz Karpowicz” (although he came from the Vilnius region, he remains unknown here); “Under the sign of Polish Romanticism and realism of Józef Mackiewicz”.

There was also supposed to be a festival in Grodno “Connected by the Neman”, but only a film with greetings from Angelika Borys and Irena Waluś remained – due to the pandemic and the occurring situation, the festival was conducted online, and Belarus later became unavailable for such cooperation.

Participants of this year’s festival will perform, i.a. in a poetic and musical concert dedicated to Vilnius (House of Polish Culture), they will visit the previous capitals of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Kernave and Trakai. Traditionally, they will “greet” Adam at his monument, poetry will sound in his apartment, a conference will be held there “After 30 festivals – what meetings with poetry do we expect?”. It is also appropriate to refer to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Władysław Syrokomla, not only a poet, but also a regionalist and an excursionist at heart.

As it was during all festivals, there will be Literary Wednesday at the Basilian walls. The novelties of Lithuanian literature and cooperation with Poland will be discussed in the Lithuanian Writers’ Union. An inseparable position of ‘May on the Neris’ in recent years is ‘Poetry and Mercy’ in the Hospice of Blessed Father Michał Sopocko – and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, the creator of the painting ‘Jesus, I trust in You’. It happened near the hospice.

What has been done in 30 years? Has its own recipient been formed in Lithuania? Has Vilnius been promoted in the world?

About the festival, which was attended by over a thousand participants, including foreign guests from over 30 countries, mainly from Polish, but also distant – from Australia, Mexico, Lebanon, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq or Ethiopia – you can write more than one book, publish many poetry almanacs. Hundreds of poems inspired by the stay in Lithuania, many translations into other languages, press and radio materials, films were made.

In 2006, in the series “Library from the Neris River” I prepared an anthology titled “Moving Vilnius to the Heart. Portrait of the City”, containing “Vilnius” poems by 50 authors from several countries, largely guests of the festival. In turn, thanks to the established acquaintances, the poems of the residents of Vilnius appeared abroad, in the Czech Republic, Hungary and the United States. The festivals were attended by Lithuanian artists, representatives of other nationalities in Lithuania – Belarusians, Ukrainians, Tatars and Karaites. Some of our participants were guests at the prestigious festival “Poezijos pavasaris” (Spring of Poetry), held earlier and at the junction with our “May…”.

Separate meetings were held at the seat of Lithuanian writers (e.g. with Krzysztof Zanussi, Dorota Masłowska and Stanisław Łubieński), all presidents of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union operating during the festival marked their participation: Vytautas Martinkus, Valentinas Svencickas, Jonas Liniauskas, Antanas A. Jonynas, and this cooperation developed particularly during the tenure of the writer and poet Birutė Jonuškaitė, the president of this important creative organization since 2018.

Thanks to the arrival of our friends in Vilnius, poets from Lithuania – which must be emphasized, of different nationalities – were invited to Poland, and this contributed to the appearance of publications also with their participation. Nearly 50 books by Vilnius residents, as well as people associated with our region, were published in the Oficyna Literatów i Dziennikarzy “Pod Wiatr” in Warsaw by Romuald Karaś, the then president of the Polish Writers’ Union. He also generously rewarded our literary and animatory efforts, awarding many Vilnius residents with the Witold Hulewicz Award.

The Vilnius series in Zielona Góra was launched by a poet from Santoka, Henryk Szylkin, poems by Vilnius authors appeared in Krakow, signed with the local “Confraternity of Poets”, led by Jacek Lubart-Krzysica. Tadeusz Kijonka, editor-in-chief of the monthly “Silesia”, poet and activist, also in the field of establishing contacts between writers from the Neris and Olza rivers, came to our aid. We maintained similar contacts with Janusz Wójcik, the organizer of the festival “Invasion of Poets on the Castle of the Silesian Piasts in Brzeg”, which also took place in Opole and the surrounding area. Until his premature departure, in the name of cooperation with “May on the Neris”, Wójcik hosted whole groups of Vilnius artists, apart from poets, musicians and painters from Lithuania visited there.

Recently, Gdańsk has taken over the relay of active cooperation. During the “Vilnius in Gdańsk” festival there was a place for poetry and prose from Lithuania, including in Polish. “May on the Neris” opened the possibility of literary journeys to other countries: Germany, France, Great Britain, and even to distant Mexico, not to mention neighboring Belarus (in the past) and Ukraine. Poems written in Polish by Vilnius residents appeared in print in Lithuanian, next to the poems of our foreign guests in leading Lithuanian cultural magazines and almanacs, and some of the festival participants lived to see their own separate books in this language.

The festival’s film day, during which we hosted the EMiGRA Film Festival – with films about Poles abroad or made by them, was appreciated.

Has it been possible to “shape” the recipient? This is a difficult issue to which I will return, it is already hopeful that the festival has its loyal fans.

How do you assess the condition of Polish culture in Lithuania? Is it possible to compare its state from the early 90s and now?

Our achievements developed fruitfully after regaining independence, when independent Polish cultural centers in Lithuania began to be established, although there were no today’s mechanisms for the implementation of artistic events, the so-called projects did not function yet, they existed in the embryo. That is why the cultural landscape is difficult to compare to today’s – the “hunger” for meetings with our writers, artists, of course also from Poland and in Poland was addressed. Such actions since the beginning of the 90s of the last century i.a. the editors of the then biweekly “Znad Wilii” focused on the Polish Art Gallery, which was established there, and where meetings with authors and exhibitions were constantly held.

Today, the ownership is completely different – in Lithuania there are dozens or hundreds of different Polish entities, including many in favor of culture, such as numerous song and dance groups, choirs, various associations. They are very necessary in their diversity. Meanwhile, the number of representatives of educated Polish elites, whom we want to perceive as creators and recipients of the so-called top shelf, is growing. In this respect, there are undoubtedly successes, but also serious problems.

The rich cultural offer from Poland is more pleasing than ever, but as, for example, mass events gather crowds, at meetings addressed to a more advanced recipient there are still few volunteers. And this, like reading books, shapes tastes, enriches the native language, especially when you live outside your language area, in the conditions of a national minority, which requires special care.

And one more thing: may we “not fall asleep”, not remain only recipients of such offers, as it is said, beneficiaries, but be creators and partners of important projects – in the creation of literature, plays and films, music or painting. Thank God, there are examples of such activity, but we could use many more.

From many years of work practice in one of the cultural institutes in Warsaw, I know that this artistic potential can be better used, which would allow our artists to attend prestigious festivals and competitions in Poland more often. We need stricter criteria for evaluating our cultural “product”, with reliable criticism of specialists, promotion in the Polish media in Lithuania. It also happens that some of them “do not notice” events outside their own backyard – important events, new books. It may sound grandiloquent, but regardless of one’s views, art and education should be the basic links between enlightened compatriots in Lithuania.

Thirty is the time for a recap. It will be the last festival in the current formula, despite the fact that it has made a name for itself

Do you intend to continue to lead the festival?

Thirty is the time for some recap. It will be the last festival in the current formula. However, I feel sorry for its brand, recognizable in literary circles – appreciated by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union, also in Poland, by the Polish diaspora in the world, among translators and cultural animators. A brand that has been worked for for three decades. That is why I have some ideas for meetings organized perhaps outside Vilnius, where there is a lower density of cultural activities, including workshops and education, taking into account local opportunities and in cooperation with artistic circles in the Vilnius region or even in other parts of Lithuania.

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

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