- January 30, 2013
Klaipėda Russians also want bilingual street names
On Monday, another court adjudicated that the plates with bilingual names in Vilnius Region are illegal and must be removed. Heedless of the decision, the representatives of Russian minority in Klaipėda are demanding from local authorities that the plates with bilingual Lithuanian-Russian street names should appear in the streets.
Wiaczeslaw Titow, from the Lithuanian Russian Union, put forward this proposal to the port city’s authorities. In the interview for the “Kurier” he says that courts’ decisions about Polish plates present in Vilnius Region do not discourage him. “Personally, like most of society, I don’t trust our judicial system, which, first of all, must be reformed,” says Titow. He adds that he perfectly understands that there are some law limitations for his initiative. “These limitations are imposed by acts which should be amended so that they meet society’s needs,” says the councilor. He claims that his party supports the initiative and is going to initiate changes in legislation. “Recently, I have spoken to the leader of our Union who absolutely backs up our initiative and is going to support us through the legislative initiatives in the Sejm,” the councilor emphasizes. Meanwhile, he admits that his idea has little public support. “Some people are for it, others are against it,” says Titow. The Russian Alliance’s representatives are against his idea. The Alliance has 3 mandates of the councilor in the region and is part of the local ruling coalition.
“It is not the first time that I put forward my initiative to the local authorities but so far the Russian Alliance’s councilors were against it and even criticized my proposal. We will see what they are going to do this time,” Titow ponders over the issue. In the following month, the initiative will be voted during the Council’s session. Also a long-term strategic plan up until the year 2020 will be discussed. Titow proposes that some regulations concerning placement of plates with bilingual street names and tourist information in Russian should be included as a part of the plan. Titow realizes that the case of the bilingual street names will not be easy to solve but…
“We can do what is now possible and legal,” says Titow. He explains that the tourist information can be provided in Russian, in his opinion, right now. “The Council has accepted this proposition, but it is the executive body – the local administrative body – that ignores the ruling. That is why, the Russian inscriptions were placed next to Lithuanian and English ones only in few places,” says Titow. In his opinion, the inscriptions should be written in four languages – Lithuanian, English, Russian and German – particularly in touristic sector where it is not at variance with the law.
The representatives of Polish minority, who have been fighting for the bilingual street names in Vilnius Region for 20 years, see that the Lithuanian political elite lacks understanding regarding the issue.
“It is worth emphasizing that the Polish inscriptions are placed legally. It is allowed by the Minority Act, whose amendment from 1991 enables to provide bilingual street names. The amendment was signed by Vytautas Landsbergis. For 20 years bilingual inscriptions were legal under the law signed by Landsbergis. However, they suddenly became illegal when the previous liberal-conservative government rescinded the law. The law is not retroactive. This compromises the previous government, because when we fought for independence the minorities were indispensible but, as we can see now, they are not any more,” states Waldemar Tomaszewski, the leader of the EAPL and the MEP, in an EAPL’s statement. The statement was made after the decision of the District Administrative Court in Vilnius had been pronounced. It ordered that all bilingual plates in Šalčininkai district municipality be removed.
Tomaszewski is convinced that this matter will be regulated, because, according to the international obligations, Lithuania is forced to deal with the case. “Lithuania signed and ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of the National Minorities without any reservations. Latvia, for example, signed the Framework with some reservations,” – it is written in the statement.
Ethnic division in Klaipėda
The Russians in Klaipėda, like the Poles in Vilnius Region, constitute a numerically significant part of the local population. According to the data from the General Census in 2011, in the Klaipėda population of more than 160,000 people about 20% is represented by the Russian minority, whereas 73% of the city’s residents declare to be of Lithuanian nationality. Others declare to be mainly Ukrainians and Byelorussians. After the war, when the Germans had withdrawn from the city, Klaipėda was practically depopulated. The people from other republics of USSR were brought to rebuild the city. Also the Lithuanians from the local towns began to arrive in Klaipėda but in 1960 the constituted half of the city’s population; in 1989 the Lithuanians constituted 63% of residents in Klaipėda.
Tłumaczenie Patrycja Olszówka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Patrycja Olszówka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.