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1st September – a sad holiday for national minorities

‘Despite the holiday marking the beginning of the school year on 1st September, the mood is not festive due to the increasing problems in the educational system, especially for the national minorities,’ said the parents of national minorities’ schools’ students during the press conference in Seimas. Their views and demands were supported by the representatives of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania.

‘We have organised the press conference on the request of parents,’ said the Chairwoman of the EAPL faction in Seimas, Rita Tamašunienė.

‘The school year is new, however the fears are old. We are grateful for the Electoral Action for attending and supporting our demands. We are concerned about the decisions regarding the schools of minorities. We live in an atmosphere of uncertainty and, even, intimidation,’ said the representative of the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools in Lithuania, Danuta Narbut, and added that parents will not give in to intimidation tactics and will continue to fight for the future of their children. ‘We did not want to organize a strike, but we see no other way to draw the attention of the authorities to pressing issues in the education of national minorities,’ added Danuta Narbut.

‘We greet ever school year with concerns. Educational reform takes too long, decisions in education are being undertaken in a hurry, schools continuously lack money,’ mentioned Edita Tamošiūnaitė, the councillor of the Vilnius Municipality.

The chairman of EAPL, Member of the European Parliament Valdemar Tomaševski, expressed great regrets that the wrong decisions undertaken by the continuously changing government made the teacher’s profession not prestigious at all in our country. ‘EAPL has and will continue to support all forms of protests organized by the parents,’ said the leader of the party.

He also expressed his disapproval in cases when media does not side with those who need help. In this way he addressed the public media, which have been attempting to intimidate the parents, to resign from participating in the ‘strike of empty desks’, which will be held tomorrow, 2nd September. The parents are being intimidated through media that making a child skip school as a form of protest may allegedly result with an administrative penalty.

Rita Tamašunienė urged the parents not to give in to intimidation tactics, explaining that according to legislation skipping one day or even several hours of school does not entail any penalty.

V. Tomaševski said that the authorities, instead of antagonizing different social groups and restricting their rights to organize protests and express dissatisfaction with the ruling, should be addressing the real issues, which include quite a large number of children, who do not attend school at all and the closure of schools in rural areas, what results in teachers leaving those rural areas and eventually liquidation of important centres of cultural and social life in such areas as a result of this.

‘Defend your rights, do not be afraid, as we did not fight for the freedom of Lithuania to now be afraid to express our own opinion,’ appealed V. Tomaševski.

He informed that the EAPL faction in the Lithuanian Parliament submitted a request for restoration of education funding to the pre-crisis levels, however, he added, that request was rejected. ‘The crisis is over now, but the authorities rushed to increase their own salaries. I would like to remind you that the EAPL faction was the only one that voted against such decision, as it undermined other social groups,’ said the leader of the Electoral Action.

The communities of secondary schools of national minorities, which are at risk of being degraded to the primary schools, are organizing a ‘strike of empty desks’ on 2nd September – they will not send their children to schools.

The participants of the general strike demand immediate dismissal of the amendment to Law on Education from 17th March 2011, which discriminates the Polish education in the part concerning the education of minorities; they also demand abolition of the unified examination of the Lithuanian language; restoration of the status of mandatory examination in mother tongue (Polish) to the list of mandatory examinations, provided the examination points from this exam will be included during the application to higher education; they demand cessation of the discriminatory practices, when the prioritized Lithuanian school is maintained at the expense of schools of national minorities; and an increase of 50 percent in so called ‘pupil’s basket’ in the schools of national minorities.

The participants of the strike also invite everyone to attend a Mass at 11:00 on 2nd September at the open window of the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius. It will be a joint prayer for the defence and development of the Polish education in the Vilnius Region.