On 16th January, Jan Dziedziczak, the secretary of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, who is responsible for, among other things, matters concerning the Polish community, met with the organisations representing Poles in Lithuania: Association of Poles in Lithuania, representatives of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and the representatives of the Forum of the Parents of the Children Attending Polish Schools in Lithuania. The meeting took place in the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius.
At the beginning of the meeting, the head of the Association of Poles in Lithuania and envoy in the Polish Sejm, Michał Mackiewicz, thanked the Polish authorities for 25 years of help and support for the Polish community in Lithuania. He said that it is a good base for the Polish minority. While introducing the guest, the head of the flagship Polish organisation in Lithuania emphasised that the new Polish authorities declare that they understand, like and highly regard Poles in Lithuania, which is why they would like to familiarise themselves with their problems.
The Deputy Minister met with the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and MEP Waldemar Tomaszewski, the head and the deputy head of the EAPL’s fraction in Seimas Rita Tamašunienė and Wanda Krawczonok, the Deputy Marshall of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania Jarosław Narkiewicz, envoy Leonard Talmont, envoy Józef Kwiatkowski, Vilnius County Mayor Marsia Rekść, the Chief of Administration of the Šalčininkai County Municipality Józef Rybak and other representatives of Polish community in Lithuania. The Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in Lithuania Jarosław Czubiński, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius Stanisław Cygnarowski and the leader of the “Polish Community” Association Longin Komołowski also took part in the meeting.
The Deputy Minister J. Dziedziczak stressed that it is no coincidence that his first individual visit is taking place in Lithuania: „You are an extremely important and valuable organisation, an incredibly important partner”. He pointed out that he feels an emotional bond with the Vilnius region as his family comes from that area, his mother was born here. “I feel jointly responsible for what is going to happen with Poles in Lithuania. There is a lot to talk about, a lot has to be fixed. The government declared that it is going to do more to help the Polish community. We are not going to stop talking about it” – said the Deputy Minister. He also added that the Polish authorities know the problems of the Polish minority and that all of them are important to them, but the most significant issue is the matter of Polish education in Lithuania. “We are definitely not going to let go of that topic” – he said.
The head of the department of sport, culture and tourism of the Vilnius County Municipality, Edmund Szot, emphasised that a concrete and efficient concept to force the Lithuanian side to fulfil their part of the Polish-Lithuanian treaty is needed.
Everybody who spoke at the meeting emphasised that education is the most pressing issue of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The starost of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania fraction of the Vilnius City Council, Renata Cytacka, paid attention to the real threat hanging over Polish schools in Vilnius. She said that Lithuanians do not hold any negotiations with the Polish minority and that the Lithuanian side attacks Polish schools which causes escalation of the conflict. “We really could use the political support of Poland” she said and stressed that the situation of education is very dynamic which is why measures need to be taken here and now.
The Chief of Organisation of Polish Scouts in Lithuania, Sub-Scoutmaster Ryszard Gierasim issued an appeal to J. Dziedziczak who is an instructor of the Scouting Association of the Republic of Poland. He asked for cooperation and paying attention to Polish scouting in the Vilnius County. He also mentioned the fact that the instructors sent to Poland do not come back to Lithuania.
The Deputy Chief of Administration of the Vilnius City Council Albert Narwojsz stressed that the discussion on how to improve the financing of Polish education system in Lithuania has been going on for years. New committees are being created while the situation of schools is just getting worse. “The situation is getting more and more difficult, which is why we would like to ask the new authorities to check whether the Lithuanian side fulfils their obligations” – A. Narwojsz asked the representative of the new authorities.
Many speakers were very critical of the attempts to break the unity of the Polish community made by some of the Polish media in Lithuania. The talkers were appalled by the fact that those media are supported by the Polish authorities. They also asked for cessation of financing the media which are harmful and antagonising to the Polish community.
The Chief of Kaunas District of Association of Poles in Lithuania, Franciszka Abramowicz, was talking about the need to protect the Polish education in the Vilnius District in order to prevent it from what happened in the Kaunas District – the liquidation of Polish schools in Lauda District. “We still have Saturday and Sunday schools, but it is not the same” – Abramowicz emphasised.
The Deputy Mayor of the Vilnius County, Czesław Olszewski, expressed his delight over the fact that there are more meetings of Polish authorities and Poles in Lithuania. He was happy about the format of the meetings. He pointed out that Poles, united by the leader Waldemar Tomaszewski, are fighting for preserving Polishness in Lithuania.
Aleksander Sudujko from the club of Association of Poles in Lithuania „Patriotic Youth from Vilnius” asked for increased presence of the Polish TV in Lithuania.
The Chief of the Association of Teachers of Polish Schools in Lithuania „Macierz Szkolna” („School Matrix”) and envoy in Seimas, Józef Kwiatkowski, emphasised that Polish education in Lithuania is of good quality and fulfils its function. “We are being attacked in order to worsen the situation, in order for the education to be unable to fulfil its function” – the envoy lamented. He emphasised that committees are not an effective way to solve problems. “We need broader and deeper conversations on a higher level” – he said. The Chief of “Macierz Szkolna” noticed that „good results of Polish students forced Lithuanians to introduce standardised Lithuanian language exam”, he was talking about blocking the amendments of the Electoral action of Poles in Lithuania in the Lithuanian parliament. “We need to make an effort for the Polish education to be welcomed and not discriminated in Lithuania. We are unable to go against the planned actions of Lithuanian politicians which is why we are asking for help” – he asked for support the Deputy Minister J. Dziedziczak.
Councilwoman from the Vilnius City Council Edyta Tamošiūnaitė pointed out that there is a need to go back to organising summer camps for Polish students in Poland and to systematically train Polish teachers and exchange pedagogues. She also said that Polish children are using Lithuanian course books which is a problem that needs to be dealt with.
„Polish education in Lithuania has been fought with in many ways for 25 years” – said Deputy Mayor of Vilnius County Jan Mincewicz and stressed that Polish community expects financial support, which is received, and political support. “It’s now or never” – J. Mincewicz concluded.
Councilman Jarosław Kamiński said that the current Mayor of Vilnius is ignoring Polish issues, destroying Polish schools and does not consider Poles as a partner. “These issue must be talked about in a firm way. Today, tomorrow might be too late” – he said. The councilman expressed his satisfaction over the fact that Anna Maria Anders was elected to be a Chief of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites as well as expressed hope that she is going to contribute to preserving Polish heritage in Lithuania. J. Kamiński reminded about the work done by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in the period of its joint governance over Vilnius in order to take care of the Rasos cemetery. He regretted that after the change of the governing coalition in Vilnius, the issue of that necropolis has been marginalised, we do not know of further fate of the cemetery.
The Deputy Chief of the Association of Poles in Lithuania Edward Trusewicz was talking about the need to create day rooms in the areas far from the centre of the Vilnius County and appealed to the Polish authorities to remind the Lithuanian authorities about the project of National Minorities Act which contains postulates concerning public use of native language.
The Deputy Minister Jan Dziedziczak, in reaction to the mentioned problems and postulates, emphasised that the new Polish government will be firm about the necessity to obey the Treaty from 1994. In response to the matter of attempts of Polish speaking media to antagonise Polish community, he said that unity is a huge and extremely valuable capital. For that reason, he stressed, the authorities will be checking what the money of a Polish taxpayer is allocated to. “I am sure that a Polish citizen will be pleased to support Poles in Lithuania, he or she considers you brothers and sisters”.
The Deputy Minister stressed that Polish authorities care about the development of Polish scouting in Lithuania, he will consider broadening the availability of Polish television in Lithuania. He said there is no doubt in his mind that the meeting of representatives of the Polish authorities with the representatives of the Polish community in Lithuania will be regular.
At the end of the meeting Rita Tamašunienė and Maria Rekść preented the Deupty Minister with a symbol of the Vilnius County – a palm tree from Vilnius.
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.