Introduction

Czesław Miłosz’s life and thought are enclosed by the circle of return.  It was apokatastasis, rendered in poetry and heading for existence. The exile shared the fate of fugitives, emigrants, and  others deprived of their roots, those displaced by the winds of history, thrown into the outside world. The wanderer built his home in his mother tongue and remained true to it. He observed the world around him like Gucio Enchanted, the hero of his favourite children’s book: first, at close quarters, immersed in its small homeland as if in the calyx of the flower, then, from far away, like the world’s traveller encompassing continents, languages, generations and epochs...


Just like many inhabitants of Wilno [LIT: Vilnius], the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the borderlands of the Eastern and Central Europe, he lost his family home swallowed by the “abomination of desolation.” But he had a dream of return. (For poets and wanderers dreams are of utmost importance, they are their workshop). So he attempted to leave the Land of Ulro, the land of disinheritance. He worked out the paradigm of return and persisted in inscribing it in the foundations of the new epoch. He would often repeat the Hegelian formula he learnt in his schooldays: “overcome while returning.” The Returner overcame the Exile, the victory to a large degree assisted by the memory of his childhood and his stubborn refusal to accept the verdicts of History as final. His oeuvre, the product of the fifty years spent in the West, contains a map priceless for those in disagreement with the place marked for them by the historical necessity.  He was given the chance of returning because he lived long enough to see the demise of the ideologies and dictatorships responsible for the barbaric twentieth century. He visited the places used to wander through in his early youth: “I forced my way through a thicket where a park was once, but I did not find the traces of the lanes.” (from Return)

One of the places Czesław Miłosz returns to is Krasnogruda, the pre-war estate of his mother’s relatives, situated near Sejny at the border with Lithuania. Here, in the Krasnogruda Manor, he used to spend his school and university holidays, experienced first emotional dilemmas and wrote poetry. He felt strongly attached to the “place of many contradictory experiences,” the attachment he expressed also in his later writings. No wonder he wished to return here and used the first opportunity that presented itself in 1989.

Here, he met the animators of the Borderland Foundation who also arrived at that time in Sejny to found a centre of multicultural practice, inspired to a large degree by the ideas they found in his books. And they remained in close touch with each other. As long as he felt strong enough he made several journeys to Sejny and Krasnogruda at our invitation. His returns became something more than just trips to the places remembered of his youth. Following him, they found themselves on the line of return. They did their best to participate in his experience and weave it into their own work and from here comes their reverence for the issues of memory and place. They started procedures to recover the Krasnogruda Manor with its park and remains of the buildings, to restore them physically and bring them back to life again. Such was the origin of the idea of the International Dialogue Centre, the place meant to become the workshop of the craft of building bridges between cultures and exploration through education and artistic practice of the ethos of the people of borderland. Czesław Miłosz declared his full endorsement of the idea and agreed to support it with his patronage. Until his last days he intently followed the realization and progress of the venture. Before he passed away, he managed to get acquainted with the manor revitalization plans and the design of the new buildings to be erected there. In his letter to Borderland, he wrote:

It is  very fitting that instead of a manor house in  Krasnogruda there will be a centre of international dialogue, and that Sejny preserve the memory of what they were, then before the World, and even earlier when a superb gymnasium was still here from which graduated Stanisław Kunat and other prominent activists of the post-1831 wave of emigration; when the shtetl of Sejny was a centre of religious thought worthy of mention in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and bishop Baranauskas resided here.

Once we were taught Hegel’s formula: “To overcome while retaining” And I suppose that this is the best way of relating our attempts at drawing closer to the past. Immersed in “now” we ought to try to transpose into, so to speak, new dimension that which was, while being conscious of the fact that we are working for that which is to be and that we are preparing a gift for those who are take our place. I draw an enormous joy from being able to say in my thoughts to those with who I walk around Krasnogruda and Sejny: “You are in good hands; you are not forgotten but present.” It is possible for the “abomination of desolation" to persist, and the fact that it has not is a sign of good will and wisdom.

 


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