- November 30, 2011
Commission of truth and success
Are the results of the work done by the education commission, appointed by the Polish and Lithuanian prime ministers, surprising in any way? Absolutely not. Many observers had stressed out that the commission’s work would be pointless. I don’t think they were pessimists, but rather they were aware of the level of relations between both countries and the attitude of Lithuania towards the problem. So their expectations couldn’t have been different.
What was the point of putting on such a show? Despite appearances, the Lithuanian side needed the commission more than the Polish side. The former had expressed its satisfaction with the commission’s work and called it a success before the final results. If anyone was surprised, it was the Polish side.
This kind of clever public relations manoeuvre came in very handy for the Lithuanian side. They have at their disposal yet another argument: they wanted and attempted to talk, but it was the fault of Poles’ (those living both in Lithuania and Poland) that a compromise was not reached – the Lithuanian version of a compromise that didn’t include any significant changes in order to solve the problem. From now on, a new expression can be coined – “a Lithuanian compromise” – meaning a solution with no changes to the initial situation in which the discussion began.
The main task of the commission was to take care of the Polish minority in Lithuania (because Poles living in Lithuania are never happy), but thanks to the commission we could also find out about problems faced by the Lithuanian minority living in Poland. It turned out that Lithuanians want their course books in Lithuanian and they also want to get rid of annoying mistakes that regularly crop up in final exams prepared by the Polish Ministry of Education.
How can this be compared to the postulates presented by the Polish minority? See for yourselves. What is known is that the Lithuanian minority is ready to cut off its own hand just to give the Lithuanian authorities a good excuse to “settle things down” and to get the Polish minority in Lithuania under control. A real deviation on patriotism!
The Polish side also wanted the commission to be appointed, because in the civilised world, the only possibility taken into consideration is a dialogue. Poles didn’t realise that Lithuania is only familiar with the notion of “monologue”, and “dialogue” hasn’t been discovered yet. The Lithuanian side decided that the aim of the commission should be a unilateral monologue in form of statements on how the future acts will give benefits and advantages to the Polish minority in Lithuania.
The structure of the commission is rather bizarre. The bilateral commission was appointed by Poland and Lithuania, meaning Poles versus Lithuanians. But Lithuania was also “represented” by Poles living in Lithuania, who were in opposition to the very Lithuanian side that they represented. Oh dear, Poles living in Lithuania will get what they deserve for having shown another sign of disloyalty to their motherland. Poles in Lithuania in the commission didn’t allow the Lithuanian government to act. Poland, however, called for what the Polish minority put forward.
The mere fact of appointing an international commission to take decisions about a Lithuanian domestic act, regarding only Lithuanian citizens, is a peculiarity. Why should Lithuanians confer with a neighbouring country about their legislation? It must have been a Lithuanian “act of good will” then: but why towards Poland, not the citizens of all minorities? The commission was appointed only after the Polish minority demonstrations, for what they will be held accountable on numerous occasions. Just like it will never be forgiven or forgotten that, at the crucial point in the history, Poles abstained from voting,
Such a commission should have been a domestic one. Without Polish participation, both Lithuanians and Poles in Lithuania would have benefited; the former would have approached the problem in a more reasonable and calm way; the latter would have been treated seriously, with due respect. There should have been representatives of each minority in Lithuania that has at least one school and a language different than Lithuanian. The word would have been spread that Lithuania solves problems concerning minorities with them, and not without them. As the government contemptuously ignored minorities, the “stories” they present about their willingness to reach a compromise with mutual benefits sound extremely insincere.
The Lithuanian side didn’t think it was necessary to appoint any commission or working party including minorities, thus showing they don’t take their opinion into consideration. Currently, it is being said that the Lithuanian side was not aware of the view, which the Polish minority had on the act in question, as it wasn’t presented. Such statements are great embarrassment to the government and cause trouble, as the government chose to ignore parents’ signatures, demonstrations, and strikes, believing that such form of presentation of the demands was offensive to the country and the government.
What would have happened if the Lithuanian side had agreed to the demands made by Poles to go back to the situation as it was before the changes? If the previous act had stayed in force of law for another 10 to 20 years, it’s certain that Poles and other minorities would assimilate (or as the Lithuanian side prefers to call it: integrate) into the society much faster, with no compulsion, out of their own free will and reason, with no sign of hate or contempt that has currently settled in on both sides. With such “not deteriorating” state of education, Lithuania would gain much more: local minorities’ and “big neighbour’s” favour that would result in better relations, which isn’t with no importance when it comes to various international forms of permanent cooperation or EU temporary projects.
The role of Poland in the commission came down to giving advice and opinion, making requests and convincing. It’s as clear as day that the situation could and can be changed only by the Lithuanian side. The Lithuanian side is aware of that too, but it couldn’t let such an opportunity of showing superiority and arrogance towards Poland slip away. Such opportunities don’t happen too often, if ever. The Lithuanian side didn’t have to be impudent and arrogant in its deafness to the Polish or Polish minority’s arguments. But it was clear that the Lithuanian representatives felt good with that.
When Poland accuses Lithuania that the act is discriminating, Lithuania replies by saying that it’s exactly the same act Poland applies to the Lithuanian minority. But it’s a very selective comparison: look closely and a dozen or so important aspects of education in Poland are to the benefit of the Lithuanian minority. In Lithuania, it’s the other way round. The Lithuanian side, even media and journalists remain silent on this point as they represent national front in the name of a strategic Lithuanian interest. Lithuania is far behind European standards, even Polish, as far as other minorities’ rights are concerned (not only in the area of education). But hush on that too, in the name of national interest! No need for a just parity 1:1; a selective “Lithuanian justice” can do.
The trends that have been prevalent in Poland and Lithuania for the last 20 years are also significant. Since the 1990s, the situation of the Lithuanian minority in Poland (although it accounts for less than 0,04%) has been considerably improved. An opposite phenomenon was spotted in Lithuania: compared to the 1990s the situation has sharply deteriorated (and they account for around 7%). It shows that the approaches towards minorities in Lithuania and Poland are worlds apart, even though there are as many as 10 000– 15 000 Lithuanians in Poland, and only 200 000 – 250 000 Poles in Lithuania. 1:1? Not the slightest significance for Lithuania. They wish for 1:1 and believe that thanks to the act and some other „aids”, the number of Lithuanians in Poland and Poles in Lithuania could be described as 1:1.
Instead of bringing the countries closer and solving the problem, the commission created a gap between them. Both sides are disappointed and dissatisfied. They will blame and bear grudges against each other. It’s evident that neither the Polish minority in Lithuania, nor Poland initiated or strived for changes in the area of education. So when someone says it’s hard to find the one to blame for the current situation, it makes me smile with pitifulness and disbelief. If there is one positive thing to be found in the Polish-Lithuanian and Polish minority-Lithuanian conflicts that must be the fact that every conflict clears the air in a way. Both Poland and Lithuania got to know each other’s positions thoroughly and analytically. The Polish side has also “discovered” “the ethics” and “culture” of the Lithuanian side in difficult situations.
Poland hasn’t been well informed about the hidden and open agendas, temporary and strategic assumptions that Lithuania has had towards Poles in Lithuania. The Lithuanian authorities claimed that the Polish side was receiving distorted information on the situation of the minority from the very Polish minority. Finally, thanks to the commission, the Polish side could be presented with the correct and “not distorted” view directly from the Lithuanian side, which creates the situation. And this can be hailed as the greatest success both for Poland and Lithuania.
Tłumaczenie Małgorzata Karaś w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Małgorzata Karaś within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu