"Everything Comes from What I Said at the Beginning, from This Territory": An Interview with Tadeusz Konwicki

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DOROTA SOBIESKA: I have plenty of questions but would prefer this to be more of a conversation.

TADEUSZ KONWICKI: Yes, but I have to have something to start with, and the best questions are silly because they give one a chance to say something. Clever questions always contain the answers themselves. Those very ambitious Polish scholars ask a question which goes on for ten minutes ...

DS: To which you answer "Yes" or "No."

TK: That's right. Or, trying to be equal to a task, I begin to repeat myself, talk nonsense, things like that. So silly questions are the best.

DS: In your writing about the territory you are from, there are usually two sides: the ideal one and the one full of conflicts between the nationalities living there. For instance, in A Dreambook for Our Time you show the conflict between the Poles and the Lithuanians during the Second World War. What is happening there now and how do you feel about it?

TK: I don't feel particularly good about it; that is, I experience contradictory emotions because I root for both the Lithuanians and the Poles there, and they are in continuous strife against each other. This conflict subsides and then becomes aggravated again, and it is very painful to me because it is a result of various petty political games both in Lithuania and in Poland. And these matters are easy to solve, but only when there is good will on both sides. The case is very dramatic because the Poles there were under double occupation for fifty years: Soviet, but also to some extent Lithuanian. The whole Polish intelligentsia left this place--all the more active, more educated social classes repatriated themselves. Only peasants and workers stayed there, or that part of the intelligentsia that deteriorated because of persecutions. That is why they are weak, and that is why they opted for the Soviet system. On the other hand, Lithuanians were not in the best situation either. They were terribly persecuted right after the Second World War. Almost one third of their population was taken to Siberia. They put themselves together with great difficulty. But this is a very strong, hardened nation. These people are not at all like the Polish, but more like Scandinavians: hard-working, moderate, taciturn, stubborn, reliable. And of course, clearly, after those years of persecution, nationalism had to burst out, especially because their past is troubling from our point of view. After all, they opted for Germany in the last war. Their reasons of State could have been such that they had to hold with the Germans, but from the European point of view, and especially ours, it is troubling. So, both sides have their faults, various old hostilities. But when it comes down to the real conflict, it is like a quarrel between two villages. I come from the Wilno Colony, and there were the Upper and the Lower Colony. The Upper Colony was always rumbling with the Lower Colony. And this conflict with Lithuanians is, in fact, a domestic one because we are so intertwined ethnically, historically, culturally, and even, though it may not seem so, linguistically, because in Eastern Polish there are a great number of Lithuanian borrowings. I even take delight in using them. For instance, in the Wilno area, to say that we wanted "to ride on a sled," we used to say wazyniac sie, when vaziuoti in Lithuanian means "to travel, to ride." I use the word dyrwan for a "wasteland," to say that the boys are running or the geese are waddling on a dyrwan. This is simply Lithuanian dirvonas. Rojsty, the title of one of my books, is simply raistai, which means "marshes, bogs." Similarly, in Lithuanian there are many Polish borrowings, and understandably so. All in all, everything compels us to become reconciled, to accept each other, and to make use of Wilno. Wilno in European culture means "so much." And I will remind America that many outstanding Americans, I am thinking here about movie directors, writers, journalists, actors, admit the descent which we can roughly call the tradition of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. …