Lithuanian poet, intellectual, dissident Tomas Venclova in an interview with RFI talks about the new relationship of peoples in the region, threats from the East and popularity of the right, and the current Belarus.
A conversation with Thomas Venclova begins with a discussion of the concept of Jerzy Giedroyc, the editor of the Parisian magazine “Kultura”, which published the best-known poets, writers and philosophers albert Camus, Emil Cioran, Andrei Sakharov, friends Venclova — Nobel prize winners Joseph Brodsky and czesław miłosz. The latter, as does Tomas Venclova, supported the idea of Jerzy Giedroyc about the new Intermarum (Intermarium) — relatively speaking, common cultural space of the peoples of the former Commonwealth, but without a political centre. Giedroyc was convinced of the emergence of Lithuanian, Belarusian and Ukrainian statehood, and called for the new post-socialist Poland to the recognition of the Ukrainian Lviv, litovskoi Vilnius and the Belarusian Grodno and Minsk.
RFI: the Russian-Ukrainian crisis and conflict, difficult relations between Lithuania and Belarus, Polish-Ukrainian mutual claims — doesn’t this put a dot or a cross on the very concept of Jerzy Giedroyc?
Tomas Venclova: No, I think the cross does not put, but creates difficulties. Giedroyc, who was born, by the way, in Minsk, always remember this, always talked about it. But, the way he always said it is in this context that one should not fear that the people of those territories — their descendants — then again, will want these edges to attach. I think that the vast majority of poles would not have done it. They settled down in new places, so here’s a nationalistic fear of return of, say, the poles or poles before the return of the Germans in Szczecin, wrocław, gdańsk — it is not based on anything except these atavistic psychological complexes.
Giedroyc said that Lviv is a city that should belong to Ukraine, Vilnius should belong to Lithuania, and these countries should be free. And only in Alliance with Poland can withstand different coming from the East side threats. This is, in my opinion, absolutely the right question to ask. In Poland it is now — line Giedroyc defeated. And so I have no fears about Vilnius or Lviv, or, say, Grodno, or Nesvizh, which also once belonged to the Polish Republic, and now belong to Belarus.
But here I must say that, of course, too bad that is still not recreated the fabric of some of the Commonwealth, which would remember his old one. [Now] between Lithuania and Belarus runs pretty tangible boundary, it even called the iron curtain. This may be so, because to enter in Minsk is not so difficult — I did it yesterday on the plane, and it took me only a few minutes, so it’s hard to call the iron curtain. But still the border is palpable, I wish it was less noticeable.
The popularity of right-wing in Europe is not conducive to the rapprochement between the neighbors?
The fact that even in Eastern Europe — Poland, Hungary — revived right-wing views and right-wing currents, is, of course, is contrary to the ideals of Jerzy Giedroyc, the ideals of Milos. I think it is temporary, but nothing good either Polish or Hungarian or whatever other people will not. This, unfortunately, is now a General trend, such that populist nationalist government. In Italy, in France yet, even in the Czech Republic, in Slovakia, only that the situation has changed. I hope that in Poland, too, pretty soon they will have to leave. View. But this is still America, not to mention Russia. The government of trump is as populist as Hungarian or Polish, but only the us Constitution so wisely invented 200 years ago that it didn’t allow him to roam too — in other countries it is harder. Well, in Russia the same, in Russia Putin’s government is populist and nationalist. It is harmful, it’s dangerous it’s unnecessary. But I think Eastern Europe will cope with it.
In Belarus say about the possible incorporation of Russia — in Moscow, however, is called integration.
You know this has been discussed many, many years — and somehow it does not work. Still Belarus with all the words that can be said about local mode is a different country, it is more and more, in my opinion, takes some of its identity distinct from Russia. And, in my opinion, it is more and more inclined rather to the West than the East. And this is the real content of these decades, not incorporation. I think, if this even happened, it would be short-lived and meaningless, and, of course, unnecessary, not only Belarusians, but also Russia. I really hope so.
Tomas Venclova: Because no regime is eternal. When the regime falls, the changing world political configuration — and then the country that lost its independence, it again acquire. We in the Baltic States had to wait 50 years, but it happened.
But in Belarus there are many different opinions even in relation to its history, its identity. In Vilnius preparing for the reburial of found on the hill of Gediminas of the remains of the rebels in 1863, including Kastus Kalinouski (one of the leaders of the uprising against Russian rule and for the restoration of the Commonwealth — RFI), Belarusian hero, even in Soviet times. The state now evaluates it’s not so simple, and yet it is unknown whether all the Belarusian officials at a ceremony in Vilnius.
Of course, since the regime in Belarus is authoritarian, then these eddies will inevitably occur. With regard to the reburial Kalinowski and Sierakowski and other great men of the nineteenth century, I hope that still there will be some Belarusian representation, since it is also Belarusian heroes. We think these are their heroes, and their poles — the heroes of the three Nations. But, say, Kalinowski — first of all, it is Belarusian hero. He wrote in Belarusian, and so forth, the Lithuanian language he did not know, in General, spoke Polish, he calls himself, probably a Lithuanian, but then Lytvyn for him, it meant a resident of the Grand Duchy (of Lithuania), it could be and Samogitia, and Belarusian, and even Ukrainian.
Yes, you can recall Adam Mickiewicz.
Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! I always say that the beginning of “pan Tadeusz” — the most paradoxical in the world literature, because the main Polish poem begins with the words “Lithuania, my Fatherland!”, and it’s not Lithuania, Belarus, because it Novogrudok region, and he still belongs to Belarus, and then belonged to, and then there are people basically saying in Belarusian. Although there in times of Mickiewicz was sitosterolaemia Islands.
How you present Minsk and Belarusians — you’ve been here before?
Hard to say — I have been to Minsk in the Soviet era, in the post probably three times. In any case, clean. Very differently, specifically beautiful — even would like to see preserved as a monument to socialist realism architecture. This, too, has its place in the history of world art, but it is ambiguous, dubious, but, nevertheless, the place. In any case, I can only say about people that have been today is a little bit more people than those whom I knew. However, 15 years ago, I saw a large opposition movement, it was alive, they had some unofficial radio stations, an unofficial press — in the same Kurapaty they were interviewing me. Now either less, or I just have not noticed. It can also be a temporary phenomenon.
It all depends on very many reasons. One of them, by the way, is the economic situation. If people are economically bad, they are radicalized and can go in the other direction. What probably happens now in Russia. In Belarus the economic situation seem not so bad. In any case, I have twice had lunch here in Minsk restaurants — do not think that people died of starvation. In Russia — where everything happens, especially if you are far away from the center. I hope to take a ride on Belarus, I have been in many places, for example, in my youth I swam along the Neman — almost from Minsk to the Baltic sea, it took 23 days on a kayak. But that was long ago. Then I saw many things: the Columns and Schorsa, and Lyubcha, and the Moon, and Grodno, of course. Not so long ago was in Vitebsk and Polotsk. I would like to visit Brest and Pinsk.
Tomas Venclova was a guest of the Belarusian literary festival Pradmova in Minsk published a book of his poems. Last year in Moscow the book of Thomas Venclova “Metelinga: Poems and not just” translated by Anna Gerasimova (Umka) received the award “the Moscow observer”. At the end of 2018 Tomas Venclova has returned after decades of living in the United States in Vilnius.