This is the second part of the three-part publication „Polish fighting school”. If you want to read the third (and the last) part, visit our website tomorrow.
On 29th July, the Vilnius City Council, still struggling to reduce the number of national minority schools in the capital, accepted the act on converting Vilnius secondary schools into primary schools. According to the document, 9 schools of the capital were supposed to be degraded into primary schools to 31st August 2015.
Schools in question were: the Alexander Pushkin Secondary School, the “Ateities” Secondary School, the “Centro” Secondary School, the Secondary School in Fabijoniškės, the Secondary School in Lazdynai, the Lew Karsawin Secondary School, the Secondary School in the Old Town, the Szymon Konarski Secondary School and the “Saulėtekio” Secondary School.
The act is a dishonourable continuation of Vilnius councillors’ activities concerning the schools of the national minorities – Polish and Russian – functioning in the capital. On 15th July, the City Council accepted the acts which were meant to deprive a number of Polish and Russian schools of Vilnius of their status of a secondary school.
The representatives of the threatened schools regret that the decisions concerning the schools were made arbitrarily, without considering the needs and pleas of the school communities and even against the legal acts of the higher level. We have already informed that on 30th June, on the last day of the spring session, the Seimas accepted the amendments to the Education Acts which give the schools 2 years to receive the accreditation and allow them to retain the status of a secondary school.
It is also worth adding that Council made such an important decision during the holiday season – even though the councillors were supposed to do it to the end of March.
It seems that while forcing the educational changes, the councillors of Vilnius are also trying to satisfy their own needs. At the beginning of July the deputy mayor of the city, Conservative Valdas Benkunskas tried to blackmail the Joachim Lelewel Secondary School, the legendary Polish “School number five”: he said that if the school moved into the building of the A. Wiwulski School in the Žirmūnai district, he and the government of Vilnius would help the establishment to obtain the status of a “long” gymnasium. He also said that if the school refused to move to the other bank of the Neris (in Polish: the Wilia), they could not count on any help.
Looking for justice in courts
As demonstrations and protests are over, the time has come for court trials: schools and the communities of 12-year-long schools threatened by the degradation to the status of a primary school are trying to win their case in courts.
The Adam Mickiewicz Gymnasium in Vilnius has won their case against the Vilnius City Council: the Lithuanian court suspended the controversial act which forbade enrolling pupils to grade 5 in this Polish educational establishment.
In the first half of August, the District Administrative Court in Vilnius defended the Polish Szymon Konarski Secondary School. The school community challenged the decision of the City Council which degraded the school to the status of a primary school and disbanded grades 11-12.
On 20th August, the District Administrative Court in Vilnius decided to suspend the acts of Vilnius City Council from 15th and 29th July which wanted the “Centro” Secondary School with the Russian language of instruction to be degraded to the status of a primary school.
At the end of August the ruling of same court turned out to be beneficial for the community of the Secondary School in Lazdynai in Vilnius with the Polish and Russian language of instruction. The court suspended the acts of the Council of the capital which meant degradation of the school.
Protest in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
“Leave our schools alone! The government ignored our pleas and forced us to strike! Secondary education without stress! Dear Linkevičius, ratifying international conventions means respecting them!”, went the inscriptions on the posters and banners during a picket in front of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, organised on 31st August by national minorities to defend their children’s right to learn in their native language.
Autumn means new wave of protest
On 2nd September an empty-desk strike took place in the schools of national minorities in Lithuania. On that day parents did not send their children to school. It was an act of protest against the activities of the government’s activities concerning schools teaching in Polish, Russian and in other minorities’ languages.
“We, the parents of pupils of Polish schools, would like to announce that a general strike will take place at the beginning of the school year. We are forced to act like this because our pleas and questions have not been answered so far.” – the joint announcement of Strike Committees of Polish Schools in Lithuania, the Forum of Parents from the Polish Schools in Lithuania and the School Defence Committees said.
The participants of the strike demanded that the controversial part of the Education Act of 17th March 2011, discriminating against the Polish schools be abolished immediately, that the standardised Matura exam in Lithuanian disappear and that the status of the compulsory Matura exam in Polish be restored on the list of compulsory exams taken into consideration while applying to universities. They also wanted the discriminatory practice of favouring Lithuanian schools at the expense of the ones run by national minorities and they also insisted that the “pupil’s basket” in the national minority schools be increased by 50%. Over 90% of Polish schools in Lithuania took part in the strike.
The media tried to intimidate the parents and to interrupt the strike: they spread false information about penalties for parents taking part in the strike.
People prayed for Polish schools
On 2nd September the Mass was celebrated at the Gate of Dawn Chapel for defence and development of the Polish schools in the Vilnius region and over 1 000 people took part in it. The congregation prayed for the development of the Polish schools in Lithuania and for all who care for their fate. Facing the threats, people also asked God to raise the “spirit of endurance and power in the fight for their inalienable right to teach children and young people in their native language”.
Other minorities supported the Poles
The parents of pupils from schools run by other national minorities expressed their support for the Forum of Parents from the Polish Schools in Lithuania and their concern with possible continuation of misguided governmental activities concerning the schools of national minorities.
This is the second part of the three-part publication. We would like to invite our Readers to read the last part tomorrow.
The project is funded by Polish Diaspora Funds of the Polish Ministry of the Foreign Affairs.
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.