In March 2011 I submitted a petition concerning the language rights of Poles living in Lithuania to the European Parliament. The document addresses the problematic issue that Lithuania does not observe the language rights of the Polish minority, including the right to the spelling of a name and surname in the native language, the right to the bilingual street signs in the areas inhabited by the large percentage of national minorities, in accordance with the European standards of defence of human rights.
In the submitted document I appealed to the European Parliament to undertake all possible measures in order to guarantee Poles form Lithuania, equal citizens of the European Union, the fundamental rights. I also stressed that the submission of the petition was motivated by the desire to guarantee all European citizens equal rights, including the right to dignity and identity. After half a year of struggle it is high time we thought whether the petition achieved success and what more could be done in that case.
Forum for discussion
In spite of the future of my petition no. 358/2011, which is still the subject of the investigation by the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament, I am satisfied with the fact that the problems of Poles in Lithuania have been presented at the European forum. It is the main purpose of every petition, namely hyping the problematic issue and searching for a proper solution. The petition is a legal measure to attract attention to the problem that is relevant to the petition’s author. We cannot expect that the petition will be decided in a similar way to the judicial verdict or the institution investigating it will make a concrete decision on that issue. From this perspective the petition is a perfect measure to solve complicated cases, create a forum for discussion, and attract attention to the importance of investigating the case by other proper institutions. In this specific case they are institutions responsible for the defence of human rights, especially the governments of Poland and Lithuania.
Protest of the members of the European Parliament
Since its submission the petition has been the subject of an open public debate. On April 24, 2012, the European Parliament held a public debate. The governments of Poland and Lithuania made an unprecedented decision to express their position regarding the opinion of the EU citizens. Moreover, the Lithuanian government provided a lengthy explanation of the situation of national minorities in Lithuania. On the European Parliament’s recommendation, the problem was investigated twice by the European Commission. Unfortunately, this institution evaded its responsibility for defending human rights in Europe. Several members of the European Parliament, not only form Poland and Lithuania, have been actively engaged in the case and as a result the problem has gained a pan-European dimension. The petition is supported also by non-governmental organizations defending human rights and thousands of the EU citizens.
During the last session on December 3, 2012, the Committee on Petitions decided to continue the investigation of the case in spite of the initial proposal to close the investigation of the problems of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The decision was the result of objections raised by a few members of the Parliament who were against the position of the European Commission.
A far-reaching motion
It is very difficult to predict what the members of the Parliament responsible for the petition will decide. However, we should stress the most important elements of the case that are beneficial for the Polish minority in Lithuania. Firstly, no one has ever questioned the examples of the infringement of human rights described in the petition, the actual state of the Polish minority in Lithuania and its assessment as a situation which is against the international obligations imposed on Lithuania regarding the fundamental rights, including the language rights of the national minorities. Secondly, despite the fact that the European Commission shifts its responsibility on the governments of Poland and Lithuania, at the same time we can claim that this European institution expects the national authorities to cooperate in order to defend the respect for the language rights of the Polish minority in Lithuania. It is very far-reaching motion that should remind the Polish and Lithuanian governments that they cannot abandon the path of cooperation and forget about the respect for the rights of the Polish autochthonic minority. In my petition I clearly mentioned the fact that the problem of the Polish minority cannot be solved at the governmental level. The whole situation has a negative effect on the multicultural identity of Europe. Today, after the decision of the European Commission dated October 24, 2012, the governments of Poland and Lithuania must be aware that they are obliged to cooperate in order to guarantee the national minorities their human rights.
Lesson for the authorities
Finally, it is worth noting that the petition attracted attention to the problems of the Lithuanian Poles and the sole fact of its existence in the main institution of the European Union gives more legal and political possibilities to the representatives of the Polish minority and organizations defending human rights. At a certain stage the petition forced the governments of Poland and Lithuania to undertake concrete measures and put an end to fake negotiations. I hope that the national authorities of both countries have noticed that their indolence concerning controversial issues does more harm than good to their citizens. The Lithuanian government was forced to explain its attitude towards the Polish minority, which is a part of the EU as well, before an ordinary citizen. In my opinion we have to follow the direction described in the petition, namely expecting a thorough methodological investigation of the Polish minority’s problems and stressing the duty of respecting human rights by every member country of the EU. The submission and investigation of the petition titled “The language rights of the Polish minority in Lithuania” should be a valuable lesson for the authorities who have to be aware of the political and moral responsibility for their actions. I hope that the longer the European Parliament will be investigating the case, the more people will understand that it is impossible to be a member of the European Union and at the same time question its fundamental rules. Moreover, I strongly believe that once again we discover the sense of the European cooperation based on the common values, not on political alliances and economic calculations.
Tłumaczenie Karolina Rolka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Rolka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.