Deputy-leader of the fraction of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL) that is in the Lithuanian Seym, Wanda Krawczonok, is sure that an act regulating minorities’ rights would help in solving problems of these minorities.
–The government, in its programme, has promised to prepare an Act on national minorities. What is the significance of this act?
–An act on national minorities was valid in our country for twenty years, and it did not bother anyone. I will remind that it was accepted after the bloody events of January 1991. National minorities in an unanimous way supported the aspirations that Lithuania had to independence. Together we have managed to fight for independence and we won. The Act was signed by nobody else but Vytautas Landsbergis himself, who was then the leader of our country. Unfortunately, after 2010 the Act was made invalid by the conservative-liberal majority. The legal act was of exceptional importance. In the time when it was valid there was no such tension between national minorities and the government. The cancellation of the act made it more difficult for minorities to defend the rights that they deserve to have.
–What are the fundamental rights of national minorities that should be guaranteed by a new act?
–First in turn are the rights from the field of culture and education, the right to use languages of national minorities in the public life, to obtain information in these languages. As we know, these rights have been partially limited. Even several years ago Lithuanian Poles and Russians could see a TV news programme in their mother tongue. Now, TV channels do not transmit news programmes in languages of national minorities at all.
I will give another example: several years ago “Valstybės žinios” were transmitted in the national language and in the Russian language. Now the members of the national minorities, especially elderly people, have problems with obtaining information in a language other than the national one.
–Opponents of the act claim that it is not necessary, since its basic elements have been incorporated into other legal acts. Additionally, the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities, which was ratified in 2000, is an integral part of the legal system of Lithuania.
–I will repeat: a special act is necessary, since it would be a basis for the defence of the rights that national minorities deserve to have. After the previous act was cancelled, national minorities do not have this possibility of defence. The mentioned Convention was ratified in 2000 without additional provisions, but its assumptions are not realised in practice. I can even give you a specific example. Article 22 of the Convention says that new legal acts cannot worsen the condition of national minorities. The facts are as follows: the act on national minorities was cancelled and the new version of the Act on education has worsened the condition of the national minorities.
–The project of the act, prepared by the Ministry of Culture has been presented to national minorities. The groups are not satisfied, smaller national minorities are particularly disappointed. What do you think about the project?
–I see it as a starting point for further discussion; however, there are some conditions. For instance about the usage of national minorities’ languages in places where there is a condensation of representatives of these groups. According to the presented project, to be allowed to use the language of a national minority it is necessary for the minority to make up 25% of all the people of a given administrative unit. In our opinion, this condition is too restrictive. The political programme of AWLP includes a 10% or so threshold. Such a limit, for instance, works in the Czech Republic. In some countries the law is even more liberal. In Denmark and Sweden it is enough for a minority to make up 6–8% of inhabitants to get the right to use its language in the public life.
When it comes to smaller groups’ attitude to this matter, I do not exclude the possibility that some of them have a different opinion on it, but most of smaller ethnic groups and the basic groups – Belarusians, Poles, Russians – have accepted the project and they have submitted their proposals.
In the given case we should not talk about ethnic groups but about national minorities, actually. National minorities are autochthonic minorities that have lived in a given country for ages. In Lithuania these are Poles, Belarusians, Russians, Jews, Tatars, Karaim people and others. The regulations of the international law say that new groups that have immigrated recently cannot apply for the same rights that national minorities have as something they deserve. Such groups have immigrated to Lithuania from central Asia and even from places that are further away.
–Will adopting the act end problems of national minorities?
–It would be an unusually important step in the process of solving the national minorities’ problems, and the act would be a legal basis for the defence of rights that they should have. There is no doubt that everything will depend on the practical realisation of the content of the act. I am an optimist, but I should emphasize that in our country legal acts are often not realised.
Tłumaczenie Emilia Zawieracz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Emilia Zawieracz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.