Thursday, April 01, 2010

Europe view 177


You say Lwów, I say Lviv

Apr 1st 2010

A guide to Eastern Europe's most tedious arguments

LAST week’s column dealt with the arcane name squabble between Macedonia (aka FYROM) and Greece. This piece was soon the most-commented on the Economist’s website. That was no thanks to the brilliance of the prose and the lucidity of argument. The subject was one of those issues that attracts bigots, scaremongers and polemicists, with a vanishingly tangential relationship to truth, logic and courtesy.

The article described the row as “the most tedious dispute in the Balkans”. The ex-communist region sets a high standard in such matters, so the epithet is not to be bestowed lightly. Here is an outsider’s guide to a few of the other rows. All the arguments below are a) historically plausible and b) strike most outsiders as quite mad.

Are you calling me a Tatar?

Moldova/Romania A sizeable number of Romanians believe that what is today called the Republic of Moldova is nothing more than a lost province of real Romania, snatched by Stalin out of spite (along with northern Bukovina, which went to Ukraine). The sooner this “pretend Moldova” rejoins Romania the better. Handing out passports to as many Moldovans as possible brings this nearer.

Bulgaria/Macedonia From a certain Bulgarian-nationalist viewpoint, the idea of a discrete Macedonian ethnicity or language is a nonsense—rather like defining “Texan” as an ethnicity in America. Yugoslav Macedonia was a historical accident, and the sooner the detritus joins Bulgaria the better. After that, it will be time to liberate the brother-Slavs of northern Greece.

Slovakia/Hungary According to hardline Slovak nationalists, the whole idea of a Hungarian ethnic minority in the country is absurd. These people (many of whom are Gypsies anyway) should shut up and get on with being Slovaks: ie, speaking Slovak and thinking like Slovaks. Any other behaviour is a sign that they are still imprisoned by their imperial mindset. If they don’t like living in Slovakia, they should go back to Hungary (where, incidentally, the Slovak-speaking minority has dwindled to nothing—proving that it is the Magyars who are the real ethno-nationalists).

Lithuania/Poland Not many people realise this, but most of the people speaking Polish and Belarussian in the area in and around Vilnius are not really Slavs but polonised Lithuanians, the legacy of centuries of forced assimilation. That is a terrible fate, so the right (and kindest) thing to do is to depolonise these people and relithuanianise them. A good way to start is to make sure that they do not get trapped into using foreign Polish letters and silly spellings when writing their names. It is Adomas Mickevicius, not Adam Mickiewicz. Let nobody forget it.

Ukraine/Poland Anyone who spells the capital of Galicia as Lwów is a Polish nationalist who bayonets Ukranian babies for fun. Anyone who says it is spelled Lviv is a Ukrainian fascist who bayonets Polish babies for fun. Anyone who spells it Lvov is a Soviet mass murderer. And anyone who calls it Lemberg is a Nazi. See you in Leopolis for further discussion.

Among the runners-up: “Tatar” is a derogatory and invented name for the inhabitants of modern Tatarstan, who are in fact the descendants of Volga Bulgars. Kievan Rus was not Russian. Any talk of a Ruthenian nation is ill-informed, stupid, possibly mad and the product of Muscovite attempts to split and destroy Ukraine.

Outside pressure has mostly calmed these arguments within formal politics. But on the internet the rows still rage, with tortured facts, arguments and syntax, all mixed with vituperative insults, phoney politeness and seemingly RANDOM Use Of Capital letters. There is a whiff of pyjamas-at-noon, and of people who check their emails in the small hours. Time to get a life?


Bea said...

...and it's not about Adomas Mickevičius who wrote his name Adam Mickiewicz himself and was born in what is Belarus now back in his century. It's about present right of the majority of the Lithuanian Lithuanian citizens to decide that they are not learning to read and write in all European languages for the sake of people who are citizens of Lithuania and are not making any exceptions to the citizens who call themselves Poles. Just like Latvians write the names of minorities in Latvian passports in ways traditional to the Latvian language and aren't called bad Europeans by that same Poland or anyone in Europe for that. Poland doesn't decide in Latvia, why should Poland push Lithuania?

Astoria said...

Poland has nothing to do with it. Your country's citizens want their names written in Polish. It's their right because their names have traditionally been written in Polish in Lithuania. Lithuania never was an ethnically Lithuanian and isn't today. Why would you want to change it?

Latvia is a different case. Poles there are much more assimilated and don't complain about mistreatment. In Lithuania they do. So obviously they're not happy with the way Lithuania treats them.

Bea said...

Poland has lots to do with it if you care to see. We don't see Slavic citizens of Lithuania rallying or sending thousands of petitions about their names to the Lithuanian institutions, we see people from the present Poland making scandals and lying arouns in Europe that LT threats its Poles worse than any other European country threats their minorities.

Temesta said...

So is the goal of Poland to polonise Lithuania or does it just want to support it's fellow nationals in Poland?
And is the latter such a bad thing? Why can't these people keep their polish identity (as polish lithuanians)? They have been living there for centuries. Whether or not they are lithuanians that were polonised in the past doesn't matter, as they clearly see themselves as polish now.

Astoria said...

You've got it wrong. Poles in Lithuania have been complaining a lot for years, writing to Lithuanian institutions, courts, politicians, but got nothing. They have an ethnic party, AWPL, which is concerned with nothing else but the mistreatment of the Polish minority. When Tomaszewski complains internationally, he does so as a citizen of your country.

Bea said...

The Party of Poles of Lithuania is lucky. It will always rule. :) Poles are poor there, that's why they feel discriminated. They are discriminated like every poor person in Lithuania is, not like Poles.

It's not true that all the Lithuanians think that it would be the fairest to [re-]Lithuanize the Poles and other Slavs of Vilnius region because they had been Polonized back then in history. Lucas bluffs a bit. But many Lithuanians have learned in school that they ancestors almost lost their language and were disrespected both by Russians and by Polish speakers if they did not drop the Lithuanian language and did not learn Polish or/and Russian well. That was/is an ethnic and national trauma. Politicians may have promised to foreigners what ever and not inform their people about it clearly and the people are gonna protest, the people are gonna feel robbed now. It's not the aim of Lithuanian state as well. It's a fact that a part of people who call themselves Poles in that region did never come from the real Poland and were Polonized or chose to Polonize themselves dues to prestige of Poland. The treaty that Lithuania signed with Poland in April 1994 can be interpreted differently by each country and each ethnic people. Lithuania did not exactly violate the treaty by being not able to agree and sign another agreement with Poland about writing of names of whoever wants to write them like in Poland. The present treaty requieres a different thing - to write names acoording to their sounding. :D Lithuanians would read Polish names not like they sound in Polish if they would be written like they are written in Poland.
The treaty is ridiculous or, say, awful to the less heard and the less experienced side. Poles in Lithuania have much more and higher Polish schools than Lithuanians have in Poland, btw. Lithuanians in Poland have been more Polonized before than what Poles in Lithuania had been Lithuanized already in communsit times and earlier. Vilnius region had been made a part of Poland unfairly and illegally in the interwar period (and Polonized additionally then) according to the popular understanding of Lithuanians but not according to the understanding of the people who call themselves Poles in Lithuania now. That's another reason why Lithuanians see it unfair that Poland wishes to preclude any kind of re-Lithuanisation of the region (no matter how voluntary). Poland sees more discrimination of Poles in Lithuania than there is. And Lithuanians in Poland are not allowed to re-Lithuanize some names because the names had been already written in Polish in some old historical documents. Now, Lithuanians call their writer Antanas Baranauskas, Poles say a street can't be named Antanas Baranauskas' street because it stands Antoni Baranowski in his own documents from 19 c. But Poles in Lithuania shall have the right to put street which ever labels with self-created street names on their houses, according to Poland's Politicians and to Tomaszewski... Pff... Lithuanians will always see it as the privileges of Poles and Poland because Poles are and have been the bigger and stronger nation.

Astoria said...


I understand your sentiments: you were indeed Polonized, Germanized, Russified. Your language got almost lost. It is your big achievement that you were able to survive as a people and regain your sovereignty. But 20 years ago you overeacted and built a chauvinistic state based on hegemony of one ethnicity. It's time to change it, change the laws. It's been 20 years, a generation, and now you're more secure than in the last 500 years. You're in NATO, EU, have borders that no one questions and your friends and allies promise to defend. Get a life.

This is a bilingual sign in the village of Puńsk, Poland, 80% Lithuanian:

In Lithuania, such signs are illegal. Indeed, a few months ago a court declared all bilingual street signs illegal in Lithuania and appointed a bailif to remove them. Good luck.

Bea said...

And... Oh, sorry, there are already only some 5 000 Lithuanians living in Poland (officially).

Here you see how chauvinistic (NOT) Lithuania is compared to Poland:

Or you won't see because the text is in Lithuanian only. It says that number of Poles who go to Polish schools and the number of Polish schools themselves has risen significantly (almost by 1/3) in the years since 1990. Number of Lithuanian schools and classes in Poland has diminished twice, etc., etc.