Leave our schools alone! The authorities who are ignoring our requests forced us to srike! High school education without stress! Dear Mr Linkevičius, you ratified international conventions, it’s time to put them into practice! – read the posters brought to today’s picket in front of the Lithuanian Ministry of External Affairs organized by national minorities in Lithuania to protect the right of their children to learn in their mother tongue.
„The situation is unacceptable. Today, we are bringing in another petition, we want to return to normal education. We, as parents, want to be able to raise our children the way we choose, in our mother tongue. We want to work and raise our children, not be forced to attend pickets, to go to courts, to have to fight to assert our rights” – said representative of the strike committee Renata Cytacka.
The picket was organized by the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools in Lithuania, the Strike Committees of Polish Schools in Lithuania and the School Protection Committees. It was attended by parents of children from both Polish and Russian schools.
„I was born in Vilnius, this is where I grew up. I am a grandmother and I want my grandson to be taught in his mother tongue and for him to recieve a high school education in the city in which I’ve been living for 70 years. But he is being divested of that right. Why is it that in Norway – where 2% of the population is Swedish – Swedish is the second official language? What is happening here? There are many Poles, Russians and representatives of other national minorities living here. Why can’t they learn in their mother tongue?” – said Ludmiła Bondarenko, whose grandson is a student at the Russian division of Lelewel High School. She asserted that she will be fighting the situation the whole way.
The protest was organized in front of the Ministry of External Affairs because, as Cytacka emphasized, the Ministry is „the beneficiary and party to negotiations of international acts. „Lithuania is ratifying international acts, for instance the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which clearly states that the ratifying country cannot worsen the situation of national minorities. Meanwhile, there has been a 20 year legal regression. Our laws are constantly diminished, particularly the law allowing our children to learn in their mother tongue” – said Cytacka. She stressed that national minorities do not have to agree with the Education Act from 2011 as it „introduced a standardised test for our children, our children are learning but there are no laws outside the Act which would introduce an education system – there are no educational programmes, coursebooks”. We are hoping that we will be back to normal, we will raise our children and the school will start to teach our children instead of going to courts” – Mrs Renata emphasized.
On 2nd September in schools for national minorities in Lithuania a general strike is going to take place – and parents will not let their children go to school. On this day, they will attend a Holy Mass at the Gate of Dawn. When asked about the anticipated length of the strike, Cytacka said that the strike is like a living organism. „Everything is developing very quickly. We’ll see how today goes. Perhaps the authorities will come to their senses – maybe there will be an agreement or someone will invite us for negotiations” – said Cytacka. For now, The Ministry of Education and Science has reacted nervously and published a statement regarding the strike. During today’s strike, no representative of the Ministry talked to the protestors.
The participants of the general strike demand immediate withdrawal of the amended Education Act from 17 March 2011. This act discriminates against the Polish education system in Lithuania with regard the rights of national minorities. The demonstrators want the abolition of the standardised matura exam in Lithuanian, restoration of the status of the mandatory exam in the mother tongue (Polish) to the list of compulsory matura exams on the condition of taking the result of that exam into account during entry to university, stopping discrimination against national minority school pupils, discontinuing the practice of giving priority to Lithuanian schools, raising the financing per student by 50% in schools for national minorities.
Tomorrow (1st September) a picket by the building of the capital’s municipality will be organized by the community of Lelewel High School. Those who take part will be expressing their protest against moving this legendary school to the building in Żyrmuny District.
Tłumaczenie by Katarzyna Kosińska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Katarzyna Kosińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.