- January 8, 2014
Draconian penalty for bilingual signboards with street names in the Vilnius Region
Šalčininkai District Municipality Administrative Director, Bolesław Daszkiewicz, has to pay the penalty of 43 400 litas (12 569 euro), or 100 litas (about 30 euro) for one-day delay in executing the court decision concerning bilingual signboards with street names in the Vilnius Region. This is the decision of the Vilnius District Court, made just before Christmas, on 23rd December 2013. The Pole has one month for carrying out the decision.
On 25th September 2008, the court in its previous ruling on the case stated that the administrative director had to remove bilingual signboards with street names from some buildings in the region, where the Polish constitute 80 percent of the population. B. Daszkiewicz had one month to comply, although on numerous occasions he emphasized that he did not have any right to remove the signboards from private premises.
Parties to the proceedings are the debt collector, and the government’s plenipotentiary in the Vilnius District, conservative Audrius Skaistys, who has been appointed to this position by the previous government of Andrius Kubilius.
Under the judgement from 23rd December 2013, the Vilnius District Court overruled the decision of the court of first instance – the Šalčininkai District Court – from 7th March 2013, which had imposed a fine of 500 litas on the administrative director of the Šalčininkai District Municipality for his noncompliance with the ruling of 2008, and had set a new deadline of three months for the execution of the decision. Alternatively, the court had suggested that B. Daszkiewicz request for modification in the mode of the judgement execution.
B. Daszkiewicz stated that the ruling of 2008 had been complied with, as the bilingual signboards with street names staying within the area of the self-government’s responsibility had been removed. He emphasized, again, that what boards remained, they were on private premises whose owners did not agree to have them removed. The administrative director stressed he did not have the right to enforce the signboards’ removal from private houses.
The court of appeal – the Vilnius District Court – did not take B. Daszkiewicz’s arguments into account, and imposed a draconian financial penalty, which is 87 times higher than the fine that had been imposed by the court of first instance: respectively 500 litas and 43 400 litas.
Financial repressions and violation of human rights in Lithuania
Wanda Krawczonok, a member of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, and the vice-chairwoman of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, asked to comment on the Vilnius District Court’s decision, emphasized that it was scandalous and based on the political order of nationalist forces.
-The ruling is not only unfathomable, but also harmful, as it discredits our country on the international forum. Imposing such penalties for the use of one’s mother tongue next to the state language in inscriptions put on private houses is unacceptable. It seems that the court decision is strictly political, and this fact casts a shadow over the system of justice in our country. In the civilized world, it is unthinkable for a higher court to increase someone’s fine hundredfold. What is left for us is to lament over the fact that fines are imposed on national minorities’ members for using their mother tongue there, where the Polish minority constitutes 79 percent of the population. And all of this happens in the European Union member state. We witness victimizing and breaking one of the most basic human rights, that is the right to use one’s mother tongue. The court’s provocative ruling has triggered a wave of discontent and protests, which are going to escalate. The government’s plenipotentiary in the Vilnius District, conservative Audrius Skaistys, who has been drawing courts into political processes, as well as the Vilnius District Court, ruling visibly on political orders, are responsible for inciting national feuds. The media has widely discussed the subject. Among others, Jan Mincewicz, a former member of three legislatures of the Seimas, and a former Soviet dissident, spoke to portal L24.lt (“Holy cow from Werusowo, or anatomy of hypocrisy” – editorial note), and Vidmantas Žiemelis, a former deputy and minister, a signatory of the Independence Act of Lithuania (“Administrative courts: whether they meet the expectations of the nation”, portal 15min.lt – editorial note) commented on the issue – W. Krawczonok told us.
We would like to remind you that Lucyna Kotłowska, the administrative director of the Vilnius District Municipality, where the Poles constitute 60 percent of the population, is also persecuted for the use of the mother tongue.
In November last year, during the meeting of the Vilnius district branch of the Association of Poles in Lithuania (APL), the board members decided to organize the collection of money among people of good will, and created a separate bank account with eloquent annotation “Solidarity”, in order to lend support to those punished for bilingual signboards. The bank account, to which people sympathizing with the persons persecuted for bilingual signboards with street names placed, by the way, on domestic premises of residents, may donate support (in litas, zloty, euros, and dollars), was set up on 5th November 2013:
Vilnius district branch of Association of Poles in Lithuania
Code of Organization: 186485331
Bank Account: „DNB” bank Lithuania, VAT Number: 40100
IBAN LT09 4010 0510 0181 1612
With reference “SOLIDARNOŚĆ”
The Šalčininkai district branch of the Association of Poles in Lithuania has established a bank account for the same purpose.
What most lawyers emphasize is the fact that, in the view of the EU legislation, bilingual signs are admissible in places densely populated by national minorities. In the Vilnius and Šalčininkai districts, the Poles constitute the majority (respectively more than 60 percent, and about 80 percent).
Tłumaczenie by Agata Weronika Chrobak w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Agata Weronika Chrobak within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.