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National minoritiesin Lithuaniawill stand for their schools

About two thousand people including students, teachers, and parents arrived on 1st June, on the International Children’s Day, to the square next to the edifice of the Government of Lithuania in order to express their protest against the destruction of national minorities’ education by Lithuanian authorities.

Coordinator of the strike committees Albert Narvoiš stated that the rally is an expression of protest against theartificially created obstacles to the accreditation of schools of national minorities. ‘We demand the preservation of all schools and the assurance that the teaching may be provided in the native language in grades 1-12,’ he said.

Instead of celebrating International Children’s Day with our children we are forced to picketin the defense of schools,’ -said the President of the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools of Šalčininkai District Renata Cytacka. ‘We are here today in order to express our strong dissatisfaction and show our common determination that we disagree with political decisions regarding education. We will see what will be the attitude of the Prime Minister – whether he listens to our legitimate arguments or whether he continues hiding his head in the sand. Or maybe this time he will behave like a statesman, what we heartily wish him. We are protesting against the reform destroying the system of national minority education in Lithuania, against the liquidation of Russian and Polish schools in Lithuania, against a unified examination of the Lithuanian language,’ she said.

Moreover, last Wednesday, on 3rd June, a warning strike was held in the schools of national minorities – children did not go to school. Organizers of the rally expressed their hope that the Lithuanian authorities will make a step towards minorities and there will be no need to organize a general strike in schools at the end of summer/beginning of autumn.

After reading the petition to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania it was delivered to the office of the Government by a 5-person group composed of the representatives of the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools in Lithuania.

‘We, the parents and caretakers of pupils of national minorities’ schools, stand today indefense of the rights and legitimate interests of our own and of our children. The currently carried out educational reform discriminates national minorities’ education, undoubtedly causes deterioration of the situation of national minorities’ education and restricts the rights of our children to receive educationin their mother tongue. Education is an area in which the stateshould create conditions to cultivate the identity of persons belonging to national minorities, while receiving education in the language of a national minority is a right guaranteed to persons belonging to national minorities,’ said the petition, the authors of which cite, among others, the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

‘The model of educational system that functioned until now and included schools where education is provided in national minority languages proved to be right, it fulfilled the expectations of inhabitants. We express our concern over the fate of 17 schools of national minorities operating in Vilnius and in the districts of Vilnius, Šalcininkai and Trakai and threatened with degradation or liquidation as a result of educational reform,’ wrote the authors of the petition, in which they expressed the conviction that the Ministry of Education and Science deliberately hampers the process of accreditation of secondary schools and demanded the preservation of the statute of all 17 endangered schools. They said that the number of students is definitely not the deciding factor in the reform process and recalled the example of the Lithuanian school in Sejny where only 67 pupils are taught in grades 1-12. ‘Meanwhile, in Lithuania schools of national minorities with much larger number of students are threatened with degradation,’ the petition stated.

The following demands were included in the petition:
– accreditation of secondary education programs in all the mentioned schools and the preservation of learning in these schools in grades 1-12;
– development of such criteria of creation of networks of schools providing formal education, which would ensure the preservation of all secondary schools of national minorities;
– annulling the provisions of the Law on Education concerning the education of national minorities during the current spring session of the Seimas;
– resignation from the unified matriculation examination in the Lithuanian language as a mother tongue and the Lithuanian language as the state language;
– including the examination of the mother tongue (Polish, Russian, Belarusian) to the list of mandatory matriculation examinations;
– resignation from the discriminatory principle of maintaining Lithuanian schools at the expense of Polish and Russian schools;
– increasing the student basket in the schools of national minorities for organization of the teaching process to 50%.

A student of the Polish Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School in Vilnius making a speech during the rally told, that his schools is a symbol of Polish ness in the Vilnius Regionand declared determination of the school community in applying for the grant of the gymnasium status for the school.

Vilnius City Councilor Rafael Muksinov said that a nation pressing other nations cannot be free. ‘It is difficult to teach and to learn, but it is even more difficult when you do not know the fate of your school. And the most difficult is when you know that its doom is sealed,’ he stressed.

Kristina Adamovič, a prominent journalist in Lithuania, a graduate of Joachimo Lelevelio Secondary School in Vilnius, during her touching speech stressed that the destruction of the legendary school No. 5 means the destruction of an important part of post-war Vilnius history, because the school let out many prominent figures to the world. It is where the performing group ‘Wilia’ was formed. ‘The school is threatened not for the first time. Once there were plans to make it Russian, to diminish it, and now the problem is in the building of the school, which is needed by a Lithuanian school,’ said K. Adamovič and indicated that EAPL is the only political party in Lithuania which fights for the education of national minorities.

Vilnius City Councilor Romualda Poševeckaja said that Lithuania should be proud of the fact that there Polish, Russian and other schools functioning on its territory. She added, that national minorities are the treasure of the state.

Member of the European Parliament, EAPL Chairman Valdemar Tomaševski said that he was taking part in the rally as a father first of all. ‘We will not agree on harming our children. We can give way in other matters, but not in this. We should not be afraid. We live on our own land. This is no grace of authorities because it is our city. We will defend our schools,’ said V. Tomaševski to the participants of the rally.

A student of Vilnius district Zujūnai Secondary School stated that she came to the rally despite the fact of having an exam the next day. ‘I am here because the future of my school is more important for me,’ she said.

Deputy Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania Jaroslav Narkevič stressed that EAPL is leading lots of discussions and negotiations regarding education, submits draft projects of legislative solutions, but they are rejected due to lack of political will.

Representatives of accredited schools also attended the rally. They wanted to express their solidarity with communities of schools still unsure about their future.

Although certain A.Radčenko insinuated that the rally was attended by approximately 700 people, in fact there were about 2000 participants and this was confirmed by the police officers.

The organizers of the strike said, that if there are no results of the strike, another will follow later. The authorities of the strike need to hear the voice of national minorities as so far they have been deaf to the requests of minorities and blind to their needs.