• February 28, 2012
  • 190

OSCE High Commissioner in Vilnius about the problems of Poles

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebæk, met with the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, on Tuesday. Photo: ELTA

Unusual, longer meeting, virtually face to face and a laconic message afterwards, out of which nearly nothing comes out;

Based on the earlier visit of the Commissioner in Lithuania in November last year, one can only guess what was the topic of Tuesday’s conversation in Vilnius between the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebæk and the President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė.

At the time, Knut Vollebæk familiarised himself with the problems of national minorities in Lithuania. He also visited Polish and Russian school in Soleczniki, as well as the local Centre of Belarusian Culture. He announced then that he has some advice for the Lithuanian government on the matter of regulation of the national minority issues. Mainly – of Polish minority, which has been strongly opposing the imposed top-down regulations on matters of national minorities’ education and for years has been fighting for the right to write names in their native language, the use of that language as a secondary in the offices of local administration in the Vilnius region and the return of patrimony to Poles, nationalised yet in the Soviet period.

Presumably, these matters were also the topic of the meeting of the Commissioner Knut Vollebæk with the President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

And officially, according to the message of the Office of the President, “the situation of national minorities in Lithuania, experience of other countries and the role of the OSCE in the development of integration processes were the issues discussed” during the meeting. From the message, albeit brief, one can conclude what the President replied to the high official. Namely that Lithuania pays a lot of attention to the matters of national minorities, because “the Coordinating Council on National Minorities and the permanent working group of experts of the Ministry of Education were established”. President also said that “every citizen is important for Lithuania and equally, Lithuania should be important for every citizen”. So much from the official sources…

Meanwhile, one can assume, based on the informal meetings of the Commissioner Knut Vollebæk prior to the appointment with the President, as well as on the circumstances of the visit of the OSCE representative, that the meeting with the Commissioner was not pleasant and enjoyable for Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Previously, in fact, on Monday, Commissioner Vollebæk first wanted to meet with the representatives of the Polish minority in Lithuania.

He met with the MEP and the president of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, Waldemar Tomaszewski, as well as with representatives of the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools.

It is worth noting that the meetings were held on the initiative of the OSCE representative, and the talks with Poles lasted significantly longer than the appointment with the head of the Lithuanian state.

— Mr. Vollebæk met with us in order to once again listen to our arguments and concerns on the matter of the new Law on Education, adopted last year in Lithuania – told “Kurier” Mirosław Szejbak from the Forum of Parents of Polish Schools, an initiative of parents, which was created on the wave of the protests against the changes brought by the new law, which according to the Forum, limits and discriminates Polish education in Lithuania. Szejbak notices that the Commissioner listened to the arguments of parents with a great involvement and understanding, which – as underlined by the representative of the Forum – was missing during the meeting of the Commissioner with the parents in November last year.

The Monday meeting in a small group with the representatives of parents of Polish schools took place in the hotel “Astoria” and lasted nearly for two hours.

— We had an impression that the Commissioner understands our concerns and he is strongly involved in the issue of resolution of the problems of national minorities in Lithuania – said Mirosław Szejbak.

And the problems surely exist, which was already mentioned during the last year visit of Knut Vollebæk in Lithuania. He noticed then that the OSCE is closely following the development of situation in regards to the issues of national minorities and the actions of the Lithuanian authorities on this matter. At the time, the Commissioner also said that the OSCE sees the tension in the relations between the Polish minority and the state authorities and it wants to prevent the situation, in which this tension would turn into a conflict.

Before the Tuesday meeting with the Lithuanian President, the Commissioner told media that since his last visit in Lithuania, he has not changed his mind on the matter on the situation of national minorities in this country. Will he change his mind after the meeting with the President?

 — It is highly unlikely — says Szejbak and notices that the knowledge of the Commissioner in regards to the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania and the actions of the authorities on this matter is significantly broader today than few months ago. Thanks to the direct contact with the representatives of the Forum, the Commissioner could have familiarised himself with the comprehensive study on the condition of Polish education in Lithuania, which gives the lie to the official statements of Lithuanian authorities that point out the low level of education of Polish schools. The representatives of the parents informed the Commissioner also on the actual role of the work of the mentioned in the presidential message Coordinating Council and Coordinating Council on National Minorities and the working group of the Ministry of Education.

Creation of these groups in the opinion of Mirosław Szejbak is simply a window-dressing of the international opinion, because as he says, these institutions were established for the formality, while practically they do not fulfill their functions.

— According to the assumptions of the working group, the group is supposed to hold meetings few times per year and resolve current problems of the education of national minorities. In reality, until now, only one organisational meeting has taken place. Besides, the group involves representatives of nearly all minorities, which do not even have their schools. It is hard to imagine then that the working group with such composition would be able to solve the problems of Polish minority education in a constructive way, which could not be even achieved by the intergovernmental Polish-Lithuanian group of experts, which was working intensively for three months and met five times during this period of time, but unfortunately without any results – notices the representative of the Forum.

According to our findings, also the Coordinating Council on National Minorities, which is led by the PM Andrius Kubilius himself and is also composed of heads of few departments, including education, culture, foreign affairs, as well as the representatives of the Council of National Communities (another governmental addition), does not fulfill its role, among others on the matter of formation of policies towards national minorities. The Council was established on 2nd September 2009 and it was supposed to work “intensively”, because according to the governmental project, sittings of the Council should take place at least twice a year.

— The last meeting was held on 1st July 2011 – informed us Kastytis Minkauskas, the head of the Department on Issues of National Minorities of the Ministry of Culture. He also explained that the convening of meetings of the Council is a prerogative of its chairman, while the Ministry of Culture coordinates the works on the preparation of the topics of sittings. As we were reassured by the head of the department, the new agenda will be initially set in two weeks time, and when the Council will be convened, the clerk did not want to forecast anything.

— The decision will be made by the Council – explained briefly.

It is worth noticing, in fact, that this Council since its establishment cannot accept the project of the new Law on National Minorities, which was supposed to come into force replacing the old law, which expired with the beginning of 2010.

Precisely in November last year, Knut Vollebæk noticed that the lack of the law causes the legal vacuum, and as a result, many issues of national minorities are hard to resolve. During the last visit, the High Commissioner points out, however, that he does not come to Lithuania with ready solutions, he only has few recommendations for the Lithuanian authorities, which can set the ways the problems can be resolved. According to the announcements, the final report on this matter will be presented by the Commissioner in May. By this time, he will probably visit Lithuania once again.

We also remind that the High Commissioner is developing a report for the government in Warsaw in regards to the problems of the Lithuanian minority in Poland, with which Knut Vollebæk also met in November last year, and which has similar problems to the ones of the Polish minority in Lithuania, especially on the matter of education.


Tłumaczenie Małgorzata Juchniewicz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Małgorzata Juchniewicz within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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