The European Parliament looks at Lithuanian Poles’ issues

© Tomasz Snarski

Even though the presidency of Lithuania in the EU is coming to an end and president Dalia Grybauskaitė has symbolically passed it on to Greece, the European Parliament is still examining petition no 258/2011 filed by Tomasz Snarski, a lawyer from Gransk. The petition concerns language rights of Poles in Lithuania. Despite numerous requests from the Lithuanian side to end the examination process, the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament continues to work.

On December 17, 2013, as a result of the petition, including public debate in the European Parliament in the previous year as well as the engagement of European deputies, mainly deputy Jaroslaw Walesa, vice-coordinator of the Committee on Petitions, Erminia Mazzoni, chairperson of the Committee, has sent a letter to the Republic of Lithuania, through the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Lithuania to the European Union in Brussels, soliciting the country to express its standpoint on the issues presented in Tomasz Snarski’s petition.

To recall, Tomasz Snarski touched upon a problem of legal discrimination of the Polish minority, expressed, among others, in the lack of an Act on National and Ethnic Minorities, in not allowing official writing of names and surnames in mother tongues or in prohibiting bilingual street signs in areas occupied by condensed Polish communities. The standpoint of the Lithuanian government may be a basis for further proceedings of the European Parliament.

– I consider this letter to be a big success of all who work towards ensuring that the Poles in Lithuanian have their language rights, including the right to spell names and surnames in their mother tongue, guaranteed. The result of this correspondence will be crucial. Lithuanian government should no longer put off regulating the law according to European standards. It is simply contradictory to basic rules on which the European Union is built – says the author of the petition, Tomasz Snarski.

Sending a letter to Lithuanian authorities is another concrete outcome of the petition. On the basis of the answer, further examination of the situation of Poles in Lithuania will be conducted during the parliamentary debate. It is worth to highlight that the petition has been examined by the Parliament since March 2011. It’s an absolute record. In its publications, the European Commission has twice abstained from passing the problem in order for it to be examined by EU institutions, preventively stating that the EU is not competent in dealing with issues of discrimination of Poles in Lithuania. Twice the Euro-deputies did not agree with this statement, deciding to further examine the petition. The filing of the petition did itself already spotlighted problems of Poles in Lithuania on the European forum.

– The sole fact that there are still measures taken by the EU institutions, in my opinion, confirms obvious rules, according to which the EU has a full right to demand from the member countries that fundamental rights of their citizens are respected. Until there will be no changes in the law, the problem of discrimination of Polish people in Lithuania is a problem of European importance – Snarski comments.

Independently of future fate of the petition, it has certainly contributed to a building of an interest of Euro-deputies about the problems that Polish people face in Lithuania. Any measures taken by the European Parliament about the issue will greatly test the functioning of the EU. Even though the petition is still being examined, it has already become a subject for studies. In October 2013, a student of the Faculty of Economics in the University of Gdansk, wrote a Bachelor thesis titled „Prawa językowe Polaków na Litwie — petycja 358/2011 — studium przypadku” (“Language rights of Poles in Lithuania – petition 358/2011 case study”), written in the Research Centre on European Integration under the supervision of prof. dr hab. Andrzej Stepniak.

The author of the thesis, Daniel Banaś, writes: “preventive standpoint of the European Commission on the Polish minority in Lithuania, shows that there is a crisis of values on which the EU is built. (…) Thus, it would be good for the EU, especially the European Commission, to work on a more  transparent approach to fundamental rights, because, if nothing changes, the biggest crisis of Europe will not only be about the economy or economic cooperation, but the crisis of trust in the EU.”

Because the petition, which is a complaint about the Lithuanian government’s disrespect for human rights, is being examined by the main European institution, the Lithuanian presidency is already seen in a bad light.  The letter to the Lithuanian government only confirms that problems of Poles in Lithuania are not only the problems of Lithuania, but are important on a European scale. What will happen next, will be a test for European integration. It seems that the citizens passed the test, now, at the beginning a new year, it’s time to test those in power.

Source: http://kurierwilenski.lt/2013/12/19/parlament-europejski-zajmuje-sie-prawami-polakow-na-litwie/

Tłumaczenie by Awa Ratajczak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Awa Ratajczak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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