Staunton, January 30 – Zbigniew Balcewicz, the former editor of Vilnius’ Polish language newspaper Kurier Wileński, says that he fears new rules to be used in the upcoming Lithuanian census will exaggerate the further decline in the number and share of Poles living there, a concern some Russian outlets are raising as well.
In 1989, at the time of the last Soviet census, there were 257,994 Poles recorded as living in the Lithuanian SSR. As of 2019, Vilnius said that their number had fallen by more than 100,000 to 156,463, Balcewicz writes and Russia’s Rex news agency picks up (iarex.ru/news/79475.html).
The total population of Lithuania fell over this period by 23.97 percent as a result of emigration and aging, but that of the Polish community there fell by 39.36 percent or almost twice as much. In short, the former editor says, Lithuania has become “more Lithuanian” than at any point in its post-war history.
Balcewicz doesn’t deny the general trend of a decline in the number of Poles in Lithuania, but he is worried that new procedures that will be employed in the national census later this year will undercount Poles more than others and thus reduce their influence and ability to attract the attention of the country as a whole.
The Lithuanian government has announced that it will rely on registration documents rather than direct interviews in many cases so as to save money, but according to the Polish editor, that opens the way to a serious problem for minorities because many of these documents do not have any indication of nationality.
After 1991, Lithuania first excluded the nationality line in passports and then restored it, but today, it is possible to have it included only via “a special procedure, the Lithuanian Pole says. As a result, those conducting the census will have to decide who is a Lithuanian and who is a Pole, and they may do so in ways that work against his community.
That a Russian news agency has picked up on this already suggests that at least some in Moscow hope to make it an issue, either to blacken Lithuania’s reputation in some places or win some grudging support from Poland with which Russia has long been locked in a contentious relationship.