At the end of last week Polish authorities were addressed an appeal in defence of Polish schools in Vilnius.
The appeal was sent to President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, the Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło, Marshal of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński, the Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland Stanisław Karczewski, the leader of the largest party in the Polish parliament Law and Justice Jarosław Kaczyński, who lead the party to historic victory, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland Witold Waszczykowski and Minister of National Education Anna Zalewska.
The writing was signed by
the Association of Teachers of Polish Schools in Lithuania ‘Polish Educational Society’, Józef Kwiatkowski, member of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, Renata Cytacka on behalf of councilors of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in Vilnius, and Danuta Narbut in the name of The Forum of Parents.
Authors of the appeal stressed that despite protests of Polish people in 2011 the Education Act was modified. They also stated that it was a political manoeuvre.
“Despite numerous protests and against the will of 60.000 citizens, Poles in Lithuania, who had signed a petition against the amendment of the Education Act, it was affirmed on the 17th of March, 2011. It was carried off solely due to political reasons and without even the slightest preparations by the county. No one consulted this decision with Polish society. It sometimes happens that Lithuanian authorities present that someone representative yet without a mandate of any social group had been present,” said authors.
Polish activists pointed out in a letter that in spite of unfavorable decisions of authorities concerning Polish education their determination does not cease.
“Pleas of parents, teachers and students have been ignored. Last events that took place in Vilnius have substantially deteriorated the situation of education. Liberal-Conservative coalition resorts to blackmail and double standards in education. Although we are fully determined to fight for the well-being of our children,” wrote authors of the appeal.
Authors of the writing stated that the modification of the Education Act indeed leads to dismantling of Polish education in Lithuania.
“Education Act from 2011 discriminates national minorities and is a tool for limiting the status of mother tongue, its depreciation and abolishing it from public life. Closing of schools where Polish is used as the language of instruction on the pretext of small number of students and closing of high schools due to not obtaining accreditation seem to be the biggest threat at present. What is more, classes 11 and 12 are no longer continued. Thus, in practice, the law is going to completely eliminate Polish education,” wrote authors of the letter.
Representatives of Polish community wrote that authorities of Vilnius tend to ignore decisions of members of the Parliament and continue to take destructive measures.
“Interventions of our representatives in the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania and of AWPL allowed to extend the period of reorganization of education to September 2017. Eventually, the Lithuanian Parliament passed the amendments to the Education Act in June this year. It extended the period of implementation of the reform by two years, although the local authorities of Vilnius, responsible for education in their area, disrespected decisions of the Parliament. In the summer, the local government council of Vilnius outvoted the decree about successive downgrading secondary schools into primary schools. Among these schools are the Szymon Konarski School in Vilnius and Vilnius Lazdynai Secondary School. They are both amazing Polish schools with a long tradition of Polish education in Lithuania, which have a number of notable alumni. The decision of transforming these schools into primary schools level has been challenged by parents. There is a serious risk that they will be still eliminated due to the lack of funds for their maintenance,” wrote authors.
Representatives of the Polish community in Lithuania drew attention to the threat which awaits Joachim Lelewel High School in Vilnius.
“Joachim Lelewel High School in Vilnius is also facing an uncertain fate. The school was allowed to continue for another year. After that it will lose the status of high school and will be under the threat of having to leave the current building which is located at Antokol, a district inhabited by many Poles. The building is known for its symbolic meaning as it served as the place of the legendary School No. 5, the first post-war Polish school in Vilnius. Recently, thanks to the activity of Poles and the money from the UE and parents, the building has been renovated. It is scandalous that local government of Vilnius bid Polish students to move to building of their subsidiary unit located in Žirmūnai district. By doing so, they leave a big district of the city without a school with Polish as the language of instruction. Currently, students from 249 streets go to the school. This was done in a very devious way of using blackmail. Deputy mayor, Benkunskas, arrived at the meeting with the school community and announced that the school will receive accreditation only if it moves to another building. A building that was proposed as an alternative is in much worse condition and in far worse localization,” said authors.
“Joachim Lelewel High School, like the Lithuanian M. Daukšos School, chose a specialized course in teaching engineering. When minister D. Pavalkis resigned and minister J. Bernatonis temporarily took over from him the school was easily accredited within just a few days. However, Joachim Lelewel High School still remains unaccredited. This decision confirms the lack of good will of politicians and unequal treatment of schools. In total, during holidays the ruling coalition downgraded 9 schools of national minorities schools in Vilnius. At the same time, strangely three of so called ‘long middle schools’ with Lithuanian as the language of instruction, Mikalojaus Katkaus gimnazija, Vilniaus Tuskulėnų gimnazija, Vilniaus Abraomo Kulviečio klasikinė gimnazija, have been accredited,” sadly admitted authors of the letter.
The appeal has also pointed out that divesting schools from Poles means the beginning of the end of the Polish community in Lithuania.
“Władysław Syrokomla High School, which is a wonderful school, having 870 students has not yet been accredited as secondary school. Lithuanian government plays for time what causes anxiety and uncertainty among the school community. Appeals and requests fail to improve the ongoing situation. Instability and constant changes may compel parents to enroll their children into Lithuanian schools. We shall not allow for such situation because then we would cease to exist as Poles in Lithuania,” said authors.
Poles are calling for help.
“We need help, because at the moment our Polish children are exposed to enormous stress connected with the above-mentioned problems. At the same time Lithuanian authorities ,despite our strenuous protests, intensified forced Lithuanization by adopting a unified curriculum and Matura exam. It is clearly having a detrimental effect on our children. They do not allow the accreditation of Polish schools , which in practice means the liquidation of these schools, “ wrote authors.
Authors of the petition stressed that the situation of Polish education in Lithuania is critical yet they pin their hopes on the winner of the elections in Poland i.e. “Law and Justice”.
“A critical condition of Polish education in Lithuania and ignoring pleas from parents and teachers of Polish children forced Poles living in Lithuania to start the school year by going on strike. Similar situation took place three years ago. 90% of Polish schools participated in the strike then. Instead of sitting at school desks, about 2,000 students were protesting on the way of taking part in a special Mass. The Mass was celebrated in front of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn painting. The participants were praying for the defense of the Polish school . We are extremely grateful for the support and the visit of the Marshal of Sejm Marek Kuchciński. He was there with us and showed solidarity, on behalf of the Polish parliamentarians, with us, compatriots from Lithuania. Taking this opportunity we would like to thank the winning ” Law and Justice ” in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Poland. Winning the election by PiS , the patriotic option , fills us with hope that our problems will be resolved positively,” said Polish activists. Representatives of the Polish community wrote that the deteriorating situation forced Poles to take more drastic steps.
“On the 16th of October 4.000 Poles from Lithuania joined the protest at the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. They came to lodge a protest against unfair social and educational policy in the country. A rally was organized by representatives of organizations of workers, trade unions, educational workers, cultural, social and also parents whose children attend Lithuanian schools and those for national minorities. We are going to use various ways of protest e.g. picketing, signing petitions, appeals. Numerous organizations and associations declared that they will yield. We are outraged about actions of Lithuanian authorities since they cause destabilization and disorganization at schools. After 25 years of completely unsuccessful talks we are now forced to take further, more radical, steps,” authors wrote.
Poles wrote that under no circumstances will they agree for denationalization.
“Both parents and teachers are determined to strive for fair treatment of Polish students, even though it entails attempted intimidation and penalty payment threats. European law concerning national minorities as well as The Polish–Lithuanian Treaty of Good Neighbourship and Friendly Cooperation guarantee an access to culture and education in our mother tongue. By way of comparison, Lithuanian schools in Sejn region are an example of ideally conducted education for Lithuanian students. Therefore, we demand a similar treatment of Poles. The process of shutting down Polish schools is an expression of anti-Polish sentiment of Lithuanian government. Such behaviors have been observed for many years. Their aim is a Lithuanization of Poles and depolonization of regions of Lithuania that used to be inhabited by Poles for hundreds of years. We don’t accept it! We, Poles in Lithuania, are persecuted against International law, against European Union Law, and against traditions of Christian nations of Europe. We feel alone in this fight to maintain Polish education in Lithuania. We beg Polish government to undertake actions to defend Polish school and Poles living in Lithuania!” – said representatives of Polish community in Lithuania showing their determination and asking for help.
Tłumaczenie by Karolina Wojdat w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Wojdat within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.