“My running in the election for the position of Vilnius Mayor is necessary for the realization of the idea of a broad alliance between ethnic minorities. People identify me with this movement, I am one of its leaders. I have been selected as the candidate for the position of Mayor of the capital. It was a reasonable choice. Some 20% of the population of the entire country resides in Vilnius, and the capital generates 60% of the GDP. This means that we fight for 20% of our country and 60% of our economy,” – answered mayoral candidate, the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL) and member of the European Parliament Waldemar Tomaszewski, when asked about his reason for running and the de facto status of the fourth most important person in the country. The discussion took place on the 30th of January in the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius as part of the Polish Debate Club.
Tomaszewski assured the guests that in the event of his gaining the position of Vilnius Mayor he would immediately relinquish his position as a Member of the European Parliament. “There is a lot to be done, so it is worth fighting for,” he said.
“I don’t represent strictly the AWPL, one of the most popular parties in Lithuania which gained 5th or 6th positions three times in a row in the last elections. I represent the whole minority movement in Lithuania, as well as the Lithuanian communities. After all, Lithuanians also run in the elections as the representatives of our party,” said W. Tomaszewski, who recalled the beginning of the political cooperation of the united ethnic communities initiated by AWPL. The cooperation was successful; by 1995 it had already led to gaining 11 seats in the parliament. “It was the first broad alliance of the ethnic minorities. It scared our opponents. It was the reason that the 5% electoral threshold was implemented in in 1996. Attempts were made to destroy our community, but in 2011 we repeated our success and gained 11 seats in the parliament for the second time,” – he added. W. Tomaszewski underlined that ethnic minorities have formed yet another broad alliance for the upcoming elections.
“Due to cheaper labour costs in Third World countries the development of heavy engineering in our country is unlikely. Vilnius, on the other hand, has great potential for generating GDP by implementing new technologies, developing big computer companies, and establishing logistics centres. The employees of this industry still earn competitive salaries in Vilnius,” Tomaszewski responded, when asked by the debate host Andrzej Pukszta, the head of the department of Political Science of the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, how to industrialize Vilnius.
The host also asked what city could be a role model for the future development of Vilnius. Tomaszewski answered that he is not a prolific traveller and that he spends approximately just 70 days a year abroad. “There are many more problems here. But I don’t neglect my parliamentary duties as a Member of the European Parliament. I have a good performance indicator, and I take part in the plenary sessions and other meetings. Vilnius will always be the most beautiful city for me. I am not going to criticize current authorities, because the capital is fairly well looked-after, but it could always be better,” he said. He added that some measures implemented in Strasbourg could benefit Vilnius, i.e. establishing tram lines, which are ecological and don’t lead to the creation of traffic jams. He additionally claimed that the waste management system of Strasbourg is worth replicating. Moreover, the discrepancy between the city centre and the city outskirts are so huge that, according to Tomaszewski, “It has to be changed”.
Pukszta asked him to name three people whose statues he would commission as the newly elected mayor of Vilnius. Tomaszewski joked that he certainly would not follow the example of the President of Turkmenistan Separmurad Nijazow, who put up statues of himself all across the country. “I would definitely not erect a statue of myself,” said the AWPL leader. He added that he would ask the citizens for opinions concerning the matter in order not to “divide society”.
Another question concerned Tomaszewski’s favorite writers linked with Vilnius. Tomaszewski mentioned J.I. Kraszewski. He also mentioned other local authors: W. Syrkomla and Cz. Milosz. His favourite poets are A. Mickiewicz and J. Słowacki.
Tomaszewski was also asked about the future of the development of culture in Vilnius, including Polish culture. He answered that the most important thing is the development of houses, cultural centers, and to employ specialists. He underlined that in comparison with other regions of the country, the capital’s expenditure on culture is one of the smallest in the country. The mayoral candidate said that in the local governments ruled by AWPL the sums spent in the culture sector are one of the biggest in the country, and that in the last 15 years the number of specialists employed in the sector has doubled. The AWPL leader highlighted that it is very difficult to increase expenditure on minority cultures, especially Polish. “During the last few years we have managed to create workplaces for two Polish theatres in Vilnius and the Polish Folk Song and Dance Ensemble “Wilia”. We will continue this work,” Tomaszewski promised.
Gorecki Markiewicz asked why AWPL did not choose Jarosław Niewierowicz as the candidate for the position of mayor, especially as he might have been supported by Lithuanians. Tomaszewski answered that AWPL candidates don’t gain their popularity through the media, but through their successful actions to support the Association of Poles in Lithuania and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. That was the reason for J. Niewierowicz not being taken into consideration as the AWPL’s candidate for Vilnius mayor. He added that a survey conducted by opposition parties in October 2014 showed that Jarosław Kamiński gained more votes than J. Niewierowicz. “This example once again proves the idea that AWPL voters prefer to cast their votes on those who actively participate in AWPL’s actions and are identified with the Polish party,” answered the AWPL’s leader.
The supporters of the Liberals asked about putting the candidates on the AWPL and coalition tickets, including Russians. AWPL’s leader said that there were many volunteers this year and that is why there weren’t 15 candidates for the capital. “Those whose names are on our ticket are distinguished. But the number on the ticket is not a decisive factor in the elections. In this case ranking constitutes a decisive factor. Every voter can choose up to five candidates,” Tomaszewski explained. He recalled previous elections during which people from lower positions on the ticket significantly defeated the higher-position candidates. “We placed the younger politicians on the higher positions which proves that we are a progressive party,” said Tomaszewski. He added that candidates were of 10 different nationalities. AWPL put forward 85 candidates for the upcoming elections, while the Russian Alliance will be represented by 32 candidates, with the maximum number of candidates on the ticket being 102.
Vilniaus r. Nemenčinės Konstanto Parčevskio gimnazija (Gimnazjum im. Konstantego Parczewskiego z Niemenczyna) graduate Łukasz Mikielewicz said that teachers frequently asked him to sign documents, and when he asked why he is supposed to sign anything he got the response that otherwise the teacher’s contract could be terminated. When he asked: “What will you say about that?” the audience became agitated and people shouted “Absurd!”. Tomaszewski could only agree that, indeed, it was “absurd”.
Chairperson of the Polish Debate Club Artur Zapolski asked Tomaszewski to comment upon AWPL’s motto “United we stand”. Tomaszewski said that the slogan refers to the unity and mutual interests of the ethnic communities in Lithuania, unity to uphold honesty, and unity to make decisions on important matters. “Polish, Russian and Belarusian schools should prevail. In order to achieve this goal we must be united. There have been many attempts to disrupt our united community, and that is why we must be united. It is also important to create unity based on clear principles of honest work and honest activity. That is the kind of people we want to bind together,” he said. He added that consolidation comes along with cooperation with other political parties. “We don’t just talk about cooperation, we truly cooperate with other parties and we are a desirable partner for cooperation,” said AWPL’s leader.
There was an arrogant question concerning the need for back-room negotiations on the part of the AWPL in the parliament, and general criticism of AWPL’s actions. W. Tomaszewski answered that AWPL’s MPs have achieved a lot, worked hard and been honest. “We realize that 8 MPs won’t outvote a parliament constituting 141 members,” he said. Tomaszewski also took the criticism and the manner of the question as misplaced. He also told an anecdote: “On the taiga wasteland the geologist’s car has stuck. He fruitlessly tried to move it for 12 hours. Then Chukchi came to him and said: “Give me 100 roubles and I shall tell you what has to be done”. The tired geologist quickly gave him 100 roubles, half of his wages, and heard Chukchi’s advice: “You know what, Mr geologist. You have to call an excavator.”
Discussion participant Aleksandr Fiodorow made a reference to an unpleasant event that recently happened to his daughter, Irina Rozowa, an AWPL’s MP. Anti-Russian slogans were written on her house. These included: “Russian, go home”. Mr Fiodorow said: “But we are at home. I have been living in Vilnius, in Vilkpėdė, near Zakret (Vingis), my whole life. Can you comment upon it?”. “You used the beautiful original name of Zakret, today’s Vingis (park in Vilnius), a name that is rarely used today, which shows that you are indeed a true citizen of Vilnius. On that day, AWPL issued a statement, which condemned the attack on the Member of the Parliament and her family, simultaneously appealing to the Lithuanian authorities to take immediate measures against the spread of hatred towards ethnic minorities. Such phenomena always has its source – for instance, the media. This tendency has to be stopped. It is always convenient to attract public attention to Poles and Russians. The courts and the authorities don’t condemn such acts of hatred – that is why we should be united in order to change it,” – said W.Tomaszewski. He added that “Lithuania should be more European”.
Zbigniew Samko asked the guest about his opinion concerning discrepancies between the costs of private and public kindergartens and the lack of space for around 700 children in the public kindergartens. “AWPL’s representatives in the local government of Vilnius are responsible for the departments of culture and education. Great progress has been made concerning the lack of space for kindergartners. During this term our representatives managed to deal with 95% of the problem, and during the next year there will be no lines. The solution to our problems is to be found in the neighbouring local governments – for instance, Vilnius district – which will build new kindergartens and establish kindergarten groups in schools. The latter solution is even more rational because the number of pupils decreases, rooms are free and yet they need to be warmed and maintained.” He added that the discrepancy between the costs of the kindergartens should not be that high. He explained that in the Vilnius district the kindergarten fees are half the price in comparison to those of the capital. “The situation should be similar in the capital because many families cannot afford kindergarten fees,” he said.
“We are said to be the citizens of a democratic country, yet when it comes to Polish affairs – schools, land restitution – both wings, left and right, unite against us. The Polish-Lithuanian treaty does not work. When you tell the truth about the situation of Poles in Lithuania in the European Parliament you are persecuted. The same goes to Renata Cytacka. How can we defend our rights then?” – asked the candidate for the position of Vilnius town councillor Edmund Szot. “It cannot be done without unity. We have been consolidated, we strengthened ourselves, we managed to oppose these tendencies. Some parties are concerned about our growing strength. We managed to reach the electoral threshold, to establish our own faction in the parliament. We achieved a lot,” said Tomaszewski. He also complained about the Social Democrats (the ruling party) and Conservatives voting against their own government programme, and against the rights of minorities. “We are the leading political party in the Vilnius region. In Vilnius, the Social Democrats score half as many votes as we do. We should become a power to be reckoned with. We should enlarge the number of our representatives in the parliament and make ourselves the party capable of tipping the balance,” Tomaszewski argued.
According to W. Tomaszewski, the finances necessary for the development of the infrastructure of the capital’s outskirts, and the development of schools, kindergartens and culture can potentially be gained through directing a higher percentage of personal income tax to the capital’s budget, and increasing the effectiveness of the administration of the community partnerships (which according to Tomaszewski waste money that could be spent on enhancing quality of life in the capital). Additionally, there are many unoccupied properties in Vilnius that burden the taxpayers because they have to be warmed and maintained. The mayoral candidate proposes that these properties be rented or sold. He also suggests moving the Instytut Nasiennictwa (Seed Institute) which covers an area of 300 ha to the outskirts. “This way the outskirts gets workplaces and Vilnius gets an additiona 300 hectares which could be used as lots for those waiting for the return of their lands, and as a sector for economic zones,” he said.
The discussion with Waldemar Tomaszewski lasted for two hours. There was an impressive number of participants, with youths constituting the majority. The discussion was interesting and very comprehensive. Both the supporters and those who opposed AWPL at the beginning of the meeting applauded loudly at its close.
Tłumaczenie by Damian Gabryś w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Damian Gabryś within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.