Last year the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament wrote a letter to the Lithuanian authorities concerning the linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania. The official document was filed because of a petition submitted almost five years ago by Tomasz Snarski, a lawyer from Gdańsk, to the European Parliament in regard the linguistic rights of Polish people in Lithuania (petition no. 358/2011).
According to the information held by L24.lt, in the letter submitted in the autumn of 2015 it is highlighted that the previous response of the Lithuanian government to the remarks and enquiries of the European Parliament was not satisfactory. Chairman of the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament Cecilia Wikström, the author of the letter, points out that despite the time that has elapsed, the problems of the Polish minority are still not solved. The author addresses the Lithuanian government through an ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania in Brussels and provides information on issues raised by Tomasz Snarski in his petition, as well as by the members of the European Parliament.
In his petition, lawyer and academic teacher Tomasz Snarski raised the problem of the legal discrimination of the Polish minority manifested among other things in the inability to use first and last names in Polish, the lack of official street and town signs in the native language, as well as in discrimination against Polish educational institutions. Lithuania still lacks complex legal regulations regarding the rights of national and ethnic minorities, despite this being a standard for European Union member states.
In addition, on 11th January 2016 Member of the European Parliament Jarosław Wałęsa issued a statement concerning Tomasz Snarski’s petition. He has supported the petition from the beginning and his actions have contributed to the re-addressing of the letter to the Lithuanian authorities. In this statement we can read i.a.: “In the new 2016 year I will still be fulfilling the task assigned to me – I would like the issue of the linguistic rights of Lithuanian Poles to be taken into account in the analysis concerning discrimination which is being prepared on commission from the Committee on Petitions. After all, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that any discrimination is forbidden, and this also includes discrimination practised due to the language or membership of a national minority. The Polish language cultivated at homes, as well as through education and culture expresses national identity and allows us to preserve the memory of our homeland. I’m open to news – both those concerning positive changes and increasing offences – and so I count on your contact and further involvement.”
Within the procedure of considering the petition various actions are possible, including among other things undertaking an analysis by specialised EU departments on fundamental rights and one more public hearing about the rights of the Polish minority.
Tomasz Snarski highlights that the argument of his petition is based on the basic rights and values of the European Union, including respect for human rights, especially those of people who belong to minorities, and democracy.
“I believe that the process of considering the matter in the European Parliament itself will influence the attitude of the Lithuanian authorities towards the Polish minority, especially making them understand the value of multiculturalism and the chances it affords. It’s hard to imagine a member state belonging to the European Union that would consistently ignore the cultural rights, including the linguistic ones, of indigenous minorities. Poles in Lithuania, as European citizens, have every right to be guaranteed all the rights included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, as well as those respected in the Council of Europe legal space. These rights refer to preserving and developing one’s national identity.”
Tłumaczenie by Karolina Katarzyńska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Katarzyńska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.