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Strike in Lithuania

Parents and students of schools with the Polish teaching language in Lithuania announce a general strike.

We regret to inform you that the situation of Polish education in Lithuania is rapidly deteriorating.

As of 2nd September parents and students of schools with Polish medium of instruction in Lithuania announce a general strike.

This decision was preceded by the following facts:

• In 2011, despite the protests of the Polish community in Lithuania, the amendments to the Law on Education have been adopted, which significantly worsened the teaching conditions in schools of national minorities.

• 60,000 signatures have been collected from those protesting against the amendments to the Law. The signatures were submitted to the Seimas, the Government and the Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania. This has been completely ignored by all of the authorities.

• The strike of the Polish schools in Lithuania was declared on 2nd September 2011.

• On 4th September 2011, the PM of Poland at the time, Donald Tusk, visited Vilnius. The strike has been suspended. With the Lithuanian Government’s agreement it was agreed to create an intergovernmental panel of experts to examine the effects of the adopted legislation and develop recommendations on the matter.

• In November 2011, after five meetings, the Polish-Lithuanian team of experts abandoned their work without reaching any agreements. Even the matter of communication within the group was left unattended. The communication from the Lithuanian side indicated that the Lithuanian authorities do not intend to change anything.

• In December 2011, the Ministry of Education and Science of Lithuania created a ministerial team to discuss questions related to the Law on Education. The team’s work bared no results, as a single thought about amendments to the Law on Education was imminently discarded.

• In 2012, the elections to the Seimas were held, which for the previous coalition of Conservatives and Liberals resulted in a loss. Social Democrats and the Labour Party won the elections. The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania achieved great success: for the first time it exceeded the threshold of 5 percent and with eight deputies it formed a faction, which joined the ruling coalition.

• The ruling coalition’s programme, which was adopted by the Lithuanian Seimas and constituted a legislative act, contained provisions on failed experiments with the Law on Education, which triggered a sense of discrimination among the Polish community. The programme included a commitment to correct the school reform, including the formed and successfully functioning system of education of national minorities and the commitment to make changes to the network of schools for national minorities by taking into account the interests of the community of schools.

• For three years, despite many promises of the Government (both in Lithuania, as well as in international discussions) to take into consideration the demands of the Polish community in Lithuania, no further steps were made towards resolving this matter. Despite the promises, the inclusion of a record on the status of national minority schools in the Law on Education was not even discussed.

• Because of the election promises being notoriously broken, especially in terms of needs of national minorities, EAPL quit the coalition in August 2014.

• When it became clear that, as a result of an alliance between all sides on Lithuanian political arena, the schools for national minorities will not succeed in achieving a distinctive status, the schools for national minorities started working towards the creation of new curricula in order to obtain the status of the so-called ‘long high school’, which, according to the Law on Education, made it feasible to teach from grade 1 through 12 inclusive.

• The Ministry of Education and Science delayed decisions regarding the recognition of schools for national minorities as ‘long high schools’, but it did not report any substantive objections to complex programs either.

• On 1st March 2015 Lithuania held municipal elections. Coalition of Liberals and Conservatives was established in Vilnius. EAPL did not form the ruling coalition. Educational issues were forwarded to be the Conservative party’s responsibility.

• Deputy Mayor of Vilnius, responsible for education, declared that ‘during the first meeting of the municipal government we will not be closing Polish schools’.

• During the next meeting, the draft resolutions, under which the schools for national minorities are downgraded to primary schools, were already introduced.

• Several schools with the Lithuanian teaching language, after the visit of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Lithuania, coupled with a personal request of formal PM of Lithuania A. Kubilius, obtained the status of ‘long high school’. Despite the similar turn of events in Polish schools, they did not receive this status.

• At subsequent municipal meetings relating to Polish schools, the drafts about not forming senior classes (11-12) were presented.

• Rallies were organized in Vilnius, and on 3rd June – a one-day warning strike.

• The police entered the Polish schools to carry out an investigation on parents, whose children took part in the strike. After the protests police withdraws from persecution of parents, children and teachers.

• On 30th June, the Lithuanian Seimas postponed the deadline for the reorganization of schools until 1st September 2017.

• Deputy Mayor of Vilnius conservative V. Benkunskas declared that the decisions of Seimas will not be respected in Vilnius, and the schools will be downgraded during this school year.

• On 8th July the Deputy Mayor of Vilnius offered to keep the status of the Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School, provided they leave their building, the renovation and insulation funded by Polish Community and the school community, and move to a building that requires renovation. The school will not keep their status unless they agree. The school community strongly rejects such a bargain and blackmail.

• On 15th July, the Council of Vilnius adopted resolutions to downgrade the Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School and move it from its current headquarters to the building, which requires renovation. Nonetheless, certain rules and provisions of the Law on Education have been violated, which state that decisions on reorganization can be made no later than 4 months before the start of the school year, meaning no later than on 1st May, and only with the consent of the Council of Schools.

• On 29th July the municipal government adopted resolutions to downgrade another 10 schools of national minorities from secondary to primary schools. Once again the provisions of the Law on Education have been violated.

• The communities of schools did not agree with violation of laws. The parents reported the case to the administrative court. Administrative court suspended the municipal government’s unlawful resolutions in order to protect the rights of children until trial.

• On 20th August, after the court ruling, the administrations of schools were invited to the meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Vilnius V. Benkunskas to discuss the future school year. Representatives of the Council of Schools also attended the meeting, as according to the Law on Education, they are the chief governing body of the school. The Deputy Mayor ordered the representatives of the Council to leave the meeting room. The parents declared that they want to be present at the meeting between the Deputy Mayor and the administrations of schools and to know what were the municipal government’s plans in relation to schools. In turn, the Deputy Mayor declared that because of that, the meeting would not take place and locked himself in his office.
• The representatives of schools produced a statement condemning the reluctance of local authorities to have a dialogue with the communities of schools.

• The trial of the municipal resolutions is scheduled for 5th October 2015.

• On 24th August, V. Benkunskas stated that he respects the ruling of the courts and that his government would not oppose the formation of 11-12 classes in this school year. Schools form the senior classes, and the children bring back their applications to the schools.

• The Vilnius municipal government appealed the court decision on suspension of the municipal government’s resolutions.

• At 16:30 on 31st August, the representatives of the municipal government informed the schools about the decision of the higher court, under which the municipal government’s resolution to downgrade schools was left in force, and required that schools informed their students not to attend the school on 1st September. The parents and the communities of schools did not have the opportunity to appeal against court ruling.

• On 1st September the school year has started and our children do not have any information as to which school they have to go to and what the school year will bring. The situation in senior classes is particularly complicated, and it has disrupted the educational process from the very beginning of the year.

Therefore, due to discriminatory government policy towards schools of national minorities, due to violation of the laws of the Republic of Lithuania by the authorities, as well as due to the violation of their international obligations by the authorities of the Republic of Lithuania, parents have no other choice but to fiercely protest against injustice and discrimination.

On 2nd September the general strike of Polish schools on Lithuania began.

Mirosław Szejbak