At the end of last year (2015) the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament issued another letter to the Lithuanian authorities regarding language matters of Poles in Lithuania.
It implies that the MPs are especially concerned about the fact that schools in Vilnius have been forced to organize demonstrations.
The letter is linked to Tomasz Snarski’s petition regarding the language rights of Poles in Lithuania (petition number: 358/2011). The petition has been under consideration by the European Parliament for almost five years. The procedure for petitions is not subject to the rule of discontinuation. Hence, regardless of the new European Parliament’s term of office, the MEPs can take up a petition submitted in the previous term of office.
It is worth noting that the letter addressed to the Lithuanian authorities in autumn 2015 is the second letter under the petition of the Gdańsk lawyer. In this document emphasis was put on the fact that the response of the Lithuanian government has been insufficient. It also highlights that the issues of the Polish minority have yet to be resolved. The European Parliament, addressing the Lithuanian government through the Lithuanian Ambassador to Brussels, calls for Lithuania to provide comprehensive information on the matters tackled by Tomasz Snarski and the MEPs.
We would like to reiterate that, in his petition, Tomasz Snarski has raised an issue of legal discrimination against the Polish minority, manifested in the absence of the possibility to officially use names and surnames in the native language, the lack of official names of streets and towns in the native language, and also discrimination against the Polish educational institutions. Lithuania still lacks comprehensive legal regulations concerning the rights of national and ethnic minorities, despite these regulations being standard in all other Member States of the European Union.
On the 11 January 2016 MP Jarosław Wałęsa issued a statement in regard to Tomasz Snarski’s petition. He has supported the petition since the very beginning, and his actions have contributed to re-addressing the letter to the Lithuanian authorities. In the statement, he implies that the Lithuanian response is unsatisfactory. However, it proves that they are willing to engage in a dialogue. In connection with postponing the reorganization of schools by the Ministry of Education, Jarosław Wałęsa notes that: “in this case, the role of the Commission on Petitions is even more crucial, but my own role as an MP, which consists of monitoring the activities undertaken by Lithuania, is also important.”
Tomasz Snarski asserts that he will strive for the comprehensive consideration of his petition. “From the European Parliament I expect that the procedure of considering the petition has a meaning for the European citizens, and that the European values to which we refer, are not just empty slogans written in treaties” – said Snarski.
He adds: “Ironically, the fact that the petition is being considered for so long is an advantage, not a disadvantage. We have an opportunity to draw attention to the essential arguments of the Polish minority, which are based on the demand to respect human rights. What is more, the fact that the European Parliament is considering the petition should be a source for reflection for the Lithuanian authorities. It concerns how they treat the Polish minority, despite repeatedly dodging the issue, and attempts to avoid the unequivocal reply to the problems by the Lithuanian politicians.”
MEP Wałęsa also declares in his statement that: “In the new year (2016) I will continue to diligently fulfil my tasks. I would like the matter of the language rights of the Poles in Lithuania to be included in the analysis of discrimination prepared at the request of the Committee on Petitions.”
Tomasz Snarski, a lawyer, writer and academic living in Gdańsk, is of Vilnian descent. In the context of his petition he emphasizes that he has great respect for Lithuania but the lack of respect for basic rights in our country hurts. He says that he wants to start a dialogue, not a confrontation. That is why he calls for the European Parliament to organize a visit by the MEPs to the Vilnius Region, so they can see the reality, especially the fact that his petition is not only about education, but also about language rights as fundamental rights of the national minority.
Tłumaczenie by Karolina Jarmużewska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Jarmużewska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.