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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...

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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

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