Lithuanian politicians use the Polish issue as a bargaining chip in the election campaign

During Sunday’s debate, the leaders of four parties leading in the polls admitted that relations with Poland and Polish minority in Lithuania are bad.

However, the leader of the fifth party, one of the ‘leading’ ones as well – the chairman of the conservatives and Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius – argued that Lithuania and Poland are still in a friendly relationship, and that his party, as the first and the only one, has started to implement the demands of the Polish minority.

‘Bad relations with Poland are just a myth. The reality is different, and my personal relationship with Prime Minister Tusk is factual and warm’, said Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, the head of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats. He also emphasized that his conservative party, as the first one, presented the draft of the law on the spelling of Polish names to the Parliament.

He also blamed the opposition for the lack of support for this project; then, he met with counter accusation from his opponents, that the project of spelling of names wasn’t supported primarily by members of Prime Minister’s party, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Audronius Ažubalis, who participated in the discussion. He excused himself saying that he wasn’t against the project, but he just abstained from voting. Nevertheless, the government’s plan for the regulation of spelling of names in favour of the Polish minority was lost in the Parliament at that time. What’s more, it happened during President Lech Kaczyński’s visit to Lithuania – the last foreign one, as we were to found out later.

Meanwhile, Ažubalis believes that minorities don’t need to be hostage to foreign policy. He explained also that there’s no point in paying attention to the allegations of violating the rights of the Polish minority in Lithuania, because in his opinion they’re unfounded.

‘It was proved by this year’s report of Freedom House that clearly states that the rights of national minorities in Lithuania are well defended’, the head of the Lithuanian Department of Diplomacy emphasized.

Even his coalition partners from the Liberal Movement didn’t agree with him, though they defended their decision on equation of matriculation exams for schools of national minorities.

‘Spelling of names is a first-class case that we need to solve’, said the Minister of Education and Science, Gintaras Steponavičius, vice president of the Liberal Movement. Meanwhile, the Educational Act strengthens the Lithuanian language teaching in minority schools and – according to the minister – it was adopted in the interest of the Polish minority.

On the other hand, the president of the oppositional party of Social Democrats, Algirdas Butkevičius, claims that the Educational Act was adopted against the will of the Polish minority not only because it’s discriminatory, but also because it ultimately worsened relations with Poland.

‘The Educational Act made our relationship deteriorate. It’s why we have to sit together again and sign a new agreement’, proposes Algirdas Butkevičius.

‘The problem of education applies to both parties, so if we want to reform education, we have to talk with those who are likely to be affected by it’, said Juozas Bernatonis from the Social Democrats party. He also expressed his belief that the situation in the education of national minorities will change for the better after elections.

The leaders of two other oppositional parties – the Labour Party and the Order and Justice – believe that the problems of the Polish minority in Lithuania are a soap bubble. However, if they require changes, then these changes should be discussed with the minority itself, not with Warsaw.

‘The problem with the law is exaggerated. They (the Lithuanian Poles – ed.) must be satisfied with it. And Mr. Sikorski should rather not interfere in our internal affairs, because we need to solve these problems in cooperation with the Polish minority in Lithuania, not with the government in Warsaw’, claims Mazuronis.

‘We need to talk and operate in accordance with accepted international obligations. Inside the country we have to talk more as well to avoid unnecessary discussions, because the problem of national minorities is artificially blown out of proportion’, says the leader of the Labour Party, MEP Viktor Uspaskich. According to him, the state shouldn’t impose its solutions in the education system, but it must provide a variety of choices.

‘Let everyone choose what they like’, said Uspaskich.

Meanwhile, his deputy, Vydas Gedvilas, was not as tolerant; he believes that the Lithuanian language should be used exclusively in Lithuania. ‘As for the names of streets and other matters, we live in Lithuania and the Lithuanian language is obligatory here’, he said.


Tłumaczenie Ewelina Zarembska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights,

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