European Parliament received a letter from the ambassador Raimundas Karoblis from Permament Representation of the Republic of Lithuania in Brussels, in which current situation of national and ethnic minorities in Lithuania has been presented. The document is a response to the letter with questions concerning situation of polish minority in Lithuania directed to the European Parliament, which resulted from a petition of Tomasz Snarski, lawyer from Gdańsk, regarding respeting the language rights of Polish people living in Lithuania (petition no. 358/2011)
As a reminder, in March 2011 Tomasz Snarski petitioned the European Parliament to take all possible legal actions in order to guarantee polish minority in Lithuania fundamental rights, such as the right to use names and surnames in native language or the right to name streets and towns in two languages. In his petition, Tomasz Snarski drew attention to the problems of polish minority and he assessed the current situation in Lithuania as contrary to the human rights standards in the European Union.
As the result of the petition, the legal elaborations of the European Comission have been twice prepared, in 2012 the public Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament meeting took place, in which the repreentatives of Lithuanian and Polish governments participated; Members of the European Parliament from various countries and parliamentary groups discussed the problems of the Polish minorities in Lithuania.
At the end of the 2013, then Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament chairwoman Erminia Mazzoni handed in an offcial letter, in which she called for a presentation of the Lithuanian government’s action in the protection of Polish minorities. It is worth emphasising,the petition is investigated in the European Parliament in spite of the numerous Lithuanian authorities’ protests, who called for not investigating it.
It was not until the beginning of this year that the lithuanian authorities commented formally on the letter to the European Parliament, and officialy ensured that the Lithuanian government takes necessary actions in order to protect the rights of minorities, including the Polish minority. The government’s response shows that on the 1st of July 2015 the establishment of the Department of National Minorities is planned. Regarding the language issues, it should be pointed out that there is necessity to protect Polish language and also that there is no hindrance in the way of using the minorities’ languange privately. When it comes to the institutions and local offices, the response unclearly states that the communication in these places may be led in the language understood by the interlocutors. It also indicates legal possibility of providing an interpretator for a person who does not speak lithuanian. However, the issue of using a minority’s language as the official language (international auxiliary language), which is an European standard, is omitted. Concerning the legal basis for protection of national and ethnic minorities, the government’s response only indicates two investigated drafts legislative acts, which aim to change the current legal status for better. The document also refers to the economic situation of the minority and it includes the information about government’s Vilnius region programme.
L24.lt asked the author of the petition for a commentary on the Lithuanian authorities’ response. “The formal response of the Lithuanian authorities should be appreciated. Up until now, the problems I raised have been either marginalized or it was claimed they are not the European Parliament competence. However, human rights is a basic issue for European Union functioning and the key issue for EU citizens. It should be noticed, that the content of the response to the accusations of disobeying Polish minorities’ in Lithuania languange rights is groundless and very general. It lacks in precise information about practical legal changes. The response also does not refer to the number of raised problems. The documet reflects either the authorities’ low awareness in the field of protection of human rights’ standards and human rights in general, for instance in its content there is no distinction between national and ethnic minorities.
In the document addressed to the European Parliament Lithuanian authorities assure that the minorities will be supported, they also emphasize the monorities are particularly important to Lithuania, where 15.8% of citizens belong to minority. “Declarations themselves are obviously insufficient, only the concrete actions matter. Thus, we need to keep fighting for the practical legal changes in order to provide the protection and development of fundamental rights. In Lithuania still there is not any law in force which comprehensively regulates the rights of national and ethnic minorities. Simultaneously, there is no legal nor systematic guarantees for minorities’ language rights, including the right for using names and surnames in the native language or for using the minorities’ language as the international auxiliary language. It is worth to notice friendly declarations and to appreciate even the smallest actions taken in order to protect human rights, however, they cannot replace the systematic legal solutions or changes of the general political culture and of social awareness” Tomasz Snarski responds.
The Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament may continue investigating the petition. Although the European Parliament’s actions are not able to decisively influence a member of EU, they may contribute to the changes of political culture and to the citizens’ awarness of human rights.
Tłumaczenie by Julita Filant w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Julita Filant within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.