Tomasz Snarski: Language Rights of Poles in Lithuania is a matter of fundamental rights

‘You cannot look at this issue in terms of the match: the Poles or the Lithuanians have won. No one wins or loses – we have or have not guaranteed human rights for each unit. As long as they are not guaranteed by a particular act – we all lose’. About his commitment to the protection of human rights and legal opportunities that we have as citizens of the European Union, talks Tomasz Snarski.

In March 2011, Tomasz Snarski, a lawyer from Gdansk, as a citizen of the European Union filed a petition to the European Parliament on the linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania, asking for its action and efforts to ensure the Polish minority in Lithuania observance of language rights, including the right to the spelling of names in their native language, or to the official, bilingual topographic signs.

As a result of the petition, which has been given the number 358/2011,  a public hearing took place in the European Parliament (April 2012), which was attended by representatives of the Lithuanian and Polish governments. In December 2013, the European Parliament Committee on Petitions sent an official letter to the Lithuanian government with a request to respond to the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania in the context of human rights standards in the European Union. So far there is no response from the Lithuanian government, but the petition is still pending as in a case of a the petition procedure the principle of discontinuation of parliamentary work does not apply.

In his interview with Wilnoteka, Tomasz Snarski talks about the dissonance between the general declarations of the EU on the protection of human rights, respect for multiculturalism and tolerance and specific actions of the European Union. The lawyer believes that ongoing and substantive actions for broadly understood human rights are crucial. Any initiative that teaches respect for the dignity and identity of the individual is especially needed in Europe, as we are experiencing a crisis of values.

According to Snarski the rights and the values that we want to live are not given once and for all. We constantly have to fight for them, giving up prejudices and stereotypes and use the substantive arguments and available legal means. This is not a fight against anyone, but to guarantee the rights of freedom of the individual. The European Union gives some opportunities that we just have to learn how to use.

 Petition presented the problem of language rights of Poles in Lithuania at the European level. In this way, not only the European Parliament, but also many people learned about the situation of Poles in Lithuania. What’s more – thanks to the petition, many people have realized the rights that they have as citizens of the EU.

As it turns out, the problem of the protection of language rights of Poles in Lithuania is often not understood by  countrymen in Poland.

According to the lawyer the issue of respect for the rights of national minorities in Lithuania is also important for the sake of Lithuania, which supports human rights or not, specifies whether it wants to be a country of law maintaining European standards, or only to draw economic benefits from the EU membership.

On the occasion of the European Lawyer’s Day, celebrated for the first time on December 10th, 2014, along with the occasion of the International Day of Human Rights, the Law Library of the University of Gdańsk and the Pomeranian Gdansk Bar Association organized an exhibition called “Human Rights in the European Union – the story of a petition to the European Parliament on the language rights of Poles in Lithuania” (http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/historia-petycji-do-parlamentu-europejskiego-w-sprawie-praw-jezykowych-polakow-na-litwie). The idea behind the project is to provide a specific example using a petition to the European Parliament on discrimination against the Polish minority in Lithuania as a positive involvement of a lawyer for the protection of fundamental rights in the European Union. At the exhibition you can see the original documents from the work of the European Parliament, the materials from the private archive of the petitioner, photographs, letters, newspaper articles, various scientific publications on human rights in the EU. You can also read the content of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and unpublished documents devoted to the protection of language rights of Poles in Lithuania.

Based on: personal information

Photos: Jan Wierbel

Film editing: Bartosz Frątczak

Co-operation: Edyta Maksymowicz

The interview with Tomasz Snarski ( in Polish) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBAzsPdltUI

                                                                                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIURHzAQYHg

                                                                                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX2mcWoKtgY

                                                                                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHKXOjf0qeg

                                                                                             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4AP3mEjW78

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/tresc/tomasz-snarski-prawa-jezykowe-polakow-na-litwie-kwestia-praw-fundamentalnych

Tłumaczenie by Alicja Kępińska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Alicja Kępińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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