Border: Poland – Lithuania
At present: Lithuania
Lying on the route of the Saint Petersburg–Warsaw Railway, the town of Turmont is the most northeastern bridgehead of Polishness in Lithuania. Cut off from the Vilnius Region, saturated with Poles, with dense forests surrounding dozens of lakes in the Braslav Lakeland. Hidden in the shadow cast by the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant and built for the purposes of serving it, the city of Visaginas, inhabited mostly by Russians, has fallen into oblivion since the facility’s closing in 2009.
“Visaginas is a settlement of a people of engineers who can split and understand the atom, but cannot split and understand human souls,” says Alex Urazov, while sitting in a room full of strange masks, futuristic rifles, cybernetic limbs. This place is the artistic commune “Toczka” created by him in Visaginas, which is to give young visaginians hope for a different life.
Meanwhile, the Poles who had lived in the surrounding villages for centuries merely took note of the rise and fall of the power plant. “In my puppies years, the Republic of Poland was still reaching to over here,” says Florian Szałksztet. “They built the power plant, and now they are closing it, and I am sitting in the same place where I was born in 1927. Nothing has changed. My children and grandchildren speak Lithuanian. I haven’t learnt it because I had neither the opportunity nor the need for it. Almost a century has passed and the world has not noticed me. That is probably why I have lived for so long.”
At the other end of Lithuania, hundreds of pilgrims cross the bridge over the Mereczanka River in the town of Orany. The river divides this region into two opposite worlds. The other one, left behind, inhabited almost exclusively by Lithuanians and the Vilnius region stretching under your feet, inhabited by the Polish minority.
Until the outbreak of the war, this had been the border between the Second Polish Republic and Lithuania. This prayerful and singing procession sets off from Suwałki every year to reach Vilnius after ten days of hiking. The organizer is the Salesian community from Suwałki, but the initiative is participated by pilgrims from all over Poland. They march through glacier fields and forests, covering thirty kilometers a day and approaching the Gate of Dawn, at which they want to pay tribute not only to the Holy Mother, but also to Poles in the Vilnius Region.
At the head of the march, next to the cross and the Virgin Mary, there are two flags - Polish and Lithuanian. “We arrive to Lithuania as guests and they are the hosts. There is plenty of talk about Polish-Lithuanian dialogue, but the pompous words of politicians, visits by officials and international conferences are not enough to build a true reconciliation. The most important thing is to experience a personal encounter. Looking into one another’s eyes and seeing that this Lithuanian or that Pole is the same person as me, even if in our everyday lives we speak different languages,” says Father Tomasz Pełszyk.