- January 19, 2014
President could have turned this failure into success
“Oh, a stain, stain! What bad luck!” This is the beginning of the advertisement of a well-known stain remover, which quickly outgrew the product’s advantages.
It came to my mind on the occasion of President Dalia Grybauskaitė’s adventure in Strasbourg, where she went to get medals. For “the exceptional (as she boasted) Lithuanian EU Presidency”. Whether there was indeed anything to boast about… everyone may check it by comparing the modest achievements with the pompous and ambitious announcements. It is possible to find them on the German version of Wikipedia (Lithuanian one ashamedly passes over these promises in silence), but this is a separate issue. Let us come back to the affront to our President in the French headquarters of the EP.
So – the speech praising her own merits in front of the Council of the EU representatives delivered, the chest thrust out readily in anticipation of rewards, full dress on, and suddenly… “Oh, a stain, stain! What bad luck!” There happened to be a person non-humble enough to point to the stain. I would initially get angry, too. But after a little bit of thinking, I would allow that the stain had to be removed because, sooner or later, it would discredit both my presidential attire and the whole Lithuanian Republic. I would not resent a person drawing attention to the fact that it does not befit me to run about in the stained uniform, especially in the foreign salons. And even if I did… I still would not range myself in the queue to receive orders.
“Some people touch upon this subject in order to discredit Lithuania, both within and beyond its borders” – this is how President commented upon MEP Waldemar Tomaszewski’s speech on behalf of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists faction, in which he disclosed cruel punishments inflicted on national minorities in Lithuania for mere attempts at using their mother tongues. So, the punishments are inflicted for what the EU requires from all its member states. Lithuania successfully mocks these requirements, and the fight against national minorities’ native languages is “supported by the highest authorities” there – as the MEP aptly observed.
What is interesting is the fact that, after what happened in Strasbourg on 14th January, even the circles willingly discrediting Mrs. President’s achievements, and Her Excellency herself, with the astonishing frequency, sang about the discreditation of Lithuania beyond its borders. But it turns out that what in their case is the norm, in MEP Tomaszewski’s is sheer insolence. And his impudence is even more exceptional as, instead of burying his head in the sand and agonizing “maybe that was too serious!” – what we learn from the domestic media – the MEP “was chasing Mrs. President across the whole parliament edifice”. So he did not fear to look her in the angry eye. He did the contrary – as he pointed to the media, he wanted to draw Her Excellency’s attention to her having departed from the truth in her assuring that “no European organization investigating the accusations of discrimination against national minorities in Lithuania, confirmed these allegations”. Surely, if she had not slipped him away, the deputy would have enumerated for her as many as six organizations bringing such charges. But nothing is lost. Dalia Grybauskaitė may refresh her memory with her perusal of the texts concerning these organizations and their accusations, published here. The Forum of Parents of Polish Schools in Šalčininkai District has been kind enough to arrange them chronologically, together with references to the reports unfavourable to our country.
However, I cannot resist the impression that our President’s memory is just excellent. This is the reason why she was not eager to confront MEP Tomaszewski in Strasbourg. She was fleeing the truth. It is possible that Tomaszewski’s incredible persistence in his fight for truth escaped her. Anyway, he has been clinging to truth since he was a little boy, and I have known him for more than 35 years, as he was my schoolfellow. I clearly remember that he was a very clever student, but also a very non-submissive one. He could not come to terms with the textbook version of history, which was then omnipresent. Since he was aware of the non-falsified version, during lessons he would trigger off a discussion, which was very uncomfortable for his teachers (does it ring a bell?). Exactly at the same time, when our present Mrs. President was studying at the party high school, 15-year-old Waldemar was educating us – his fellow colleagues, similar to him teenagers – on the subject of Katyń. All of this was happening during field works on a collective farm, to which all older students were forced. Today, I flinch at the thought that somebody could have informed our patrons that when we stayed alone around the evening bonfire, one of us cultivated dangerous anti-Sovietism, and the rest listened breathlessly. Fortunately, there was not a single Judas among us.
For me, a mature politician does not take offence for truth, and is able to listen to it calmly. Had President Grybauskaitė listened to what representatives of national minorities spoke in the country, she would not have been ashamed in Strasbourg. She would not have been forced to defend herself with a cliché that “in the EU there exists no country, in which the situation of national minorities would be better than in Lithuania.” The thing is that this situation is a legacy left Lithuania by – what a shame! – the Soviets, and that it has been systematically and enthusiastically aggravating for 23 years. There is not a single year in which the Lithuanian authorities would not tear at least a bit of this “second to none situation” away from the Polish minority. While in other countries national minorities are getting more and more rights and liberties, we experience a depletion in the little rights we had in the past, by means of more and more restrictive methods and accusations of breaking the law. And now, “Are the Lithuanian Poles exempted from complying with the law?” – asks ironically a Vytautas Sinica, a pugnacious youth, for DELFI, and accuses MEP W. Tomaszewski’s speech in defense of national minorities delivered in Strasbourg of having been “mendacious and defamatory for the country”. Sinica acts like a parrot, juggling with reproaches behind which the Lithuanian politicians have been hiding for years, claiming that the ratified Framework Convention is like a box of Lego blocks. Everyone may choose what they like, and build with them whatever they wish. And it would be even better to get rid of all of this, as it has proven to be a troublesome toy. Were the Framework Convention complied with, even partly, such an awful stain would not have been disclosed in Strasbourg. There would not have been a fine of 43 400 litas imposed on Šalčininkai District Municipality Administrative Director for the regional inhabitants’ unwillingness to remove Polish signboards from their private houses. The MEP would not have pointed to this as an example of repression, and Sinica would not have to play wise that “punishing for noncompliance with the applicable law is by no means a persecution.” He would not lie that “there exists no law guaranteeing a person’s right to public inscriptions in the language of a given minority”, nor dodge the truth by saying that “conventions mentioning such rights are of purely recommendatory nature”. After all, a “recommendation” is nothing else but a “command”. Therefore, for Sinica’s title question I shall answer with another one: “Is Lithuania exempted from complying with the EU law? By joining the EU, has Lithuania not condoned this law’s supremacy over the national law?”
I agree that hanging the abovementioned signboards on private premises is an example of a civic protest, but also of civic maturity. People are aware of their rights. In this way, they also send a message to their representatives in the Seimas – the EAPL’s members – supporting their struggle for adoption of the Law on National Minorities. Lithuania needs it even more than the Lithuanian Poles do. It would be a proof that our country has finally started to respect its own international commitments, which have been ignored so far.
Perhaps President Grybauskaitė, like Sinica, thinks that Lithuania should pride itself on the fact that it persecutes the Vilnius District officials for these signboards. If so, she should not have been avoiding Mr. Tomaszewski in Strasbourg, and instead she should have caught his arm and dragged him to journalists announcing: “Here you have a spokesman for and a defender of the linguistic criminals! We are the ones who have always punished people like that, and we will punish them even more severely. Our law is like that, and we are not going to adjust it to some kind of nonsensical Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, even though we have ratified it. What is more, we are not going to adapt our law to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, one has to be a delusional idiot to think we would make such a mistake as to ratify also this charter.” Had she made such a statement, President Dalia Grybauskaitė could have returned from Strasbourg with her shield, and not on it. But would it be possible for her to go there again? That is the question.
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.