- December 19, 2012
Poland and Lithuania are requested to cooperate in order to solve the problem of national minorities
In March 2011 I submitted a petition to the European Parliament entitled “Linguistic rights of Poles (Lithuanian citizens) in Lithuania.” While claiming the fundamental rights of my nationals, I followed the voice of my conscience regardless of the petition’s assessment.
Since April 2011 the European Parliament has been dealing with the complainant and has not declared its position. Nevertheless, the fact that the Committee on Petitions continues to examine the case against human rights’ violation in Lithuania—the EU member state—is certainly worth noting. I am convicted that the actions undertaken in a response to the petition—such as mandating the European Commission by the European Parliament to issue twice an advisory opinion; open debate in the EP in April 2012; and public statements concerning the matter at hand released by the governments of Poland and Lithuania—have largely contributed to raising public awareness of Polish minority’s problems in Lithuania and the need of cooperation in the spirit of European solidarity and with the respect for human rights. Many Europeans have come to realize that “the respect for human rights” remains an empty slogan when it could and should stand at the core of European unity.
The fact that the new Lithuanian government has announced tackling the problem of Polish minority provides solid ground for satisfaction, especially in the face of Poles’ efforts to defend their linguistic rights encompassing for instance the Polish spelling of the names and the names of the cities. I hope the path from promises to tangible results will be short and straight, not rocky and twisty as it was the case up to this point. Unfortunately, it may take years to fulfill even the simplest tasks. However, despite the Lithuanian governments’ statements, I believe the EP should continue considering my petition that is meant chiefly to specify and call attention to an important social issue. Therefore, it is fully justified to raise this issue in the Committee on Petitions until the situation changes and the discrimination ceases to exist. Rightly did the European Parliament not finish examining the petition in December. In my opinion, the case should be closed by the EP when the regulations ensuring Polish minority’s rights are introduced.
Again I would like to stress that my petition was not submitted against any concrete person or entity. It was intended as a form of appeal for respecting human rights by the member states and to be more exact respecting the rights of Polish minority by Lithuania. This voice was heard which proves that we retain our values and realize that obeying the fundamental human rights is indispensible for the efficient cooperation in Europe. I cannot picture Europe that is oblivious to the human suffering.
Positive and formal aspects of petition consideration are worth underlying. According to the official Journal of the Petition Committee at the European Parliament, the accusations against Lithuania are grave and the issues the petition deals with are crucial for the European Union. Moreover, it was mentioned that the European Commission shirked from the responsibility for the problem concerning the fundamental rights, which is at odds with the Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union stating that the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. One could observe many notable situations during the petition examination which indicates that the problems of Poles residing in Lithuania have been recognized.
First and foremost, the petition was supported by thousands of the European citizens. Non-governmental organizations dealing with human rights and national education became involved in the matter: the European Foundation of Human Rights from Vilnius; the “Samostanowienie” Foundation Trust Supporting Polish Education Abroad from Warsaw and Vilnius; and the Gustaw Radbruch Interdisciplinary Association of Human Rights at the University of Gdańsk. The eminent experts on the international law, European law and human rights expressed their opinions, for instance prof. Zdzisław Brodecki, prof. Jerzy Zajadło and prof. Tomasz Tadeusz Koncewicz. They pointed out that the issue at hand lies within the competence of the EU. Additionally, they also made an appeal for greater engagement of the EU in resolving the matter of violating the citizens’ basic rights by the member states. While the petition has been on the agenda, myriad articles have been published in the official parliamentary journals and in Polish, Lithuanian, German and Russian media. I received and wrote hundreds of letters (the materials are currently filed away in 12 volumes).
The issue evoked an interest of the EP members from countries other than Poland and Lithuania and consequently gained a European dimension. The EP requested the European Commission to analyze the matter twice. The Petition Committee at the EP decided twice to keep examining the case, although the Lithuanian site and worryingly the European Commission raised their objections. At this point, the content of the latest advisory opinion issued by the EC on October, 24th 2012 is worth mentioning. Apart from its objection against considering the case by the EU institutions, the EC explicitly stated that the cooperation between Poland and Lithuania is essential for overcoming the minorities’ problem. The responsibility for guaranteeing the minority rights rests with the governments of both countries. The fact that the European Commission was not willing to protect the rights of Europe’s citizens provides reason for concern. Nonetheless, the call for cooperation is a clear sign that the current situation of Poles in Lithuania needs to be improved.
One should take into account that the European Parliament’s role is not to resolve the case, nor definitively decide if the alleged violations did occur. The scope of the petition was to draw public attention towards an important social issue. The European Parliaments’ competences do not include pronouncing judgments in such matters. However, one can and should expect the hearing of the problem and presenting the arguments. The EP has been examining the petition for over a year. As I have mentioned before, the petition was already a subject of the open debate in the Parliament during which the Lithuanian government had to justify its actions pertaining to Polish minority to an ordinary citizen of the EU. Accidently or not, many people miss the fact that numerous petitions submitted to the EP are not accepted for further examination.
What is more, many petitions are examined in a written form only instead of being put on the agenda of the Parliament’s session. The fact that the petition 358/2011 “Linguistic rights of Poles (Lithuanian citizens) in Lithuania” was discussed on an open parliamentary session indicates that the scale of the problem was not underestimated by the EP, although it still fell short of expectations about a possible steps to be taken in the face of the violation of the fundamental rights by one of the European Union’s member states. Yet, one should appreciate the value of actions undertaken by the Parliament considering the objections against the case and an abundance of civil petitions submitted to the main EU institution.
I firmly hope we have come closer to combating the problem of Polish minority in Lithuania due to the petition 358/2011. We should keep in mind though that the law and its regulations are not panaceas for all the problems we face. The emphasis should be also placed on an attitude change, discussion and learning the respect for human dignity and identity. We do not know how many people heard the message of the petition and what changes it caused. If it stirred even one person to question the righteousness of the widespread attitudes towards minorities, it was definitely worth the struggle.
Tłumaczenie Karolina Jasińska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Karolina Jasińska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.