A few days ago, established by ex-Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius in December of the last year, a group of deputies May 3, uniting deputies of the Lithuanian Parliament from all fractions (including AWPL-ZchR) interested in solving problems of national minorities, asked the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education and Science, the president of the university rectors conference and a few rectors of Lithuanian universities to award extra points for knowledge of foreign languages, including among others Polish and Russian, during admissions at universities.
“The parliamentary group of May 3 is deeply convinced that the possibility of getting a degree of Lithuanian universities by youth of national minorities is in the interest of the whole Lithuanian society. This is why the group proposes awarding both Lithuanian and foreign students with extra points (up to 0.5 point) for knowledge of foreign languages (in case of students from national communities – for adequate knowledge of their native languages, eg. Polish, Russian, Jewish, Belorussian and others)”, says the letter signed by Andrius Kubilius. The idea is very good, but not actually new. I have written a few times before that restoration of compulsory exams in Polish language will make sense only if degrees obtained during the mandatory exam give additional points during admission (as eg. in Poland). All Polish organizations which solicit for restoration of the compulsory Polish language exam. In recent years a number of meetings in this subject have been held, and I participated in a few of them. So far, the most problematic issue was to convince managements of universities that such step was needed.
Granting particular social groups with additional points during admission can be understood as an example of “positive discrimination”. In all countries where a greater amount of ethnic minorities exists, there is a problem: what should be done for them so they could have the same chances of getting an education as the rest of society? It often happens that people belonging to ethnic minorities had (or have, as eg. Poles in USSR) worse conditions of education (in comparison with the rest of society), have proportionally less people with university degrees. Positive discrimination is supposed to solve this problem, eg. by guaranteeing a certain, rather independent from results, number of vacancies to representatives of various national minorities or by granting them with additional points during the enrollment process. It is assumed that more representatives of ethnic minorities would succeed and set a good example for the rest of their society. They will also probably try to help other members of their community to step out, an this may result in the situation where positive discrimination is no longer needed. Another advantage of such discrimination may be that through greater ethnic diversity there will be more contacts and friendships between members of different cultures, and thus – the general tolerance of society will increase.
Besides, Lithuanian universities already use positive discrimination, eg. the Vilnius University confers one additional point during enrollment to emigrants and foreigners of Lithuanian origin, graduates of Lithuanian-language junior high schools in Germany, Poland and other foreign countries. Granting of 0.5 poit to Lithuanian Poles, Russians, Belorussians and Jews – is the smallest gesture that can be done by Lithuanian universities in order to improve their social status and integration. Mainly that at least in case of Lithuanian Poles and Belorussians a legal and statistical motivation of such decisions would not be a problem – according to census data from 2011 these groups have the lowest percentage of people with higher education among all nations living in Lithuania (respectively 13.8 and 17.4 %), while 21.6% of Lithuanians have higher education, of Russians – 24.6%, of Ukrainians – 28.3%, of Tatars – 23,2%, of Germans – 24,3%, and of Jews – even 50.1%. It is difficult to assess whether rectors are ready for such step. Lithuanian Constitution guarantees broad autonomy to universities, in this situation politicians can only approach rectors as petitioners.
“The parliamentary fraction of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania will soon be without a job” – half-jokingly commented Andrzej Pukszto, a political scientist. In Lithuanian political establishment positive changes occur, when it comes to thinking about problems of national minorities. The inter-fractional group of May 3 was established, now a similar group of Michał Romer is being created – it is supposed to take care of social and economical development of the Vilnius region (although the fact that radically conservative Laurynas Kaščiunas is a part of it rather does not bode well for the future of the Lithuanian region). Words of the leader of Vilnius liberals, Aušrinė Armonaitė, are quite inspiring. In an interview for “Przegląd Bałtycki” she said:
„We are for the original spelling of names and the right to bilingualism in the area inhibited by national minorities. I think that the threshold should be 50%. I mean, signs in Polish should be where the majority of Poles lives. But for me there would be no problem if these signs appeared also in Vilnius. If you look at the inter-war Lithuania, in Kaunas were signs in three languages: Lithuanian, Polish and Yiddish. This was not a problem for our ancestors, and now, when we have stronger democracy and more human rights, this suddenly becomes a problem? It’s inconceivable.”
Even before 6-7 years, when I was a member of the Liberal Movement myself, such attitudes constituted the minority of the party, nowadays – they prevail. Let’s hope that soon they will prevail in other parties as well, and Polish-language media will use the word “discrimination” only together with the word “positive”. Only then will we be able to say that AWPL-ZChR remained without a job.
Tłumaczenie by Agnieszka Drabik w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Agnieszka Drabik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.