- May 23, 2014
Zbigniew Balcewicz: National Minorities in Lithuania – between integration and isolation
Polish people have been waiting 21 years for the separate agreement of the spelling of their names and surnames
What has already been done within the realisation of the government’s programme concerning the issue of the rights of national minorities? The deputy chairman of the Lithuanian Seimas, Gediminas Kirkilas, and the starost of the social democrats’ parliamentary fraction Irena Šiaulienė submitted to the Seimas a bill to amend the Civil Code consisting in enabling the original notation of non-Lithuanian names and surnames in documents. Social democrats gave some reasons of the necessity of an assurance of rights to people that contract marriage with foreigners and migration to justify the amendment because “the notation of non-Lithuanian names and surnames with the letters of Lithuanian alphabet is causing problems with demonstrating one’s identity, proving marriage or other bonds with the person whom non-Lithuanian surname they have taken”.
According to this project Polish residents of Lithuania would also have rights for the original notation of their names and surnames in passports on the main page of the document. But the person who aspires to the authentic notation of his name and surname would need to put forward the source document that would prove the original spelling or else there were no chances for the positive examination of an application. But where to find such a document? Of course, individual citizens who were born before the war would probably have saved somewhere their birth certificate or their passport with the original spelling of their name and surname, but what kind of source document people born after the war would be able to submit? Finally, at the most they would be able to prove the original spelling of their surname after obtaining with difficulties the documents of their grand- or great-grandparents from archives, but what to do with their names? What source document they could submit and where to take it from to get the right of the original spelling of the name? Thus the project of G. Kirkilas and I. Šiaulienė practically changes nothing in the current situation and is another legal fiction that is supposed to divert people’s attention from the existing problem.
Although the proposition of a bill does not resolve the problem of names and surnames’ spelling of the Polish national minority, some conservatives hailed it as a “fulfilment of all LLRA’s (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) demands to improve relations with Poland” and their authors were hailed as “the traitors of Lithuanian language” by the politicians from the Lithuanian Nationalist Union and their names were nailed to the improvised whipping post.
As a response to the project, a group of the Seimas’ deputies, the conservatives V. Stundys R. Kupčinskas, A. Bilotaitė, A. Ažubalis, the social democrats V. Simulikas, E. Žakaris, liberałka D. Teišerskytė, P. Gražulis from the political party “Order and Justice”, K. Daukšys from the “Labour Party”, A. Patackas from the Seimas fraction “The Way of Courage” and MPs R. Baškienė and P. Urbšys registered an alternative project of the bill of the names and surnames’ spelling in documents that anticipates the original spelling on the inner page of the passport. On the main page of the passport surnames would still be written in the national language.
The opponents of the original spelling of surnames invoke among others the Treaty between Poland and Lithuania from 1994, where it is stated that people who belong to the Polish minority in the Republic of Lithuania have right to “use their names and surnames in the original tenor of the national minority language; detailed regulations concerning the spelling of names and surnames will be defined in a separate bill”. Unfortunately not all Polish names and surnames can be spelled with the Lithuanian alphabet. For the anticipated by the Treat separate bill Poles in Lithuania, who have their names and surnames deformed, wait patiently already 21 years. It is possible to guess whose fault it is that the bill is not signed yet.
The lack of concretes in the government’s report
What more was realised from the government’s programme? The Prime Minister A. Butkevičius said nothing about national minorities while presenting the government’s annual report in Seimas on April 22 this year. In the written version of the government’s report there is an enigmatic paragraph that says that “the Ministry of Culture was still enacting the principles of national minorities’ policy that aimed at uninterrupted integration with the preservation of their identity, as well as continuing the activities of non-governmental organisations and taking care of the preservation and promotion of national minorities’ culture and an increase of tolerance in the society”. The report noted that “carrying out Lithuanian international obligations in the field of national minorities’ rights’ protection and preserving their cultural identity the Ministry of Culture organised some visits of the international organisations’ experts: members of an advisory committee of the Council of Europe were in Lithuania in July 2013, Lithuania was also visited in October 2013 by the representatives of the secretariat of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Opinions provided by the experts are taken into consideration and the realisation of policy concerning national minorities is being developed, their situation is being improved and culture dialogue in the society is being promoted”. Nothing is said about what the experts’ opinions were or how recommendations are being realised.
Programme hard to realise
The Centro-Left government’s programme concerning the issue of national minorities remains only on paper since up till now practically nothing was realised. This brings to mind one question: why? If the programme hadn’t covered the social democrats’ election programme and the regulations concerning national minorities’ rights had been found in if from the initiative of the LLRA, it could have been suspected that social democrats are secretly withdrawing from the promises they gave to their coalition partners. This version is not so probable as the governments’ programme concerning the issue of national minorities is mainly based on the social democrats’ election programme.
It seems that the ventures anticipated by the programme turn out difficult to carry out. Especially, as visible there is no consensus concerning the policy towards national minorities in the social democrats party itself. It is reflected in strange statements of the honourable chairman of the party A. Sakalas about the problems of Lithuanian Poles and in the signature put by members of social democrats’ fraction, V. Simulikas and E. Žakaris, under the alternative to G. Kirkilas and I. Šiaulienė’s bill concerning the spelling of names and surnames.
The Prime Minister has also little help from the coalition partners. The Labour Party seems to be indifferent to the national minorities’ problems and the party “Order and Justice” is apparently closer to the programme of conservatives when it comes to this issue. The LLRA is not creating a suitable climate for the realisation of the governments’ programme as well. The party is loudly articulating Polish demands but in fact does nothing to fulfil them. Instead of looking for allies between Lithuanians Polish politicians prefer to turn to the Polish government and international organisations with their complaints on the government in which they are themselves. The worst thing is that for some time in Lithuania there is no dialogue between Poles and Lithuanians on the matter of their relations. The fact that there are problems with the protection of national minorities’ rights is not a secret for international organisations that are controlling the situation. Those organisations should be helped to understand better the situation, especially by providing them with the reliable information about the government’s realisation of the recommendations that were included in the reports and opinions. Especially W. Tomaszewski, the Eurodeputy that represents national minorities should take care of that issue.
It should be admitted that currently in Lithuania the political climate in which it is hard to come to any decision about national minorities, especially the Polish one has been created, everything would be interpreted as a concession to LLRA and Poland and that poses a threat to the territorial integrity of Lithuania. Among all, the mistake was to appoint a representative of LLRA manager of the group responsible for the preparation of a bill about national minorities. It is sure that in today’s situation everything that will be proposed by Poles will encounter disapproval and objection from the part of Lithuanian society. This brings to mind a question: wouldn’t it be easier for A. Butkevič to carry out the government’s programme in the issue of national minorities without the participation of LLRA? Right now social democrats have a historical chance to go out of this stalemate that arose not only in the Vilnius Region but also in Polish-Lithuanian relations. Lithuania, which considers itself as a west country with liberal democratic standards will have to stop the fight with Polish national minority sooner or later..
Under the whipping pool of the President D. Grybauskaitė and of conservatives
Every government’s move in the direction of the realisation of national minorities’ programme is under a detailed control of a tandem President-conservatives, whose views on the national policy are completely convergent. During 5 years of being in power D. Grybauskaitė was unfortunately unable to (or maybe didn’t want to?) become a President for national minorities. It is distinctly proven by the results of an election from the first round of the presidential election, in which national minorities were voting against the current President as well as against the candidates from whole-Lithuanian parties. That shows that national minorities completely disapprove of national policy of Lithuania. Will the government’s programme concerning national minorities be carried out depends strongly on the results of the second round of the presidential election because up till now the cabinet of A. Butkevičius while being controlled by the President D. Grybauskaitė and conservatives is carrying out the election programme of the latter. A proof for that is, among others, the uncompromising fight with Polish inscriptions while at the same tame tolerating English ones.
The integration of national minorities, in that Polish Lithuanians, with the Lithuanian society is a long-term and complicated process, hence the top-down imposing of this process provokes the reaction opposite to the intended one. The results of the election in the first round of the presidential election in Lithuania are a good hands-on lesson. Let’s hope that Lithuanian politicians will draw from it right conclusions.
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.