Lithuanian minority in Poland
The Lithuanian minority in Poland consists of 8,000 people (according to the Polish census of 2011) living chiefly in the Podlaskie Voivodeship in the north-eastern part of Poland. The Lithuanian embassy in Poland notes that there are about 15,000 people in Poland of Lithuanian ancestry.
Lithuanians are an indigenous people of the territories of north-eastern Podlaskie Voivodeship in Poland, being the descendants of the various Baltic tribes of the region (Yotvingians), which merged into the Lithuanian ethnicity in the Middle Ages. Poland first acquired its Lithuanian minority after the Union of Lublin in 1569, which transferred the administration of the historical Podlaskie Voivodeship from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Polish Crown (both entities then formed a larger, federated state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). During the next two centuries, the Lithuanian minority, faced with the dominant Polish culture in the region, was subject to Polonization. After the partitions of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 18th century, the Polish cultural pressure in the region was replaced by that of the Russian Empire, until the end of the First World War resulted in the restoration of independent Polish and Lithuanian states.
During the Interwar period of the 20th century (1920–1939) Lithuanian-Polish relations were characterised by mutual enmity. Starting with the conflict over the city of Vilnius, and the Polish-Lithuanian War shortly after the First World War, both governments - in an era when nationalism was sweeping through Europe - treated their respective minorities harshly. Lithuanian nationalists resented demands by Poles for greater cultural autonomy (similar to that granted to the Jewish minority), holding that most of Lithuania's Poles were really polonized Lithuanians who merely needed to be "re-Lithuanianized". Resentments were exacerbated when Lithuanian Poles expressed a desire to "re-unite" the country with Poland. As a result, the nationalizing Lithuanian state took measures to confiscate Polish owned land. It also restricted Polish religious services, schools, Polish publications, Polish voting rights. Poles were often referred to in the press in this period as the "lice of the nation". When Poland annexed the town of Sejny and its surroundings back in 1919, repressions towards the local Lithuanian population started, including the Lithuanian language being banned in public, Lithuanian organizations (with 1300 members), schools (with approx. 300 pupils) and press being closed, as well as the confiscation of property and even burning of Lithuanian books. Beginning in 1920, after the staged mutiny of Lucjan Żeligowski, Lithuanian cultural activities in Polish controlled territories were limited; newspapers were closed down and editors arrested. One editor - Mykolas Biržiška - was accused of treason in 1922 and received the death penalty; only direct intervention by the League of Nations spared him this fate. He was one of 32 Lithuanian and Belarusian cultural activists formally expelled from Vilnius on September 20, 1922 and given to the Lithuanian army. When 48 Polish schools were closed in Lithuania in 1927, Józef Piłsudski retaliated by closing many Lithuanian educational establishments in Poland. In the same year 48 Lithuanian schools were closed and 11 Lithuanian activist were deported. In 1931 there were about 80,000 Lithuanians in Poland, the majority of them (66,300) in Wilno Voivodeship. Following Piłsudski's death in 1935, further Polonisation ensued as the government encouraged the settlement of Polish army veterans in disputed regions. About 400 Lithuanian reading rooms and libraries were closed in Poland in 1936-1938.
The Second World War put an end to the independent Polish and Lithuanian states. After the war, both former states fell under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. Poland was shifted westwards, thus giving up most of the disputed territories in the Second Polish Republic, those territories were mostly incorporated into the Lithuanian SSR, itself one of the Republics of the Soviet Union. At the same time, many Poles from the Kresy area were forcibly repatriated west to the "Recovered Territories", and the Polish minority in Lithuania (or Lithuanian SSR) was also significantly downsized. Under the eye of the Soviet Union, the various ethnic groups in the Eastern Bloc were to cooperate peacefully in the spirit of Proletarian internationalism, and that policy, coupled with the population migrations limiting the size of both minorities in the respective regions, resulted in a lessening of tensions between Poles and Lithuanians. However, in the Sejny and Suwalki districts the prohibition against speaking Lithuanian in public lasted until 1950 (and in phone calls until 1990) and it was not until the 1950s that the teaching of Lithuanian was introduced as a subject in schools.
Modern Lithuanian minority in Poland is composed of 5,639 people according to the Polish census of 2002, with most of them (5,097) living in the Podlaskie Voivodeship (Suwałki Region), particularly in Gmina Puńsk where they form a majority (74.4% of population). According to the Lithuanian embassy there are about 15,000 people of Lithuanian ancestry in Poland. 8,000 people declared Lithuanian identity in the Polish census of 2011 (including 5,000 who declared it as their only nationality, and 3,000 who declared it as the second one, after the Polish nationality).
There are Lithuanian publications (over 80 books have been published, and there are several magazines, of which the largest is "Aušra" (= "Dawn"), co-sponsored by Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs). Lithuanian organizations are involved in organizing cultural life of the minority (with libraries, choirs, theatres, etc.). There are also Lithuanian-language programmes on local Radio Białystok and Telewizja Białystok.
There are Lithuanian-exclusive schools in Puńsk, both on primary and secondary level, schools with Lithuanian-language as a teaching language in Sejny, and schools with Lithuanian as a foreign language in the wider region are common. There are 17 Lithuanian schools, attended by over 700 students. The most important of those schools is the liceum (Liceum 11.Marca w Puńsku); there are also three gymnasiums (Gimnazjum „Žiburys” w Sejnach, II Gimnazjum w Sejnach, I Gimnazjum w Sejnach).
There are several Lithuanian cultural organizations in Poland. The oldest one is the Stowarzyszenie Litwinów w Polsce (Association of Lithuanians in Poland), founded in 1992. Others include Wspólnota Litwinów w Polsce (Lithuanian Community in Poland, 1993), Stowarzyszenie Młodzieży Litewskiej w Polsce (Associations of Lithuanian Youth in Poland), Towarzystwo Kultury Etnicznej Litwinów (Association of Ethnic Culture of Lithuanians, 1997), Towarzystwo Nauczycieli Litewskich (Associations of Lithuanian Teachers). There are several buildings dedicated to Lithuanian minority, including the Lithuanian House and an ethnographic museum in Sejny. Various Lithuanian cultural activities include the Lithuanian Meeting (Zlot) in Pszczelnik, and the Lithuanian Musical Festival Sąskrydis. In 2006 the Lithuanian minority received 1.344.912 zlotys (~$450,000) from Polish government in 2006 (22 out of 27 requests were approved).
However local Lithuanian World Community representatives claim there are problems with Lithuanian culture preservation in Sejny region. They argue that Lithuanian heritage is ignored, as currently in Sejny there is not even one street name that would signify presence of prominent Lithuanians. They also note that for more than two years there is no accommodation regarding cemetery where Lithuanian soldiers are buried. Another recent issue is the underfunding of the two Lithuanian gymnasiums in Sejny, which receives only 75% of promised funding.
Lithuanian language is recognized as a minority language in Poland, and is a supporting language in Puńsk commune in Podlaskie Voivodeship, where, by 20 February 2011, 30 Lithuanian place names were introduced alongside names in Polish language (bilingual signs). Lithuanian language is used in Gmina Puńsk as a second language since 2006.
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From 1936 till 1939, 266 Lithuanian schools were closed in the whole territory of the former Vilnius Territory. Activities of almost all Lithuanian cultural organizations were banned there. In the areas controlled by Poland, resentments grew as a new settlement of Polish army veterans with economic ties to Poland brought greater Polonization.
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Lenkijos lietuvių bendruomenės vadovai sako, jog Seinų krašte viskas, kas susiję su lietuvių kultūros paveldo išsaugojimu, sunkiai skinasi kelią.
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- Polish minority in Lithuania
- Belarusian minority in Poland
- Ukrainian minority in Poland
- German minority in Poland
- The Lithuanian Language in education in Poland
- (in Polish) połeczność litewska w Polsce, Konsulat Republiki Litewskiej w Szczecinie
- (in Polish) Łukasz Kaźmierczak, Trzy procent odmienności (Three percent of different) - article describing results of Polish census 2002 and minorities in Poland, citing census data
- (in Polish) Liczebność i rozmieszczenie społeczności litewskiej w Polsce
- (in Lithuanian) "Aušra" informacinis, kultūrinis Lenkijos lietuvių leidinys.
- (in Lithuanian) and (in Polish) Lithuanian House in Sejny