- March 17, 2012
Rally! Rally! And after the rally
According to witnesses 7 thousand, according to police around 3.5 to 4 thousand people participated in the protest in defense of Polish education in Lithuania. The action was organised by strike committees of Polish schools in Lithuania and social organisations of national minorities, exactly on the first anniversary of the adoption of the amended Act on Education by the Seimas of Lithuania. The march and the rally were so far undoubtedly one of the biggest protests of Lithuanian Poles.
At exactly Midday, the crowd of few thousand people marched off from the building of the Lithuanian Seimas towards the headquarters of the government of Lithuania. 40-minutes march of Lithuanian Poles was monitored by multiple groups of police forces. Police forces from across the country were brought to Vilnius and placed on alert.
Many students, particularly of older classes, participated in the protest. Above all, students underlined the discriminating decision on the unified Matura exam from Lithuanian from 2013 onward. “Up to now, we have been focusing on grammar and culture of Lithuanian language in particular and we have absolutely no problems with these issues” – underlined students of eleventh grade from one of the schools in Vilnius. “However, the changes in the exam concern mainly the scope of Lithuanian literature, the range of Lithuanian compulsory pieces of literature at the exam has increased several times. We will not manage to catch up on the programmes’ differences in such a short time. Already today, when trying to reduce the differences, we are lacking time to study other subjects. Yet, not everyone will choose Lithuanian studies at the university level. There are future mathematicians, doctors and economists among us” – stressed young girl from Vilnius, Bożena. “Our friends have been successfully getting into such studies and were graduating from them with no problems, what will happen to us?” – worries the young girl.
Lithuanian Poles do not think that geography and history have to be taught in Lithuanian.
„The language of instruction does not matter, but the knowledge of subject does. Of course, it is important to know Lithuanian. We live here and we want our children to know Lithuanian perfectly. It is obvious, but it also should be very clear that as Poles, we want to know Polish language and Polish culture. Such chance was given to us through a Polish school. The school, which used to play this role and now gets so decisively destroyed by Lithuanian authorities.” – worried Witold, a father of a teenager, who is a student at a Polish school in Vilnius.
Over the last year, Polish minority has attempted several times to suspend the controversial law. It was informing that it is not able to accept few of the new legal decisions, which – according to Polish activists and teachers – act against the interests of Polish education in the Vilnius region. A loud slogan was heard multiple times: “This is the end of Polish schools in Lithuania”. The new Act, which was adopted rapidly and without consultations, (presumably because of political reasons) has brought a lot of insecurity, confusion and uncertainty into the functioning of Polish schools. Even a year after the adoption of the law, the Act still remains incomprehensible and each of the parties interprets the wording and implements the decisions in its own manner.
60 thousand signatures of Lithuanian citizens of Polish nationality, several protest actions and strikes of Polish schools were not taken into account. Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, also got involved in the conflict. On 5th September last year during the visit in Vilnius, a decision, calling for the creation of an intergovernmental education group, was made. Five meetings of the Polish-Lithuanian panel of experts in the field of education ended with a fiasco. Poles cold not accept Lithuanian conditions, and the Lithuanian side remained unconditionally inflexible. Many of participants of today’s rally, mainly teachers and directors, highlighted that the time for the introduction of the unified Matura exam is undeniably coming to an end, and the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, despite numerous promises, up to today has not set precise conditions of the unified exam from Lithuanian language and the level of its verification.
Today’s rally has also brought some new issues: the organisers, speakers at the rally, have particularly stressed several times that their protest (as well as all the other hitherto protests of Lithuanian Poles) is not aimed against Lithuania, but solely against the harmful decisions of the Lithuanian authorities. They constitute a danger not only for the Polish minority, but for all national minorities in Lithuania, as well as for the entire Lithuanian system of education. The Polish protest was thus supported by the Lithuanian Education Trade Union and representatives of schools of Russian and Belarussian communities.
One can be still surprised by the limited way of thinking of Lithuanian media, which continuously describe all protests of Lithuanian Poles in one way: “Poles do not want to learn Lithuanian language”. During the year of the Polish-Lithuanian societal discussion, no new issues were added. The attempts to find a dialogue were not even undertaken. It is true that the local Poles also did not find a way to convince the majority of the society to their arguments. A healthy exchange of opinions, clear presentation of one’s own arguments and entrance into media and social environment of Lithuanian recipients – are still the weakest areas of Polish activities.
The representatives of few Polish national organisations also came to Vilnius. The most numerous one, a group of 50 people, was represented by the Polish Association March of Independence. One could see huge discipline of participants from Poland, they kept together, were really focused and careful. Soon after the end of the manifestation, Poles prepared a statement for the media.
It is rather difficult to be surprised by the particular caution of the Polish guests. Already few weeks prior to the organisation of the rally, the Lithuanian media were warning that radical Polish hooligans are planning to come to Vilnius in order to support their compatriots. The result of such visits was reminded on the example of a similar meeting in Kaunas, when a football stadium got devastated during a football game.
No serious incidents were noted up to the end of the protest. The Chief Commissariat of Vilnius informed that a drunken citizen of Lithuania, who was holding fascist attributes in his hands and was loudly using Nazi slogans, was detained on the Avenue of Gedyminas. Another few people were stopped for consumption of alcohol in public places.
Big emotions were caused by earlier statements of Lithuanian politicians in media. They perceived the rally as…”a revenge on Lithuanians”. It was reminded that the rally is held on 17th March, and exactly on the same day in 1938 the authorities of Poland issued an ultimatum to Lithuania, in which they demanded the establishment of diplomatic relations. Today’s speakers also referred to these words, underlining that the Lithuanian Seimas itself decided about the exact date of this protest last year, when it adopted the unacceptable Act on Education.
The authorities of Lithuania are criticising the protest. The Minister of Education, Gintaras Steponavičius accused the politicians of the EAPL that „they collect their own political capital at the expense of teachers and children”. As a response, Lithuanian Poles said: “Isn’t it exactly opposite that the actions of Lithuanian politicians, particularly the currently ruling ones, strengthen the potential of the EAPL?”
An extensive video cover from the march and the rally in defense of Polish education in Lithuania will be published soon.
Based on: own information.
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.