Poland’s exotics

  • 2011-09-14
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

POLISH ANTI-FASCIST AWARDED: On Sept. 6, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis awarded Jan Widacki (right), Poland’s leftist MP, ambassador to Lithuania in 1992-1996 and Lithuania’s honorary consul in Krakow in 2000-2007, with the honorary badge “Lithuanian diplomacy’s star.” Widacki is vocal in his negative estimation of the current chauvinistic policy in Warsaw towards Lithuania.

VILNIUS - Poland’s political life continues to return to the shape of the politics of its fascist 1930s. Like Nazi Germany of the 1930s, Poland plays the card of its ethnic minority abroad. Until now, only Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, speaking about foreign policy, used the word “goat” in his vocabulary (he described European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso with this word). Last week, Lukashenko was joined in the goat specialist club by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, who described Lithuania as a “goat.”

“I know only one thing: it is wrong to expect from Lithuanians that the goat will come to the cart. The Lithuanian goat will not come to any cart,” Komorowski told Poland’s radio station TOK FM, adding that increased pressure on Lithuania is needed. He used the word goat in a rather folksy style, while Lukashenko used the word as the term from Russian criminal jargon, but their intentions to insult were the same.

The recent Warsaw bullying of Lithuania is related to the new Lithuanian law on education, the introduction of some lessons taught in the Lithuanian language and the raising of the level of the exam on the Lithuanian language in Lithuanian state-funded schools for ethnic minorities where some seven percent of all Lithuania’s pupils are studying. The protests against this law were staged by Lithuania’s radical Valdemar Tomasevski-led and Warsaw-backed Polish Electoral Action, microscopic on Lithuania’s scale political party ruling, with its Lukashenko-style iron grip, in two small rural municipalities in south-eastern Lithuania.

The protests, backed by Lithuania’s Polish Union, an organization with close ties to the Polish Electoral Action, against the new law were staged only in ‘Polish’ schools, while ‘Russian’ schools as well as the only existing ‘Belarusian’ school, and the only existing ‘Jewish’ school are not protesting against the new law, though some attempts via even more microscopic ‘Russian’ organizations (the usual allies of Tomasevski during the elections) to stage some protest among ‘Russian’ pupils took place as well.

Actually, the Jewish school in Vilnius introduced the new law’s requirements, and did it on a much bigger scale than this law requires, on its own initiative many years ago because it knows that perfect knowledge of the Lithuanian language is essential for its pupils’ future careers. That is why this school is popular not only among Jewish-origin families, but also among ethnic Lithuanian parents in Vilnius. Ironically, the Jewish school is situated close to the office of MEP Tomasevski – he was elected to the European Parliament from the list of the Polish-Russian coalition. In fact, due to a poor level of the Lithuanian language in ‘Polish’ schools, some 50 percent of Lithuania’s ‘Polish’ families send their children to regular Lithuanian schools, not to the ‘Polish’ ones (even though such a step could cause reprisals in the Tomasevski party-ruled municipalities, such as non-payment of various social benefits, according to reports in Lithuanian media).

Last week, another Polish figure, former President Lech Walesa, also made an anti-Lithuanian gesture inspired by Tomasevski’s campaign. Walesa refused to receive the Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great from Lithuania. He sent his letter, which was more polite and diplomatic than the recent Komorowski statement, to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite via the Lithuanian embassy in Warsaw informing her that, by his refusal of the Lithuanian state order (the decision on this award to him was made by Lithuania in June), he protests against the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania.

“I am deeply concerned with the situation of my compatriots [in fact, all of them are citizens of Lithuania] in Lithuania regarding its attitude to their language, tradition and Polish culture,” Walesa wrote to Grybauskaite, according to the Polish newspaper Dziennik Baltycki.

Polish nationalism is not foreign to Walesa. Poland concluded a treaty of friendship with Lithuania only in April 1994, i.e. four years after the proclamation of re-establishment of Lithuania’s independence, due to the position of then Polish President Walesa. He refused to include condemnation of the Polish military invasion into the Vilnius district in 1920, and such refusal was in sharp contrast to the position of then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who agreed to include condemnation of the Soviet annexation of Lithuania in 1940 into the Russian-Lithuanian treaty of 1991.

Neither Komorowski nor Walesa speak any foreign language (as well as another anti-Lithuanian critic, the far-right Order and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who last week visited the ethnically Lithuanian town of Punsk in Poland and claimed to the astonished locals, who know the situation in Lithuania well, that Poles in Lithuania “have no right to publish books in their native language”) and the only information source for them is Poland’s media, which publishes propaganda news from Lithuania’s Polish-language media closely related to Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action and Lithuania’s Polish Union. Actually, some could say that Komorowski does not speak any language at all, taking into account his numerous slips of the tongue during his public speeches and grammar mistakes in his writings. That is why Poland’s foreign policy is exclusively in the hands of the better educated Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. However, he may have spent too much time among the Afghan fundamentalists in Pakistan in the 1980s, and his worldview is rather simplistic and aggressive.
He exploits the current atmosphere of hysterical chauvinism in Poland, where Lithuanian cultural monuments were attacked by Polish fascists in August and September.

The monument in the Polish town of Jedwabne honors the victims of 1941, when about 40 Poles hunted down 300-400 Jews, locked them in a barn and set it alight. On Aug. 31, Polish fascists painted the symbols of a swastika and “SS,” the name of the elite Nazi force, on the monument and wrote the phrases: “I don’t apologize for Jedwabne” and “they were flammable.” On Sept. 4, a small group of people tried to stage a protest against the Jedwabne vandalism in the streets of the Polish town of Bialystok (the ancient town of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy; Balstoge, in Lithuanian) but soon they were outnumbered by crowds of local Polish Nazis chanting “I do not apologize for Jedwabne!” – the Polish police did not interfere.

The German minority in Poland also complained recently about the increased attacks on their cultural heritage in Poland. This fall, Bialystok TV made the decision to stop broadcasting in the Lithuanian language for local ethnic Lithuanians. A seven minute-long program was the only local TV program for Poland’s Lithuanians. Punskas.pl, the Web site of the Lithuanians of ethnic Lithuanian lands in modern-day Poland, reports about further Polish Nazi attacks on many ‘non-Polish’ monuments in the neighborhood which took place in September, such as attacks on the Muslim cultural center in Bialystok, which has an indigenous Tartar population, and synagogues in the towns of Orla and Krynki.

Povilas Gylys, a non-party economics professor and former Lithuanian foreign minister in the leftist government from 1992-1996, talking to Lithuanian national radio last week, said that Polish officials may be angry due to promises “made at the table over a beer or in the sauna” by former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and other Lithuanian politicians regarding public inscriptions in the former Polish-occupied territory of southeastern Lithuania, and Polish diacritics in Lithuanian passports. Gylys said that these Lithuanian politicians had no right to make such unofficial promises, which are not written in any treaty between Lithuania and Poland or in the EU or other international acts, because it is the competence of the Lithuanian parliament and the Lithuanian Constitutional Court. He also expressed his deep concern about the current policy of official Warsaw, as well as “all Polish political parties, with maybe lesser intensity on the left” towards Lithuania.

Adamkus, talking to LNK TV, did not deny that he made such non-formal promises, but he stated that the current Polish attacks are also the result of the mental status of the Warsaw elite. “It is hatred towards us, as Lithuanians, among some members of the current Polish government,” Adamkus told LNK TV.

The current outburst of chauvinism in Poland demonstrates that Poland did not come to terms with Lithuanian independence. It is historical Polish animosity. Due to Warsaw’s contradictions, Lithuania had much bigger problems with international recognition than Latvia and Estonia after 1918. Then the key role in convincing the West to not listen to the Polish propaganda was played by Oskaras Milasius, who was known in France as poet Oscar Milosz.

He was born very far from ethnic Lithuanian lands, near Mogilev, in present-day Belarus, which historically was a part of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. His father was a Polish-speaking nobleman, his mother was a Jew from Warsaw and he spent his childhood in Paris. After Lithuania re-established its independence in 1918, Milasius chose to identify with Lithuania, learned the Lithuanian language and became a Lithuanian diplomat in Paris. Later, he became a devoted Catholic and his precept for Lithuania was the following: avoid alliances with Poland because the latter’s psyche will never come to terms with the sovereignty of Lithuania. He pointed as proof of his statement to Polish Catholicism, which is the backbone of Polish chauvinism and which contradicts the essence of cosmopolitan Christianity.

“Let’s pray to God, asking him to forgive Lithuanians for everything they did wrong to the Jews, Russians, Poles and the Roma people,” Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius said to the crowds of Catholics at the most famous Lithuanian Catholic annual celebration of St. Mary, in the town of Siluva on Sept. 11. A week earlier, during the huge St. Mary-related feast of Dozynki, which is the big harvest holiday in Poland and Belarus (St. Mary is glorified during the feast in Poland, while Lukashenko is worshiped during the Belarusian Dozynki), a local hierarch gave a typical ultra-patriotic speech to the crowds, condemning a Dutch businessman who dared to buy a piece of land in Poland.

This illustrates perfectly the abyss between the modern cultures of Poland and Lithuania. The latter has plenty of problems, too, including the ultra-conservatism of the local Catholic hierarchy, but at least xenophobia and ugly forms of nationalism are not so tolerated among elites in Lithuania as they are in the case in modern Poland. The situation worsened after influential pro-Lithuanian figures such as Pope John Paul II (a non-typical Polish Catholic), Nobel Prize-awarded poet Czeslaw Milosz and France-based writer Jerzy Giedroyc passed away in the 2000s - now the anti-Lithuanian hatred meets no obstacles in Poland.