A Guide to Eastern Europe's Most Tedious Arguments: Vilnius / Wilno / Vilnia

Edward Lukas in the Economist writes about the most contentious issues in Eastern Europe. The contemporaty city of Vilnius is certainly one of those issues.

Very few people realise that as a result of the 1939 Stalin-Hitler agreement deviding Europe Lithuania got a seizable piece of land predominantly populated by Slavs - Belarusians and Poles.

Fortunately, the dispute between Lithuanian, Polish and Belarusian historians over Vilnius is peaceful. In early 1990-s Belarus and Lithuania had virtually identical courts of arms. Belarusian President even shared a story of his Lithuanian counterpart poining it to him that Belarus was using "their" symbols.

Lukashenka was happy to give up the more glorious version of the Belarusian history in exchange for oil and other benefits from Russia. Russian historiography had always supported the myth of ethnic Slavs being prosecuted in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania - one of the most influential states of mediaeval Europe.

But as a matter of fact, for centuries the only official language of that state was old Belarusian and Lithuanians constituted only around 5 percent of the Vilnius region population according to a 1931 census. Edward Lukas writes in the Economist:

All the arguments below are a) historically plausible and b) strike most outsiders as quite mad. ... 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.

Read 'You say Lwów, I say Lviv' in the Economist.

AK

Comments

wolny: The "old" language

wolny: The "old" language that the writings of the Grand Duchy had been written was not Belarussian per se... Ukrainians could claim the same, as well as Russians. It was a formal Slavic language which had little to do with the reality - althought it retained more similarity with the live languages spoken than, say, Latin. In the Grand Duchy, it naturally became as a written media instrument (chancellery etc) since the Lithuanian Dukes had no written languag of their own, so they employed the Slavic one.

There is a big difference

There is a big difference between the modern words "Lithuanians", "Poles" and "Belarusians"/"White Ruthenians" and what these words used to describe 200 years ago. Modern Polish, Lithuanian and Belarusian nations are a product of 19th century nationalisms. Before that, there was hardly any border between what is Polish, Lithuanian or Ruthenian in what is today western part of Belarus or Southeastern part of the Republic of Lithuania. Therefore it is wrong to project modern nations to what was 200 or more years ago. The Polish and Belarusian speakers of the Vilnius region are not "assimilated Lithuanians" in the modern sense of the word, nor are the Polish speakers "polonized Belarusians". They are descendands of the local Baltic population that has been later become the base for modern Lithuanians, north-western Belarusians and Kresy Poles

@Nick: I hope you are being a

@Nick: I hope you are being a devil's advocate. Modern Lithuanians have never referred to themselves that way until relatively recently (last 150-200 years). They self-identified as Žemaitijans & Aukštaitija. Litvins is the historical name of Belarusians. Although it is plausible that the Great Dukes were ethnic Balts who spoke Belarusian, it is a real fact that all legal documents in the Great Duchy of Lithuania were written in Belarusian.

Vilnius has always been

Vilnius has always been Lithuanian, (though occupied by foreign governments). Belarus, was part of Lithuania under Lithuanian leadership. This article is poorly written, and historically inaccurate. The only people with disputes, would be delusionary Russian/Belarusians.

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