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National minorities in Vilnius called for help from the USA

500 Participants of the rally protested against the reform destroying the education system of national minorities in Lithuania, elimination of national minority schools, unified examination of the state language and realigning the curriculum of Lithuanian language teaching as of the first grade. People also called for accrediting all secondary schools of national minorities.

Below we present the text of the petition of national minorities:

June 16, 2016

Dear Madam Ambassador Deborah A. McCarthy,

Once again we turn to you as the representative of the United States of America. We have organised a protest campaign next to the Embassy of the United States on March 22, 2016, where we asked you to help us protect the well-functioning education system of national minorities in Vilnius so that all the operative secondary schools of national minorities would be saved. The situation improved a bit after the protest. At least there were discussions launched in the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania. Nevertheless, so far there is no results of positive decisions made on this matter. United States of America is one of the leaders of the North America and European countries common defence organization, aiming at ensuring security and stability of its members, protecting common heritage and civilization in accordance with the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. United States of America is a country inhabited by many famous people protecting human freedom, democratic principles and Christian values. After spending many years in the United States of America, eminent people of our country such as the Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Vilnius Archbishop Gintaras Grušas returned to Lithuania.

Lithuanian membership in NATO is grounded by the provision entrenched in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania – ‘to ensure national security and independence, the welfare of its citizens, and their basic rights and freedoms’. Regrettably, the Lithuanian international prestige is declining. After all, the protection of rights and freedoms of national minorities and persons belonging to them is an integral part of the international protection of human rights.

We, parents and guardians of national minority schools’ students, stand up today in defence of our and our children’s legitimate rights and interests.

The educational reform being carried out nowadays by the ruling coalition of the Vilnius City Municipality discriminates the education of national minorities, clearly worsens the situation of the education of national minorities in the Vilnius city and narrows our children’s rights to education in their mother tongue. Education is the area which must enable national minorities to foster their ethnic identity while learning in minority’s languages is a right guaranteed to the persons belonging to national minorities.

Everyone‘s right to education is inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, i.e. ‘Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. (Art. 26 (2),(3))’.

We are greatly worried about the fate of the national minority schools in Vilnius City which are at risk of liquidation or reorganization. On July 29, 2015, the Council of the Vilnius City has made a decision to reorganize schools from secondary ones into basic ones (Vilnius Konarskio, Vilnius Lazdynų, Vilnius Centro, Vilnius Ateities, Vilnius Saulėtekio, Vilnius Senamiesčio, Vilnius Puškino, Vilnius Karsavino schools). Moreover, classes with the Polish teaching language were liquidated in the Vilnius Jeruzalės School on September 1, 2015. Schools’ communities stood up to protect legitimate students’ expectations and rights to graduate from their secondary school chosen 10 or 11 years ago. Especially since the Seimas has adopted the amendment to the Law on Education and the President has signed that the schools may remain secondary ones until September 1, 2017. Although existing laws do not guarantee absolute right of an individual to require that his desirable educational institution would not be reorganized, restructured or liquidated, the reorganization of an educational institution cannot violate law and individuals rights in the field of education guaranteed by law. Currently, schools’ communities are looking for justice and trials are taking place.

We are sure, that the management of the Vilnius City Municipality restrains the process of accreditation of Vilnius Vladislovo Sirokomlės Secondary School and Vilnius Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School on purpose and does not initiate secondary education programs accreditation, discriminating this way the education of national minorities and trying to weaken the status of secondary schools.

We are certain, that the management of the Vilnius City is deliberately destroying the Vilnius Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School by transferring it from Antakalnis to Žirmūnai quarter. The community of the Vilnius Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School has expressed its dissatisfaction regarding the school transfer to another building and does not agree with the decision of the Vilnius City Council No 1-115 from July 15, 2015 to transfer the headquarters of the schools from its building on Antakalnio Street 33 to the building on Minties Street 3. The above mentioned decision of the Council was made without paying attention to the wishes and expectations of the school community, by ignoring all the arguments of schools council and society. If the unjust and illegal decision is implemented, there will be no national minorities’ schools left in the Antakalnis quarter. Therefore, lots of students (including pupils of basic schools) will have to make longer trips to schools what is not only uncomfortable logistically – longer trips by public transport or on foot, or need to go by public transport instead of walking, but is also connected with a higher risk of accidents on the streets, as part of the students will have to cross additional busy streets.

The approved Vilnius city network plan 2016-2020 foresees further destruction of national minority schools. The Vilnius Centro School shall be restructured with Naujamiesčio school, which is in the Naujamiesčio quarter. This means that there will be no national minority schools left in the Vilnius centre. Senamiesčio school shall be restructured with the Liepkalnio basic school.

There are plans to destroy a well-functioning model of a school-kindergarten. According to the plan, only educational institutions providing pre-school education will be left. There will be no school-kindergarten ‘Berželis’ providing primary education in the Justiniškės quarter. Such reckless and hasty decision will bring great harm to our children. Moreover, it has not been coordinated with the school-kindergarten community at all. It has to be noted, that the nearby S. Kovalevskajos progymnasium in Šeškinė quarter is overfull.

National minorities and multiculturalism is a democratic state value!

To add, land ownership to legitimate land owners has not been restored during the entire period of Lithuanian independence. It mostly affects the residents of the Vilnius region, many of whom are the representatives of national minorities. It is absolutely incomprehensible how the land of our fathers can be given to land invaders. We demand to complete the restoration of the ownership rights to the existing real property and our fathers’ land return in the Vilnius region.
We are forced to organize a public protest again and support the self-established parent committees protecting their and their children‘s legitimate rights and interests in educating children in their mother tongue in national minority schools in 1-12 grades.

We aim to:

preserve a well-functioning educational system of national minorities and preserve 8 Vilnius national minority schools (Sirokomlės School, Lelevelio School, Konarskio School, Lazdynų School, Puškino School, Karsavino School, Centro School, Ateities School) and accredit secondary education programmes of these schools and grant the status of gymnasium;

restore classes with the Polish teaching language in the Vilnius Jeruzalės school, which were liquidated in 2015;

preserve the headquarters of one of the oldest schools Vilnius Lelevelio on Antakalnio street 33 and keep a national minority school with Polish and Russian teaching languages in the Antakalnis quarter;

to achieve the termination of the ownership rights restoration to the existing real property and of our fathers’ land return in the Vilnius region.

We aim that Vilnius as a multinational and multicultural city would preserve national minorities keeping in mind the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms having crucial meaning in stability, democratic security and peace. This way aiming to preserve identity and ensure the coherence of national relations and form global approach to national minorities guaranteeing democratic relations and aiming to make the cultural diversity not as a society splitting factor, but the source of enrichment promoting freedom and democracy, as it is underlined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, lingual and religious identity of people belonging to national minorities, but also create the right conditions to express, preserve and develop such identity.

We ask you to mediate in defending the interests of Lithuanian national minorities.

In the name of participants of the rally against unjust and incorrect educational policy of the Vilnius City Municipality towards national minorities.

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