- May 22, 2014
Zbigniew Balcewicz: National minorities in Lithuania – between integration and isolation
The protection of national minorities according to LLRA
„In the European Union, and generally in western civilization, there are some important and working standards concerning the protection of national minorities. There is no need to look for proverbial hole in one’s head in that case, those standards should work in a real life. Only in 2000 Lithuania ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities without reservations. We have to obey international obligations stated by the Convention. We are sure that in the near future that is how it will be: using two or even more languages in individual places will be a norm in public life. Those standards are binding for every member of the European Community” – states right chapter of the LLRA Election Programme.
So, in the election programme of the party, which owes its existence mostly to the support of national minorities, there is nothing precise what the party will do for those national minorities, beside one rather enigmatic paragraph that is nothing but a succinct statement that calls for obeying the standards of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Whereas politicians should know better that the outline of the Conventions is more of a political-programme document that points out the aims but does not demand their execution. That is probably why Lithuania has not implemented the convention to its inner law up till now and is not so eager to do so. That is to say this LLRA election programme could be described as a wish list…
A programme of the sixteenth government
In the programme of the sixteenth government that was ratified by the Seimas in December 2012 there are some regulations that are close to the expectations of national minorities. And they are not made on the initiative of LLRA as it is often said, but they are taken from the election programme of social democrats.
In the election programme of the current government it is stated:
245. We are preparing a new strategy of the development of national communities’ culture; we will create proper conditions for them to fulfill their cultural needs.
246. We are preparing a project of the RL bill about national minorities. The function of the representation of national minorities will be commissioned to the specially created department. We will solve a problem of the spelling of the names and surnames in documents as well as the issue of spelling names of the streets and towns as stated in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
247. We will support community centres that deal with national minorities.
248. We will introduce a reform of a schools network with the education in national minorities’ languages (Polish and Russian) in a way that will take into consideration communities’ interests and will be driven by the school effectiveness rule.
249. We aspire to postpone the date of the unification of the Matura exam from Lithuanian for Lithuanian and non-Lithuanian schools.
250. We will reinforce the help for the preservation of cultural heritage of national minorities, its usage for the development of tourism, traditional crafts and business.
Which of those have been carried out?
Everybody looks after their own
The government of A. Butkevičius at the beginning of its term commissioned the work group, under the management of E. Trusewicz, culture deputy minister who was transferred to that task by LLRA, to prepare a draft bill concerning national minorities. Works didn’t start from scratches as such a project was being prepared before by the previous government in 2011 by the work group under the management of Imantas Melianas, the national minorities’ advisor of the Minister of Culture. It expected, among others, that national minorities living in tight communities in particular towns would be given right to use their native language as an auxiliary language in administration and state-run institution at their towns. It specified the use of double nomenclature in topography and street and city names as well as in the area of public information. New work group only at the end of 2013 finished its work on the draft bill, that in fact was prepared long time before that, reportedly spending time on discussions over what percentage of citizens constitute national minority for it to be allowed its own language usage at nomenclature. E. Trusewicz was able to lower this number by 5% setting the threshold to 25%. The first project by Melianas anticipated that national minorities should constitute no less than 1/3 of town’s citizens. The modified project by E. Trusewicz’s group didn’t appeal to the Minister of Culture Š. Birutisowi, who refused to sign it and hand it over to the government. The document got stuck at the Ministry of Culture for a long time.
„The threats” for Lithuania
Meanwhile the opponents of a bill that would be in accordance with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities try to seize the opportunity. Using the fact that the work group is led by the LLRA representative they started to claim that so called “Trusewicz Project” is a “fulfillment of LLRA and Poland’s whims” so “it cannot be accepted”. About 20 members of parliament from different political parties put forward a petition to the government for it not to accept the project, which among others allows a double nomenclature of streets, under a parliamentary session. Signatories of the Act of Independence of Lithuania, I. Andrukaitienė, A. Rudys, E. Bičkauskas and K. Uoka have noticed in the prepared draft bill a threat of isolation of the West of Lithuania from the rest of the country, so they submitted a letter to the chairwoman of Seimas, L. Graužiniene.
Strange propositions of the Polish party
LLRA submitted a questionable idea of accepting a temporary law about national minorities that would reflect the terminated bill from 2010 the announcement of its soon ratification. On the other hand, the president D. Grybauskaitė criticized strongly this initiative and confirmed that „the Seimas would disturb the Constitution when accepting the law about national minorities that is based on legal instruments that were in action till 1992”, while the president’s advisor, V. Būdienė, stated that “the assumptions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities are being integrated with Lithuanian legislature so it would be pointless to accept a special bill about national minorities”.
Still trying, the president of LLRA’s fraction, Rita Tamašunienė, came up with the idea to reintroduce in 2010 a terminated law act about national minorities from 1989 (amended in 1991). By the way, it is a shame that LLRA’s MPs in Seimas from the previous term – M. Mackiewicz, J. Narkiewicz and L. Talmont, didn’t hand in a similar draft bill about the extension of the same bill till the new one is accepted. It was possible and logical in 2010.
Two projects of the national minorities’ bill
As if forgetting about the government’s programme and social democrats party, the Prime Minister A. Butkevičus hastitated at some point when to accept the bill about national minorities, but after a meeting with the representatives of National Union Council (Rada Wspólnot Narodowych), academic circles and social organizations on the 18th of January – he has changed his mind. As a result, the project is being refined a third month now – most probably in a way that “would not be against… the bill about national language” – stated a government’s vice-chancellor, R. Motuzas who was commissioned to coordinate this issue by the Prime Minister. It can turn out that after the refinement, the government’s project will look alike the one registered in Seimas by the end of last year by the group of conservatives “About the Protection of Rights and Freedom of National Minorities and National Unions of the Republic of Lithuania”, which states that the state assures “a right to the usage of national minority’s and national union’s language publicly if it’s not colliding with the bill about national language”, and “the right to study the native language or in native language is assured to national minorities in terms of the educational law”. To summarize, conservatives’ proposition is to guarantee the authorization of a situation when the language of national minorities can be used only at home and church.
To be continued
A Signatory of the Act of Independence of Lithuania
Author’s views can be at variance with the editorial stall position.
Tłumaczenie by Małgorzata Łabuda w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Małgorzata Łabuda within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.