|Unresolved Problems of Polish community in Lithuania as a Menace to the Existence of Poles|
The Polish community in Lithuania has been struggling against various problems for many years which despite the promises of the authorities in Vilnius are not resolved. What is worse, after Lithuania's accession to the European Union some of the standards concerning the rights of national minorities in Lithuania were not only not improved, but even a regress was marked in complying with them. The situation in which the Polish community has found itself after 5 years of Lithuania‘s presence in the EU, namely the questions concerning education, public use of the Polish language in the territories where compact concentration of Poles is observed in the Vilnius district, worsening election standards or longstanding problems of estate restitution (especially land restitution) raises serious concerns about the existense of Polish minority as a community.
In the field of education the greatest threat to the Polish schools is posed by the decision No 257 of March 2008 by the government which refers to the criteria of the formation of classes. The decision of the government wants to equalize the requirements for the formation of classes in national minorities’ schools and in Lithuanian schools. The same criteria in the formation of classes seem to be discriminating the schools of national minorities, as the minorities are not able to match the numerical requirements posed to the dominating Lithuanian majority in the state for the objective reasons. Overstated numerical requirements for the formation of classes put in danger more than a half of rural schools with the Polish teaching language.
Too low pupil‘s basket and the double subordination of Polish and Lithuanian schools in the Vilnius region are another examples of a threat to the Polish education in Lithuania. The over-financing coefficient of pupil‘s basket for schools of national minorities is only 15 percent in relation to Lithuanian schools (when the real needs for additional funding for Polish schools are estimated by the Polish Educational Society to amount to 30-40 percent). Lots of schools with Lithuanian teaching language in the Vilnius district are exclusively subordinated not only to municipalities but directly to government units what makes them being treated as privileged by the state.
The Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania has been making inroads on the Polish language status in Polish schools in the Vilnius district. This way without any logical argument the final examination of the Polish language has been eliminated, still the efforts to replace the teaching of particular subjects in Polish language with the Lithuanian language are being made.
The Polish language is also systematically eliminated by the central authorities from the public use even in the localities and communes of Vilnius district where Poles constitute obvious majority. Contrary to the Council‘s of Europe Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities which was signed and ratified by Lithuania with no exeptions, as well as contrary to the domestic law on national minorities (the Article 4 of which states that ‘in the local offices and organizations of territorial administering units where compact concentrations of representatives of any national minority exist, the language of such minority (local language) can be used alongside the state language‘. Moreover, the Article 5 of the law states that ‘in the administrative-territorial units where compact concentrations of representatives of any national minority exist the language of such minority (local language) can be used alongside the state language in informative superscriptions’. Today the authorities of Lithuania try to demand from the local governments of Vilnius and Šalčininkai districts to remove the dual (in Polish and Lithuanian) street name plates by adopting legal and administrative pressure. The authorities of the mentioned municipalities guarding national minorities‘ rights are harassed in this field by the government representative by courts which impose fines for using dual street name plates.
The issue of the original spelling of the names and surnames of Lithuanian Poles has not been solved for 15 years despite numerous promises of the Lithuanian authorities. Although this issue is symbolic, it is however showing the attitude of Lithuanian political elite towards the citizens belonging to national minorities. The Constitutional Court of Lithuania recently pronounced a judgement claiming that the surnames in ones’ identification cards should be written using Lithuanian characters and diacritics, whereas original names and surnames using original characters of the citizens of not Lithuanian nationality could be put down as the supporting inscription in the place where the data concerning the place of residence or blood group of a citizen is recorded.
In Lithuania, since the dawn of her independence a law on estate restitution, robbed by the Soviet regime, for citizens exists. Following the law, thousands of Poles from Vilnius and Vilnius district requested for the land restitution, which before the last world war was the property of their ancestors. Unfortunately, after 20 years of the process of restitution the procedure has practically stopped (it should be mentioned that for the Lithuania‘s citizens of Polish nationality mostly) mere in Vilnius and in the neighbourghoods. While land was returned to its former owners for almost 100 percent of claimants all across the country, in some communes near Vilnius only about 30 percent of land was returned and only 17 percent in Vilnius. The worst results of the process of reprivatisation in the capital and its regions were influenced by both politics of the state authorities (who wanted to ‚transfer‘ as much as possible land from distant parts of the country to the territories near Vilnius under the guise of reprivatisation and this way dilute compact concentrations of Lithuanian Poles) and all embracing corruption in the process, the effect of which hundreds or even thousands unlawful behaviour cases of officials in relation to former legal owners are observed.
The elections in Lithuania simply confirm the sad fact that authorities just want to weaken the power of Polish votes at most. In order to do this the threshold of 5 percent was introduced for the political organizations of national minorities as well during the election to the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania in the middle of 90s.
This barrier is too difficult to overcome for the Polish community that makes 7 percent of all the Lithuania‘s inhabitants. Moreover, single-mandate constituencies (the Lithuanian parliament is elected partially from national rolls and partially from single-mandate constituencies) in the Vilnius district were structured that way thus any constituency (except Vilnius-Šalčininkai district) would not be inhabitet by Poles mostly. Meanwhile, if the requirements of the Framework Convention , which prohibit distracting compact concentrations of national minorities in the constituencies formations would be applied, the Polish national minority in Lithuania which amounts to 240 thousand of people would have even 4 or 5 constituencies with the majority of Poles.
The restriction of election rights as well as the obstruction of election campaign of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (EAPL) (e.g. by not allowing to use the Polish language during the election campaign) caused the number of the members of Polish nationality of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania to decrease from 10 to 3 members in comparison with the begining of 90s. Such deacrese in the number of Polish members (although in the coming elections the support for EAPL continues to rise from 2 to 4.8 percent in the mentioned period) severely hampers the defense of political rights of the Polish community in Lithuania.