- June 22, 2012
Songaila: AWPL follows on the front of Russian imperialism
Surnames will never be written in Polish, as the Lithuanians have different traditions, says Gintaras Songaila, deputy to the Lithuanian parliament and leader of the Lithuanian nationalists. The stereotype of a Pole inLithuaniais a person who can’t be trusted. It’s about the distrust to the Polish politics, says the Lithuanian deputy.
— The Lithuanian authorities, with your participation, have changed the act on national minority education. What was the aim of it?
Considering education, we’ve applied rules similar to those inPolandandLatvia. The aim was 60 per cent of lessons in the state language. This was according to the agreements we’d signed with the Polish Minister of Education in 2002. Uniform Matura exams in the state language are also specified in the agreement. I’ve always been a proponent of the Latvian model, applied also to the Latvian minority inPoland.
— Do you agree that these changes are one of the main reasons of the deterioration of the Polish-Lithuanian relations?
No. It’s an improvement of the situation.
— Why an improvement?
It’s an improvement of the quality of education, an improvement of the competition in our country’s job market. This is why it’s an improvement. It should have been done a long time ago.
— But inPoland, at the end of secondary school there’s a separate Lithuanian exam. There’s no such thing inLithuania.
These are details…
— The teaching of a minority language—that’s a fundamental “detail”!
Our system is such that there’s only one obligatory exam. Young people can decide for themselves whether they also wish to take the Polish exam.
— But don’t you think that if there’s an obligatory exam, the quality of education is always higher, but if the native language exam is not compulsory, the level of teaching it necessarily goes down?
In general, I don’t agree with the politics of modernPoland. For example, if the French Minister of Education said that the education system inBelgiumneeded to be changed, he’d be out of office the next day. He also wouldn’t be a minister again. The main problem I see is not in education, but in the fact that there’s no respect for the status quo. There’s no other country in the world where the Polish minority has such rights.Polandhappens to see the main problem inLithuania. Not inBelarus, not inUkraine, not in other countries. This whole “educational problem” is only a political game to consolidate the supporters of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL) before the elections, while the reason behind our mutual distrust is the lack of definition in the treaty of the imperialist nature of the Polish politics before the war.
— InBelgium, which you mention, there are two state languages, enjoying absolutely the same rights. One of these languages is French. And yet you’re comparing the situation of minority schools inPolandand inLithuania. In the national minority schools inPoland, the amount of funding per pupil is higher than that in the Polish schools.
This is all untrue. Actually, it’s the other way round. I can send you statistical information on the methodical discrepancies.
— In the Lithuanian national minority schools, the amount of funding per pupil is 115—120 per cent of the standard rate.
As I’ve said… Yes, it’s 15—20 per cent more inLithuania, while inPolandit’s less than 100 per cent.
— It needs to be proven…
I’ll show you the facts and you’ll see for yourself.
— I’m ready.
Even the Lithuanian government has decided to fund Lithuanian schools inPoland, as they have no sufficient resources. That’s because they get less than 100 per cent of the standard rate, as compared with other schools.
— In the national minority schools inLithuania, the lessons are in minority languages, but, for example, there are no textbooks in the minority languages.
All textbooks are available in Polish. And, actually, it’s all the other way round. It is inPolandthat there are no textbooks in Lithuanian! We’re a small country. Proportionally, the Polish minority here is far larger than the Lithuanian one inPoland.Polandis a large country. And yet you find no money to print the textbooks. And we? There are Polish textbooks for all subjects. Polish and Russian.
— The teachers claim otherwise.
These are all slanders! It can all be checked.
— In the Lithuanian system of education there are schools that receive money directly from the government. Schools that don’t report to self-government. They’re the so-called “district schools.” Why is it that some schools are favoured at the cost of others?
That’s because the Electoral Action of Poles, dominating in two regions, closes Lithuanian schools and preschools.
— So may I understand that, according to your words, the “district schools” are something of a struggle for Lithuanian schools in the regions inhabited by Poles?
These regions are not only inhabited by Poles. The ethnic situation there is very complex. The problem is the struggle for the direction a pupil will take. Whether he will go to this school, or the other. Sometimes, it can even be a political struggle. Self-government has its capabilities through various forms of social help, sometimes they even simply pay money. Recently, the Polish authorities have paid parents 1000 zlotys for choosing a Polish school.
— That’s only retaliation for the previous Lithuanian actions. It’s also an attempt to recompense them for purchasing the very expensive textbooks in Polish.
It’s not retaliation, it’s a single-sided attack byPoland. Mr Sikorski knows well just what the situation is. And why he does as he does… All schools compete with one another and want future pupils to choose them. Sometimes it also happens that in a given region there are two schools, Polish and Lithuanian, and both lack pupils. And what then? Do both need to be closed? There are situations like this…
— The idea for “district schools” is older than Sikorski’s for paying parents a thousand zlotys for purchasing textbooks. Moreover, the “district schools” receive far more funding from state authorities.
The amounts are the same.
— As in minority schools or in Lithuanian schools?
I think it’s even more than the 115% of the standard rate, and that’s because it’s not according to the national criterion. The basic criterion there is the complex regional situation…
— So a Lithuanian school gets as much as a minority school, or even more?
Yes. Why should we grant privileges to some schools, and not the others?
— This is a European standard: privileges for national minority schools.
It isn’t at all.
— So do you think that it makes no sense that national minority schools should get more money per pupil than Lithuanian schools?
I think the rates should be equal. But they already have their privileges, if compared with other schools in other parts ofLithuania.
— One of the main arguments for changing the education system was improving the quality of teaching of the state language. However, the Polish Educational Society inLithuaniadid internal research and analyses. According to their findings, a Polish school graduate inLithuaniaknows Lithuanian just as well as a Lithuanian school graduate.
This is not true. I’ll send you research results that show the opposite…
— Why does the Lithuanian parliament not allow the possibility to write surnames of the Poles living inLithuaniain their original forms?
I don’t think that should ever happen. That’s because we, the Lithuanians, have different traditions. A compromise, which I’ve proposed, is possible. There’s something of this sort inLatvia. People can even introduce themselves in a grammatical form they choose, but the official form will always be Lithuanian. Even those Poles who come toLithuaniaand wish to stay have to change the form of their surnames. That’s all.
— The issue of the Lithuanian language is also relevant to street and place names…
These are all trivialities that no one needs. Everyone understands what’s written there. And having two versions would simply create chaos. Besides, these places have ethnically Lithuanian names. We will not allow their Polonization. For example, it’s Šalčininkaj, not Soleczniki. These are our ethnic lands, our ethnic place names, this is our life, our past and our future. We will not allow any autonomy. There are historic place names and we’ll stick with them.
— But there are more Poles living there, who should have their rights. These rights are, for example, bilingual place names.
You wanted my answer, and here you have it. Anyway, this is not a fancy of mine, but the opinion of theConstitutional Court.
— The Constitution is a very important act, but it can be changed…
The dispute over these surnames is only for show. It’s you, the Poles, who have deceived the Lithuanian minority inPoland. They have no right whatsoever to their own surnames. InLithuania, there’s no technical possibility to write your surnames with our letters.
— And the place names?
I can see no sense in changing the names of cities. IfPoland’s attitude towards the pre-war history were to change, perhaps it’d be possible to think something up on this issue. If this doesn’t change, it’ll never happen. Try to put yourself in our situation. For many centuries, our language was a pagan vernacular that others—the Church, the various other institutions—tried to destroy. This was also the case here before the war…
— Let’s return to the subject. You limit the rights of national minorities.
We don’t limit anything. A few years ago, some local Poles, disregarding the law, began to stick these place names on walls. In its final ruling, the court ordered the removal of all Polish names. This doesn’t limit anything. That’s how it’s always been. This is Polish aggression towards our law, our Constitution and our language.
— There are some international standards…
We keep to those standards. We keep to the Convention. Would God only give that the whole ofEuropekept to those standards as much as we do.
— I’ve asked a specific question concerning the names of towns and villages. There are no standards at the moment.
We’ve never said that we’d change the Constitution and that there’d be such possibility. This convention doesn’t apply to us.
— I’m not saying that this is prescribed by some law. Standards are not always the same as just law. And this is why I can’t understand this irritation… These Poles are, after all, Lithuanian citizens too… Why do they have fewer rights?
They want to constitute autonomy. Not the Polish minority, but the Electoral Action of Poles inLithuania.
— The Polish Germans aroundOpolehave bilingual versions of all place names. And they speak of no autonomy.
Polandhas nothing to fear fromGermany. ButPolandthreatensLithuania, with their cultural imperialism, with their meddling in our internal affairs.
— Where do you see this cultural imperialism?
I see it in the attack on our language, in the pressure to return to the so-called union traditions—that is, those of theFirstCommonwealth. The Poles wish to throw away all of our tradition. This is called “re-Polonization.” You even have documents along these lines. There are two directions. The first one concerns non-existing problems that the Polish minority invents, the second—working along our national elite, our scholars and politicians.
— And this means…?
This means drawing politicians and scholars into the Polish orbit, and negating our national tradition that has been developing since the end of the 19th c. The stereotype of a Pole inLithuania is a person you must not trust. It’s about mistrust towards Polish politics. Your politicians, your embassy, call our politicians with complaints.
— You’ve said something very serious, that there are cases of politicians and scholars wishing to drawLithuaniainto the Polish orbit. Can you give at least a few names? I would also like to know the recipients of these mysterious phone calls with Polish complaints.
Your representatives call the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education, the parliamentary deputies, with complaints. Your adherents are also among the high-ranking politicians. For example, the Social Democrat Česlovas Juršenas is one. You also have influence in the academia. For example, with the History Professor Alfredas Bumblauskas or the journalist Rimvydas Valatka. Certain Polish organizations have claimed that the Lithuanian independence had been some kind of accident, a mistake. These organizations are funded by the Polish Senate. Minister Sikorski also carries out these activities.
— Can you tell me precisely which these organizations are?
I’ll send you the list of them.
— Aren’t you afraid that the Russian language TV channels that dominate inLithuaniapose a greater threat to the Lithuanian culture?
We are wary of them, even doubly so. But AWPL follows on the front of Russian imperialism.
— These are only electoral coalitions, helping to gain more mandates in the parliament, as also in this field the Lithuanian law doesn’t aid the minorities. This is shown, for example, by the situation in which the national minorities, as the other parties, need to reach the 5 per cent threshold. There’s no such threshold inPoland…
Then why are there ex-KGB agents in their ranks?
— You have officially spoken against the Karta Polaka (the Polish Card). Why?
If the Polish side looked at his issue in a normal way, then only one provision in the Act on the Karta Polaka would be changed, the one which states that this “Karta” will be taken away if the person acts against Polish interests. Article 56 of our Constitution says that a deputy to the parliament may only be loyal to theLithuanianRepublic. It was said in 1998 that a deputy cannot have any links to other countries. If you want to be a member of the parliament, you can’t have a card like that, no matter whether it’s Polish, Russian or Hungarian. That’s all.
— So far, the Lithuanian parliament has not shared your point of view. A long time ago, back in Landsbergis’ times, there was the idea that there are no Poles in the Vilnius Region. There are only Polonized Lithuanians. What do you think on this subject?
I think that it’s everyone’s private matter who they consider themselves to be. That’s all.
— And if they consider themselves to be Polish?
If they wish to reject their Lithuanian background, it’s also their business.
— Don’t you think that a minority should always have a few more rights than the majority? It’s kind of a standard of democracy.
It’s not so even inPoland. I’ve been there many times and I’ve seen it for myself.
Author’s note: In a few places in the transcript of this conversation, Gintaras Songaila promises to send documentation proving his ideas. Unfortunately, the author has not received such documents from the politician.
Tłumaczenie Aleksandra Musiał w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Aleksandra Musiał within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.