The present project of the Act on National Minorities is only a warm-up, the real battle will be fought for the draft made by the working group headed by Edward Trusewicz – believe Lithuanian political scientist. Of course, providing that by that time the government coalition would establish a common position.
After a never-ending delay and countless removals from sittings of the Seimas the project of the Act on National Minorities was finally adopted. It is however a Pyrrhic victory, because, among others, the point concerning the bilingual plates was removed. AWPL (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) announced that they will not rest and are going to table amendments to the amendments. Is there any chance of success, especially as most of the Parliamentarians – not only the opposition, but also the representatives of the ruling party – supported the removal of the point about bilingual plates from the draft? Is an Act reflecting the rights of national minorities needed in opinion of the Conservatives?
“An Act which does not settle the issue of using the languages of national minorities and the official language definitely adds nothing to what already exists. It is not in the spirit of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities adopted by the Council of Europe and also the second convention, ratified by many countries, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Both conventions recommend not only using the languages of national minorities together with the official language on public sign boards and bilingual street plates, but also the widest possible use of the national minorities languages in public institutions and places inhabited in substantial numbers by persons belonging to national minorities. The Seimas’ decisions pale in comparison with the system protecting the rights of national minorities, which is in force in Europe” – said the head of the Department of Political Science of the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas Andrzej Pukszto in interview with zw.lt.
The current draft of the Act does not comply with the basic rules and expectations of the traditional national minorities living here. It is only a general support for the functioning of all national minorities in the Lithuanian community. Here all means none. It is a support for minorities constituting only a minor role, for example the Uzbeks, the Georgians or possibly even the Chinese in the future. Thereby the substantially larger diasporas with considerably deep-rooted traditions, with significant historical, economic and spiritual contribution to the development of Lithuania – including the Poles – are neglected” – emphasized columnist Jacek Jan Komar.
A philosopher and culture historian Vytautas Ališauskas believes that an Act on National Minorities is simply not needed.
“In the democratic countries the national minorities have the same civil rights as all other citizens and can exercise the rights. The detailed and specific issues in the given country are regulated by other Acts. Of course, there are always some conflict situations, but this is part of the real life and a separate Act on National Minorities will not solve the matter. The hype is caused because of the will of some political groups which want to present their activity and gain extra benefits” – said Ališauskas.
The lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University, columnist and editor of periodicals on political topics Tomas Janeliūnas stresses that the Act is essential as a reference point regulating the rights of national minorities. He predicts a long process of adopting the legislation.
“The draft of the Act submitted to the Seimas in 2010 will be probably not adopted. The government will submit its own project any way. The yesterday’s reading is only a pretence of political decision-making: Most of the factions want simply to demonstrate their own stances on specific issues. It is obvious that the most important battle will be fought for the government’s draft when it will be discussed at the Seimas. The current project will be probably not accepted, but it could be presented as a process – alleged political activity” – commented Janeliūnas.
However, is there a chance of adopting the Act including all demands important for – not only – Poles in the current situation when the politicians, as stated by the Deputy Speaker of the Seimas Jarosław Niewierowicz, have turned away from the national minorities?
“I believe that names of the settlements should be given in the Lithuanian language, but at the same time I am far from forbidding any citizen from hanging a plate in foreign language on his or her own house. I just do not see a possibility for such a ban. The attempt to establish a belief in the public opinion that bilingual street plates are obligatory is an attempt at labeling the territory as “exceptionally Polish”. We could assume that it is an attempt to create a ghetto, which with time will rebound on the inhabitants, because it limits the worldview, horizons and development” – said Vytautas Ališauskas
Jacek Jan Komar presents a different view.
“The plates should be used simply because of friendly coexistence of citizens belonging to different nationalities. The plates should be used not because of the practical matters, but rather as a sign of respect for the minorities living in the country for almost a century. The basic error in the logic of the Lithuanian Parliamentarians is an attempt at presenting the plates as a practical problem. Thereby it gives us a cause for reflection about the national minorities seen not as co-citizens, but as objects of assimilation” – said the columnist.
“It seems that there are too few voices of reason in the governing coalition and the demands of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania are met with great difficulty or not at all. There is a lack of political willingness in the governing coalition and no common position, especially in the group of Social democrats. It is very sad that the Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius who earlier gave us some hopes and optimistic signs is now withdrawing what he has said, but it is nothing new. All the initiatives of the Prime Minister and the leader of Social Democrats within the last year show ambiguity. On the one hand he stresses that he will observe the coalition agreements, on the other hand he withdraws previous promises under pressure of some politicians. The indecisiveness of the Prime Minister is his best characteristic” – said Andrzej Pukszto.
According to him it reflects the general political atmosphere in the Polish-Lithuanian relation, which remains poor.
Tłumaczenie by Maciej Jóźwiak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Maciej Jóźwiak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.