- October 30, 2012
One percent of success
In the previous elections AWPL (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) got 4,8% of votes which was more like a disappointing success than a satisfactory defeat.
The previous result and the highest one in the same time was nothing more than AWPL would not have had in the past. The goal was always the same: to enter the parliament and exceed the five percent electoral threshold. This year, after all votes have been counted up, it turned out that voters have added “only” one percent which has actually changed not only the history of AWPL but also their own. To present this in more teenage terms, we could say that a lot of Poles clicked “Like it” for AWPL. The party managed to exceed the electoral threshold – it is a hit and a breakthrough. However, it is worth mentioning but the threshold is very unfair. It would be three percent for national minorities, if only Lithuania was a European country in its spiritual, mental and political sense. Then, Russians and Poles would have their representatives in the Seimas, which would be not only logical but also fair. In countries of a “healthy” democracy and mentality such representations are common and necessary for well-functioning state that allows everybody take part in all discussions.
Unfortunately, Lithuania is very far from such an ideal image, especially because there is no one to follow the right path. Having no other choice, Poles have proved that they are ready to have their representatives in the Seimas despite the unfair threshold. Another advantage of the latest elections is that the bigger amount of votes have helped to “throw out” of the Seimas some clowns and cranks who ridiculed and embarrassed the image of the government which is already bad. So, ironically, AWPL will help to develop a better image of the Lithuanian society and Lithuania itself as it is thought to be a Europe’s backwater. There are anxieties and fears throughout the state which make it impossible to deal with problems that are crucial for national minorities. The situation is so serious that it requires help and consultancy of such “institutions” as Kurt Volleback.
The Lithuanian PR community abroad will definitely take advantage of the fact that AWPL has got into the Seimas. They will trumpet the paradise Poles have in Lithuania as they even have their representatives in the Seimas. Obviously, nobody would bother to mention the fact that the party had to exceed five percent threshold and not three percent; and nobody would say the success of AWPL is actually the success of the policy destroying national minorities in Lithuania. We are already familiar with that kind of activity. Lithuanian politicians abroad used to tout excellent Polish education in Lithuania and, paradoxically, the activity aiming at destroying that education. They also praised Polish students for good grades in Lithuanian exams which seemed to be a confirmation of good knowledge of the Lithuanian language among Polish students. Ironically, the actual driving force behind the changes in education is an alleged lack of knowledge in the Lithuanian language among Poles. Another activity of Lithuanian politicians is to claim that the minority rights are obeyed in Lithuania and that they ratify European conventions but, simultaneously, Poles are punished for speaking their language at work, writing in Polish on street and city signs or bus plates. They are also punished for Polish spelling of their surnames. There is no law regulating national minorities’ rights in Lithuania but, in the same time, the authorities assure that national minorities are well treated there. The politicians also promote strategic partnership with Poland. However, their behavior proves they have given Poland the finger for at least twenty years, first secretly and recently openly.
Did the cooperation with Russians and Lithuanians help to exceed the five percent threshold? Marginally, if at all. It could be measured just to have exact data in the future discussions, but I believe that Poles managed on their own. We all probably thought that if they do not succeed now, they will never do. Why? Because the Polish minority in independent Lithuania has never been so much attacked, humiliated and threatened as it is now. This was a major motivation for the voters. They became a voice of the Polish minority in confrontation with the current government policy. As any other party, AWPL is not a perfect one and makes mistakes but these are not big failures which could discredit them. Also, it did not matter that the party has moved minority rights slogans to the background of the campaign and put economic issues on the cover.
Poles in Lithuania have their own party and there is no sign of other political force to be set and take AWPL supporters on its side. Besides, there is no need for that. Not everybody likes AWPL and there is nothing strange about it. He who pleased everybody died before he was born. What is most important in politics is effectiveness and that was shown by AWPL. All the Poles (also those criticizing AWPL) who stood for election from other parties have experienced what they were asking for. The result of the elections has shown the place of Poles in on the Lithuanian political scene, no matter the political persuasions. The fact that AWPL is criticized also by Poles is right and it should help rather than harm. The party should accept any justified criticism and eliminate all mistakes which it is criticized for.
What will change due to the fact that more Poles will sit in the Lithuanian parliamentary benches? Definitely, Poles having more MPs will feel a lot more confident, solid and stronger (in comparison to the former composition of the Seimas, AWPL has grown 2.5-fold). They will certainly discuss and negotiate with working conditions with other parties as equals. Eight-person team is very good. Taking the number of Poles in Lithuania into account, AWPL should have ten members because that would match in the percentage terms the Polish minority in the Lithuanian population. And honestly, the party was really close to have that ten-person team in the parliament.
Will the Polish-Lithuanian relations change? Definitely, but not because of AWPL. Poland remains indifferent to whether Poles in Lithuania are just below or above the five percent threshold (it was clearly visible in the Polish media just before the elections). It is still the same strategy: “If you want any rights, you have to fight for them on your own”. That is why Poland and Polish politicians will express their recognition and admiration, pat them friendly on their back, but it will not have any impact on the Polish-Lithuanian relations and it will not cause any changes in the attitude towards Poles in Lithuania. The funny thing is the Lithuanians believe that the AWPL’s success was thanks to an invisible “hand” from Warsaw rather than determination of Poles in Lithuania who acted in the face of such unfair policy. You can see how knowledgeable Lithuanian experts are. They are still stuck in their “endangered” world.
I think that in the immediate but also in the long term the Polish minority will not experience many changes. As we all know, there are no friends in politics but only business. Achieving any arrangements between parties will involve many trade-offs and AWPL has to take part in it. Will they succeed in anything? Probably some will gain adjournments, slowdowns of unfavorable reforms which, anyway, will be present in initiatives taken by the Lithuanian parties. Both left and right-wing parties will treat AWPL as a leprous party that is not worth cooperating with. I think now this is one of the AWPL’s targets: to change that unfair and prejudiced image. In terms of numbers, AWPL will not be the smallest one in the Seimas. There will be seven parties in the parliament and many coalitions may be formed but in the same time they will be very unstable. The situation may therefore chop and change.
The success in exceeding the threshold has definitely built up not only the party but also its electorate. The party will have much more experience in parliamentary activity and AWPL MPs will be able to help Tomaszewski with media contact. There should be a four or five-person group of AWPL members who will be able to match the skill and efforts Tomaszewski does. I think that the Polish “fresh blood” in the Seimas will show the “habitual guests” that being active pays off. What is more, the Polish electorate will built up a bit because they now know their votes did not come to nothing. Probably, AWPL will always be on the threshold’s edge, so this year’s success is crucial. If the party hadn’t reached the threshold, both voters’ trust and the party’s character would decline after the elections. But now, a new quality should appear.
Due to the increased representation of the party, obviously, the “control” and “supervision” of the Lithuanian media will be more frequent. It is logical in some way, that is why they should be more aware of journalists eagerly looking for any mistakes they make instead of presenting the party in a favorable light. Although AWPL members are well aware of media activity, it is always good to be careful about that to keep the party’s image high.
Another important task for the Polish community is to build up the Polish media in Lithuania. If EAPL has the support of up to 80% of Poles in Lithuania, this should translate into support for “Kurier Wileński”, “Wilnoteka”, radio “Znad Willi” and other important components of Polish media market. There is so much to do that in real terms there is only 1% that the media cares about reading, listening or watching. We should be interested in purchasing them. If Poland wants to promote Polish culture, it is essential to take channels like TVP1, TVP2, TVN or Polsat to the Lithuanian cable television. This would be very profitable, despite all costs.
Let us be humble, and that 1% of the success assume a one percent of the entire work, which is in front of us and AWPL. 99% of cases concerning minorities in Lithuania is not solved and it will not be easy to do so even with a bigger representation in the parliament. Poles in Lithuania have the same amount of work to do. There is this wave of voluntary assimilation, or at least a lack of imagination and awareness, renunciation or ordinary negligence of national identity, which may be noticed during a variety of social events.
Tłumaczenie Marta Dubiel w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Marta Dubiel the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.