- March 30, 2012
OSCE commissioner receives Lithuanian complaints and Polish calls of hope
After his Tuesday visit to Vilnius, a highly ranked commissioner of OSCE in charge of national minorities’ matters – Knut Vollebaek – visited Warsaw the following Friday. In Vilnius the commissioner attended a meeting with the people in charge of the Department of Culture, International Affairs and Education, whereas in the Polish capital apart from having spoken to the representatives of the above named departments, Knut Vollebaek has held a meeting with the representatives of the Lithuanian minority in Poland.
Although the meeting has just about finished, the details of issues that were to be discussed in it, where already revealed on Monday, on Delfi.lt, where Algirdas Vaicekauskas who is the president of the Society for Poles in Lithuania and the headmaster of Žiburys school, announced that he is going to complain to the commissioner about the fact that Polish authorities are not doing enough to preserve the Lithuanian language and culture in Sejneńszczyzna and that they are also using the Lithuanian minority to their advantage in the dispute between Warsaw and Vilnius regarding the rights of the Polish minority in Lithuania.
According to Mr. Vaicekauskas’s Monday complains that can be found on Delfi.lt, the Polish government put a lot of pressure on the Puńsk municipality, as the latter did not want to restore the bilingual town names for security reasons (after the incident with painting over signboards). We are well aware of the fact that we are currently used by Poland in their relations with Lithuania to make it easier for them to pressurize the Lithuanian government so that the latter go easier on the poles who reside in Lithuania.
Vaicekauskas also announced that he would outline this situation to the OSCE commissioner, Vollebaek. According to his announcement and the Lithuanian media in Poland, the main problem that the Lithuanian minority is experiencing is the “sense of threat” and “growing intolerance” towards the Lithuanian people in Sejneńszczyźna, even though the negative attitude towards the Lithuanians has been noticeable “since always” but now it has become particularly disturbing.
According to punskas.lt, “the most serious issue that is giving the Polish Lithuanians a headache is the rising political tension and the fear caused by intolerance towards them on nationality grounds”. The above named portal also gives the opinion of Vaicekauskas who claims that over the last years, the poles’ opinion about the Lithuanians has worsened. Over the past couple of years, there have also been a couple of attacks aimed at Lithuanians, bilingual street names and building names and Lithuanian monuments in the villages of Puńsk and Bubele. There is a lack of kindness from the Polish government when it comes to the Lithuanian language and education of the Lithuanian minority.
From previous statements and announcements of the Lithuanian minority’s representatives, we can gather that the education issue which was previously considered as the most important problem, now seems out of date and has been replaced by a sense of threat that the Lithuanian activists have spoke about.
Meanwhile in Lithuania despite the repressive measures implemented by the Lithuanian authorities towards the Polish minority as a punishment for public usage of the Polish language and for using bilingual street signs and town names and despite the fact that the Lithuanian government is trying to leave the Lithuanians of Polish descent without the heritage they should have been given back after the soviets have stole their families’ belongings in WWII, the problem regarding education of the Polish minority still remains the most up-to-date issue. During his last visit in Vilnius on March 27 and his meeting with the representatives of the Lithuanian government, Knut Vollebaek spoke about this issue. The Polish minority having heard the affirmations of the Lithuanian ministers who claim that “everything is going in the right direction”, are aware of the fact that the commissioner’s meetings and visits will not change the position in which they are in, nevertheless they still appreciate the commissioner’s involvement in this case.
– “It is good to hear that commissioner Vollebaek is interested in this matter, as his meetings are important and valuable. They show that the described problem does indeed exist despite the fact that the Lithuanian government previously stubbornly denied the existence of it. The commissioner’s engagement also shows that this problem has to be solved” – says the coordinator of the Parents’ Association of Polish Schools in Lithuania Mr. Mirosław Szejbak during his conversation with the Courier (pl: Kurier). Mr. Szejbak does however note that the Education Act, which discriminates against Polish education, originates the problem and the only solution to it is making amendments to that document. The making of the amendment is only dependent upon the Lithuanian government’s good will.
“Neither OSCE nor the commissioner can force the Lithuanian government to change the Act. However perhaps his suggestions and propositions will persuade the authorities to listen to our calls” – Mr. Szejbak points out. He also adds that despite the commissioner’s valuable attempts to solve the problem, we probably can’t expect any changes to be made by the current government, especially before elections as any compromises made in the Poles’ advantage will seem as an act of resignation and will negatively impact the support for the governing party. The upcoming elections may however change the political situation inside Lithuania to more favourable towards the Polish minority’s postulates.
SIKORSKI MET WITH VOLLEBAEK
Polish minister Radosław Sikorski has had a meeting with a highly ranked commissioner of OSCE in charge of national minorities’ matters – Knut Vollebaek. The conversation between the two mainly concentrated on what Mr. Vollebaek’s report that he composed after his visits to Poland and Lithuania, included.
The Polish side’s explanations were about the possibility of introducing auxiliary languages and additional town names in languages of the minorities and in regional languages of which speakers make up at least 20% of the society. A dissemination plan has been presented that outlines the rules and laws that apply to ethnical and national minorities – including the Lithuanian minorities – in terms of the spelling of names according to the rules determined by their native language. A reference has also been made to the need of supplying appropriate textbooks to the Lithuanian minority. The high commissioner also pointed out that there is a need to restore the bilingual street and town nameplates that have been wrecked by unknown vandals in the Punśk municipality over the night of 21st August 2011. He also pertained to the problems with the reception of programs emitted by the Bialystok centre of the Polish Television ltd (Telewizja Polska S.A.).
The authorities of the Republic of Poland highly value the commissioner’s involvement and his attempts to understand and solve the largest existent problems relating to the Polish minority in Lithuania and Lithuanian minority in Poland.
Tłumaczenie Kamil Szwarc w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Kamil Szwarc within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.