|About the situation of national minorities in Lithuania|
On 17th March 2012 an immense manifestation of Lithuanian citizens belonging to national minorities took place in Vilnius. The manifestation has been organized by the Parents’ Strike Committees of Polish Schools in Lithuania, which were also supported by educational and social organizations of the Russian and Belorussian minorities and by the national trade union of Lithuanian pedagogues.
A lot of comments regarding the above mentioned manifestation appeared in the public space of our country. But those comments do not always reflect the real state of affairs. As many opinions, especially the ones of politicians, could mislead the public opinion in Lithuania, we decided to spread a short note explaining the actual reason of the protests of Lithuanian national minorities to all the diplomatic establishments of the European Union accredited in Lithuania.
The Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania has adopted a new edition of the Law on Education on 17th March 2011. The new edition includes a list of records, which radically change the previous (valid for ages) Polish education system in Lithuania. Just before adopting the new law, representatives of Polish and also Russian communities appealed to the authorities not to undertake arbitrarily statutory solutions, which would threaten the education of national minorities in Lithuania. More than 60 thousand signatures of the citizens of Lithuania were presented to the Seimas. The signatures urged politicians not to make unilateral legislative decisions which were not agreed-upon with concerned national minorities. Unfortunately, all the appeals were ignored by the ruling coalition in Lithuania and the Seimas adopted the Law on Education, which, inter alia, assumes:
- that in the areas where a school of a national minority and a school with the state teaching language are located near to each other and neither fulfils the requirement concerning the number of pupils attending, a local government has an obligation to preserve only the school with the state teaching language. According to the representatives of national minorities, this is a discriminatory record which aims at maintaining schools with the state teaching language at national minorities’ schools’ expense;
- that despite radical differences in curriculum and in the amount of teaching hours of the state language in national minorities’ schools, the maturity examination of the state language will be unified in national minorities’ schools and in schools with the state teaching language in two years’ time. We claim that this is a lawful record which puts graduates of national minorities’ schools and graduates of the schools with the state teaching language in an unequal position. This is a political decision of the Members of the Seimas, which appears to be contrary to the Law on Equal Opportunities and may have a negative impact on the fate of graduates of national minorities’ schools if they are not able to enter universities due to their worse results of the state language.
- that part of the subjects (history of Lithuania, geography, social science) taught in the schools of national minorities will be lectured in the state language. We believe that such decision destroys the previous education system in national minorities’ schools. It will not serve to improve the level of teaching of the state language in national minorities’ schools; on the contrary it may influence the worsening teaching of particular subjects in the above mentioned schools. Indeed, we consider that during history or geography lessons one has to provide as accurately as possible the information on these subjects, not to teach the state language. In turn, pupils should learn the state language during the lessons purposed for learning the language, the amount of which should be increased in the schools of national minorities. We are also open to the introduction of additional curricula on Lithuanian studies in such way that they would reflect the specification of teaching the state language in national minorities’ schools.
During the event, the participants of the protest of 17th March expressed their objection to the cancelation of the Law on National Minorities by the Seimas; the Law of which the authorities of our country were boasting for European institutions before becoming a Member State of the European Union. As a result of cancellation of the above mentioned law, Lithuanian authorities have disavowed the previously guaranteed to national minorities’ right to public use of their mother tongue as an auxiliary language beside the state Lithuanian language in the areas of dense clusters of these national minorities. Nowadays, the directions of local governments are fined by Lithuanian authorities for using bilingual street names’ plates in the areas densely inhabited by Polish community (this concerns even the areas where Poles make up 80% of the population). Traders are also fined for using the Polish language in information signs, e.g. shop names or bus itineraries.
Also political rights of national minorities are being restricted in Lithuania. In 1996 concessions for national minorities’ organizations were annulled and an electoral threshold of 5 percent was introduced in parliamentary elections. Moreover, single-seat constituencies densely inhabited by Polish minority were artificially linked to the areas dominated by Lithuanians. That way Polish national minority is not able to elect its representative to the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania in many constituencies.
Even such a symbolic issue as the original spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames in Latin font, for what Polish community has been fighting for years, has not been resolved by Lithuanian authorities yet despite numerous promises made by successive governments of our country.
When speaking about the process of returning land collectivized by communist authorities to the previous owners in our country, the citizens of Lithuania belonging to the Polish minority are the most aggrieved. Many people still did not manage to restore their land in Vilnius (only about 20% of previous owners have restored their land in Vilnius, what makes it by far the worst rate in Lithuania) or its regions, where, as it is estimated, only about half of rightful local (predominantly Polish) owners managed to restore their land At a time when the return of land around Vilnius to its rightful owners was intentionally impeded by governmental institutions’ officials, claimants from other parts of the country have been transferring their allotments to and around the city. As a result, there will be paradoxically not enough land to many of its local previous owners. It is hard not to notice herein a deliberate policy of a current ruling coalition which wants to dispel dense clusters of Polish minority and weaken its financial potential this way.
Councilor of the Municipality of Vilnius