- November 9, 2011
Nights in Augustow. Chilly.
Maybe Lithuanian Poles really do not know the Lithuanian language, since they cannot read, how great and perfect the new Education Law is… This is one of the “revealing” conclusions to come up with after the “Augustów nights,” or the fourth meeting of the Polish-Lithuanian commission for the education of national minorities in Poland and Lithuania. As a matter of fact, as well as in the previous meetings, it all came down to the assessment that the Poles (both the “real” ones from Poland, from the Ministry of National Education, and the “local-strangers,” the Lithuanian Poles) are wrong and they have no clue about the blessings of the Lithuanian bill.
There were needed as many as four all day long meetings, four wasted not only days but also nights to finally agree that… “we haven’t agreed on anything.”
The intergovernmental educational committee was designated by the Polish and Lithuanian prime ministers after the September strikes of Polish schools and sharp opposition to the new objectives of the Education Law, which was significantly worsening the situation of Polish schools. The Commission was established at the request of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who arrived on September 2 to visit Lithuania, and after whose visit the strikes were suspended. The purpose of the appointed then committee (at least that’s what was announced) was to look at the contentious issues of bill and to develop recommendations for the government to mitigate the effects of the Law.
How did it go? “You want to bungle it, designate a committee” …
From the beginning there was no chance for an agreement. The participation of the parents in the proceeding was not accepted (and yet it was them who saw the greatest threats of the Law, and them who launched the collection of 60,000 signatures), the Polish side in the committee could really put pressure because it would mean an immediate protest against “meddling …” as well as a diplomatic scandal, and the Lithuanian party neither wanted nor was going to yield.
This is the saddest part – the attitude of the Lithuanian negotiators towards the case. There was also a scary aspect, but more on that later. It is sad, because the Lithuanian party came to the committee with a clear combat mission “do not yield even one step.” And this objective was realized by them in one hundred percent. Deaf to the arguments, insensitive to the facts. So why all this committee? To tire the Polish side (in the end they are fighting not exactly for themselves) and, importantly, to drag on time … The bill, after all, has been implemented, the chaos in the schools is increasing, the teaching process has been disturbed. Parents are confused, students devastated, teachers tired and unsure. Everybody has lost the ground under their feet. Very well. That’s what it was about. There we have a Lithuanian officer in the Polish-Lithuanian commission, proving that how much the Polish schools in Lithuania are hopeless, how ill-equipped, how badly they function, how they have no future. Gentlemen, just a moment. Aren’t these the same schools that for more than twenty years have been under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Science, isn’t it the ministry’s duty to ensure proper and consistent development of schools? Development, gentlemen. Of all schools, without exception. Paradoxically, the Lithuanian Poles, as befits all citizens of the country, pay taxes to support among others dozens of education officers who set themselves the goal of discrediting the Polish school and their destruction as soon as possible. The worse the better.
Something’s not right, gentlemen. It’s Surprising when the Deputy Minister Vaidas Bacys, sitting in front of a five-person group of the representatives of the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools in Lithuania, argues that in Polish schools things are going badly, and the graduates of these schools do not have a future. Deputy minister Bacys does not even have a higher education (a bachelor’s degree of the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute), and on the opposite side there’s Miroslaw Szejbak, a doctor of mathematical sciences, a professor, a graduate of a Polish school, the same, in which his children study. And with him four important parents: two businessmen, a teacher, a lawyer, all as one man graduates of Polish schools and universities. Listening how hopeless and without any perspectives are the Polish schools.
Give these schools a chance!
The Parents Forum sent a letter with six demands. None of them have been accepted by the Lithuanian side. The parents had arguments, irrefutable facts and a lot of good will to discuss and negotiate. But nobody was willing to engage in the discussion. Instead, six hours of debating on the final proposal. That describes in the best way the nature of these meetings. The parents behind the door, and the main negotiators immersed in the records of a 1,5-page announcement. Everybody anticipating until… three in the morning. An announcement which doesn’t clear up anything…
And now about the terrible conclusion of the meeting. I was gone for a moment, in the meantime I managed to get sick (in this atmosphere nothing unusual). I go back and what do I see? The quivering jaw of Jaroslaw (one parent) and his fists painfully clenched. A serious man, businessman, impeccably dressed, in a nice hotel in Augustow. What’s going on? He heard: “You came here as parents. With children? Then go away from here, to your Poland. You are quite close now.” Out of whose lips did these words come? A certain Vaiva Vaicekauskienė, an education expert in the Ministry of Education and Science… He did not misheard, Vaicekauskiene repeated it to another astonished mother of the Forum… Previously, she casually spoke to the same mother: “You want your daughter to be a dentist? And a non-paid university?! I want that too!”…
I’m leaving it without a comment…
Or maybe not. One short comment. I still wonder why we are fighting so much for these Polish schools. Maybe that’s why. A different cultural environment, a different civilization. A struggle for normality. What does it change that Lithuania has had twenty years of freedom and independence. The mentality has stayed the same, the same behaviors. Even worse, it’s escalating. A government official is “the lord of the estate.” You need the “enemy”, preferably a Pole, etc. Discussions are impossible, because these are different worlds. The cosmopolitan, European faces are a mask, a show, and on their own territory the real merciless faces emerge.
The extraordinary arrogance of the Lithuanian party was striking. It is also the opinion of one of the members of the Polish committee (at his request, without giving names), who in an unofficial conversation admitted that he had had a good deal of interacting with the Lituanian officials and he knows their attitude, the way of carrying a conversation, but such an accumulation of arrogance, pride and haughtiness he had not experienced yet.
There is no bogey, there is no punishment for reprehensible behavior. But there is the consent of Lithuanian society.
Fortunately, there were also strong positive moments. As before – despite the hopelessness of the situation – the determination of the Polish delegation, especially of the minister Sielatycki. Some people ask me whether there aren’t too many positive and good words about the minister in spite of the failure of negotiations. Maybe there are too many, but I appreciate his ability to identify the situation, his thoughtfulness and determination. I hope I’m not mistaken.
And some more balm to our hearts. The parents. It’s a new quality. Indeed necessary. Calm, composed and to the point. They extend their hands (not to be confused with drawing). The Lithuanian officials may reject it, lie, mess and confuse. But such a representation of the parents is impressive. It raises hope. It plunges the Lithuanian side. Among other things, that’s also why the Lithuanians are seeking an early end to the work of the committee. There have no compelling arguments, no new quality, and the parents are becoming more and more clear. They did not expect it and they’re defending themselves against it.
What we have left is to keep our fingers crossed that the Polish community in Lithuania has enough determination to continue fighting, and Poland has enough will to help in the fight for the Polish identity in Lithuania. I know, not everyone has enough of it
But apparently “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Let it be so
It will, because it must.
Soon we will post in Wilnoteka the statements of the members of the fourth meeting of the Polish-Lithuanian intergovernmental commission for the education of national minorities in Poland and Lithuania.
Tłumaczenie Anna Kołosowska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu Translated by Anna Kołosowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu