We would like to present a three-part publication “Polish School Fight”, which discusses difficult experiences and challenges faced by Polish schools in Lithuania this year.
Why did we decide to concentrate on the current year? In our opinion the year 2015 acts as a litmus paper, reflecting the atmosphere and environment in which Polish schools have to function. On the one hand, we can be proud of the numerous achievements of Polish pupils, but on the other hand we have to fight against constant attacks and attempts to damage the Polish education system.
Today, we would like to invite you to read the first part of the article. The second part will be available tomorrow.
It seems that the more successful the Polish education system in Lithuania is, the more vicious the attacks against Polish schools are.
In early 2014, a Lithuanian newspaper “Reitingai” (Rankings) published a list of the best schools and gymnasiums in Lithuania. Among the 50 best schools there were also Polish educational establishments.
A week later, in the Presidential Palace of Vilnius, the President of Lithuania awarded the winners of international competitions and student contests. Polish pupils were among the winners .
In the meantime, far from the limelight and behind the curtains, the real drama took place. A change of teachers, the looming threat of having to change schools, the growing uncertainties, and for many, the Matura exam on the horizon…
Pre-primary and primary schools already hit –now it’s time for secondary schools
Over the course of the last decade, several dozen Lithuanian schools with Polish language instruction have been closed. Some of the Polish pre-primary and primary schools have been hit. Currently, the Polish minority in Lithuania is fighting for threatened schools. The decrease in the number of Polish schools is referred to by the authorities as the “reorganization” of the secondary school system.
The process of school conversion is taking place in Lithuania now. The original assumption was that secondary schools were supposed to disappear before 1st September. They were meant either to achieve the status of a gymnasium or to be downgraded to primary school status.
10 secondary schools threatened
As a result of the reform of the education system, 10 Polish language of instruction secondary schools were threatened with closure or being downgraded. These are: Władysław Syrokomla Secondary School in Vilnius, Szymon Konarski Secondary School in Vilnius, Joachim Lelewel Secondary School in Vilnius, Lazdynai Secondary School (a part of Vilnius), Zujūnų Secondary School in the Vilnius region, St Jan Bosko Secondary School in Jałówka in the Vilnius region, St Casimir Secondary School in Medininkai in the Vilnius region, Adam Mickiewicz Secondary School in Dieveniškės in the Šalčininkai region, Eliza Orzeszkowa Secondary School in Baltoji Vokė in the Šalčininkai region and Paluknys Secondary School in the Trakai region.
Those schools were supposed to cease functioning as secondary schools on 1st September. Thanks to demonstrations, protests, petitions and even prayers, 6 schools in the Vilnius area were saved: among them the school in Paluknys, the Zujūnų school and the Medininkai school. The St Jan Bosko school, the Adam Mickiewicz school and Eliza Orzeszkowa School have already received their accreditation. Other schools are obliged to obtain their accreditation before 1st September 2017. For now, they will retain their status of secondary schools.
The worst problems – Vilnius
While other local governments have accepted the decision of the Seimas according to which secondary schools have to obtain their accreditation before 1st September 2017, the worst situation is in Vilnius. The city council of the capital refuses to provide their opinion on the amended Education Act which will allow secondary schools to apply for their accreditation and the status of a gymnasium up until 2017. Their decision poses a threat to several secondary schools, including the Polish ones, which face the loss of their status and being downgraded to the status of a primary school.
Attempts to downgrade two schools in the capital are being made: the schools in question are the Stanisław Konarski School and the school in Lazdynai. Joachim Lelewel School and the Władysław Syrokomla School have not received their accreditation yet.
Contrary to the amendments to the Act, the current local government of Vilnius is trying to reduce the number of schools of national minorities functioning in the capital. There are numerous cases when, despite a similar situation, Lithuanian schools (e.g. the M. Daukšas School in Antakalnis and the Secondary Schools in Tuskulėnai) were granted their accreditation, whereas the schools of national minorities (e.g. the Lelewel School, the Syrokomla School) were refused.
First picket – in Spring
Along with spring, a wave of discontent came to Vilnius and it manifested itself in numerous pickets, meetings, protests and pleas.
In April 2015 a peaceful demonstration was held in front of the building of the Ministry of Education and Science by pupils of Władysław Syrokomla Secondary School in Vilnius and their parents. The establishment, housing about 900 pupils, is currently waiting to become a gymnasium.
Summer of protest
On 1st June, on International Children’s Day, in front of the building of the Government of Lithuania, a demonstration defending the rights of national minorities was held. About 2, 000 protesters came to express their stance against the destruction of the education system of national minorities by the Lithuanian government.
On 3rd June, a strike took place in the schools of national minorities in Lithuania. Parents did not send their children to schools and the desks in classrooms were empty. It was one of the forms of protest against the destruction of schools of the Poles, the Russians and of other minorities carried out as a stage of the national “reorganization” of schools.
On the same day, in the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit, a Mass for the defence and development of Polish schooling in Lithuania was celebrated.
On 30th June, on the last day of the spring session, the Lithuanian Seimas voted on the amendments to the Education Act. The amendment states that schools have to receive their accreditation within two years.
On 10th July, the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, signed the amendments to the Act which had been accepted by the Seimas on 30th June.
On 13th July, in front of the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, the community of Polish and Russian schools of Vilnius organized a protest against the local government’s attempts to reorganize some of the schools in the capital.
On 14th July, the community of the Joachim Lelewel Secondary School in Vilnius – parents, alumni, teachers and administration – took part in a Mass for the positive outcome of the fight for the future of the school in the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Vilnius.
On 15th June, a session of the Vilnius City Council took place, during which drafts of educational acts – dangerous for the Polish and Russian schools – were discussed. Without considering the voices of school communities protesting outside, the majority ruling in the council accepted the drafts. These drafts pose a threat to the current state of the secondary schools of national minorities in the capital.
In front of the Council building, a demonstration defending the schooling system of national minorities in Lithuania took place. Almost 600 people turned up – and not only those connected to the 10 threatened schools in Vilnius, but also many from other schools in the Vilnius region which have already been converted into gymnasiums. Not only did the communities of the Polish and Russian schools come, but many also turned up from the Lithuanian Secondary School in Fabijoniškės. These demonstrators joined because they wanted to support the representatives of the threatened schools and their cause.
Tłumaczenie by Natalia Skowronek w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Natalia Skowronek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.