Polish Lithuanians | True Lithuania
True Lithuania


From ~17th century until the very 20th century Lithuanians and Poles were literally a single nation. The same person would even use two names for himself in each language. For example, a famous interwar lawyer used “Michał Römer” and “Mykolas Römeris” respectively.

The situation of the Polish language was similar to that of English in Ireland. After Poland and Lithuania signed the Union of Lublin (1569) and became a single country, the Polish language gradually became the one favored by the ruling nobility. Eventually, it displaced the Lithuanian language from more and more areas as Lithuanian was regarded to be the language of the lower classes. Capital city Vilnius and its surroundings, as well as the manors in many places of Lithuania (except for Samogitia), switched to Polish over generations.

An 1822 book by Adam Mickiewicz (Lithuanian: Adomas Mickevičius), a famous poet who wrote praises for Lithuania in the Polish language. In his days (1798-1855) the term Lithuanian included Polish native speakers of Lithuanian descent. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

All this “Gente lituanus natione polonus” (Lithuanian ethnicity, Polish nation) way of thought came to a halt with Lithuanian national revival and the World War 1, after which Poland and Lithuania became separate entities. Still, however, the first Polish President Narutowicz was actually a brother of a signatory of Lithuania’s Declaration of Independence who was better known as Narutavičius, while the Polish dictator Józef Piłsudski regarded himself to be Lithuanian. Piłsudski was born in Zalavas (a village near Švenčionys) and he ordered to bury his heart in Vilnius (Rasos cemetery).

The dispute of both countries over Vilnius region and the subsequent Soviet regime (which used “Divide and conquer” tactics to saw discontent among the Soviet-occupied ethnicities) proved to establish the final boundary between the nations. Few would call themselves to be “Polish speaking Lithuanians” today, with most such people now considering themselves to be Poles (despite their forefathers having been ethnic Lithuanians rather than migrants from Poland). Neutral ethnic identity "a local" (tutejszy), popular pre-WW2, also nearly disappeared.

Currently, the Polish community is largely concentrated in southeastern Lithuania (Vilnius environs) and maintains a rural way of life. Vilnius city, while predominantly Polish-speaking in the 19th and early 20th centuries, was somewhat Lituanized due to urbanization, but still, it hosts 100 000 Poles in its homes (19,39% of Vilnius population and half of Lithuania's Polish community). Nearly all-Catholic, the Poles are the most religious ethnic community.

Traditionally (since ~17th century) there was much multilingualism and diglossia in the Vilnius area and the manors. The language to use used depended on circumstances and political views on the Polish-Lithuanian issue. This multilingualism used to be Polish-Lithuanian or (in some villages) Polish-Belarusian but it was displaced by Russian-Polish bilingualism during the Soviet Russification drive. With the restoration of independence (1990), the situation is changing once again towards Polish-Lithuanian or Russian-Lithuanian.

Plaque with a Lithuanian street name and its Polish translation in ~92% Polish Medininkai village (Vilnius district municipality). The local authority promotes Polish while the government prefers Lithuanian. Russian, Belarusian, and pidgins thereof are also spoken but less visible publically. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuania's Polish community took a great hit under Stalin's policies when some 200 000 primarily Polish people (as many as there are Poles in Lithuania today) were moved from Lithuania to settle the lands acquired by Poland from Germany in World War 2, while others were deported to Siberia. However, some new Poles were brought into Lithuania from Belarus in the same era. After 1950 the share of the Polish community in Lithuania largely stabilized (currently 6,65%). Today, it is the only minority of Lithuania to have a strong minority rights political party with the Lithuanian Poles Electoral Action having the majority in the predominantly Polish municipalities and enjoying representation in both Lithuanian and European parliaments.

See also: Top 10 Polish sites in Lithuania

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Ethnicities No Comments
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)
  1. don’t forget the 1941 deportations to Siberia as another factor in reducing the size of the Polish Population in Urban Vilnius

    • Yes, you are correct, I have now added this information to the article.

      It should be noted, however, that the deportations did not target Poles in particular and the numbers of other ethnic groups likewise dwindled. On the other hand, post-WW2 “repatriations” disproportionately affected the Polish community.

  2. I would estimate theres still a handful of very elderly self-identified “Polish Speaking Lithuanians” in the Diaspora that left Siberia with General Anders Polish Army in 1942 and subsequently settled in the west
    The father of UK TV personality Mel Giedroyc would be the most famous example

  3. I often wondered why my grandparents spoke Polish, but were born in Vievis, Lithuania in 1882, immigrating to America in 1904. They also spoke Lithuanian and Russian, but received letters from their siblings in Polish.

    • Indeed, Vievis was among those areas where Polish had become the dominant language among Lithuanians for important issues such as writing. I have relatives from there too. The generation of my cousins’ grandparents still spoke good Polish, the cousins’ father speaks some as well, while my cousins generation already don’t. As Vievis remained in Lithuania in 1920 (and was not captured by Poland, unlike Vilnius), Lithuanian displaced Polish once again as the presgtige language there quite early.

  4. My mother’s Polish parents came from Radun in what is today Belarus. They immigrated to a community with a large number of Lithuanian immigrants and only a small number of Polish immigrants. Does Radun have any connection to Lithuania?

    • Radun, in Lithuanian language Rodūnia, was considered to be part of Lithuania by the pre-WW2 Lithuanian government (part of the Polish-occupied Vilnius region) and it had a majority of Lithuanian-speakers back then.

      After World War 2, this town was attached to the Belarusian SSR rather than the Lithuanian SSR by the Soviet government. In all such towns, Lithuanians were discriminated against, Lithuanian schools not allowed to work, etc. Many Lithuanians and Poles were also moved to Lithuania and Poland after World War 2. As such, the town gradually became Russian/Belarusian-speaking, although there is still a Lithuanian and a Polish minority in the area, but they are much less visible today. Being a larger minority, Poles generally survived the Soviet rule better than the Lithuanians of the area.

  5. Hi Augustinas, some really great information here. I’m currently trying to research my family tree however I have run into a problem. On my grandfather’s resettlement documents (from Germany to Australia) it states his place of birth as Dobyrk, Prov. Wilno Poland – 1926. I know that the town’s name has been misspelt by the person translating and I have been unsuccessful in establishing its correct name. I would be grateful for any assistance on what the possible name of this town maybe. Thank you.

    • Please note that what was province Wilno in Poland also covered parts of what is today’s Belarus, not only today’s Lithuania. Particular name does not ring a bell to be, may be heavily mispelled, although “byrk” ending may have been “burgas”/”barkas”/”burkas” (from German “burg”).

  6. Hi. My great-grandparents were from Romaszkance which is in Belarus but they always said they were from Lithuania. They had also lived in Asmiany. These town are on either side of the part of Lithuania that juts into Belarus. Their parish was called Hermaniszki. They considered themselves to be Polish, but they spoke Polish, Lithuanian, and Russian. Their daughter was baptized in a Catholic Lithuanian church with a Lithuanian name, grew up going to a Polish church under her Polish name and married a Polish man from Southern Poland. My mom’s DNA test showed her ancestry as 50% Lithuanian and 50% Polish. I wonder if my great grandparents knew that they were actually Lithuanians!

Leave a comment

No trackbacks yet.