• June 16, 2014
  • 329

Law on National Minorities – the old one faster than the new one?

The Prime Minister’s Office is still not able to refine a new Law on National Minorities drawn up by the Ministry of Culture. According to the Ministry’s proposal bilingual names should be introduced in the local governments, where a national minority makes up over 25 per cent of inhabitants.

Introducing language of national minorities as auxiliary language in offices of such local governments is also taken into consideration. The law drawn up by the working group under the leadership of the Deputy Minister of Culture Edward Trusewicz has not been assessed by the government since it was deemed to be incomplete. Another working group under the leadership of the First Deputy Chancellor to the Prime Minister Remigijus Motuzas is supposed to refine the law. Nevertheless, the working group that was appointed in the previous year is only now planning to start working on the draft law. The head of the group explains that the group ceased working and actually did not start to work due to the presidential election and the European Parliament election held in May of this year. “All the parties made a political decision not to work on the draft during the elections and that is why we did not work on it” – the head of the working group confesses frankly.

However, there is no guarantee that after elections the group will get round to working and finally draw up the new Law on National Minorities that has been announced for several years. Motuzas conceded that he did not know how to work out a compromise on the issue of bilingual street signs since, according to him, such a regulation would be against the law in force, for example against the Law on the State Language. Meanwhile, as the deputy head of the Chancellery of the Government emphasized, the representatives of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (EAPL) demands that the new law includes that regulation. It seems that the EAPL deceived by the promises of the coalition partners is not only going to refuse Motuzas’s “compromise”, but also does not want to wait until the group under his leadership finishes or rather finally starts working on the draft of the new law, and suggests adopting the old law. The regulation that has been in force since 2010 was repealed by the previous conservative-liberal government which also promised to draw up and adopt a new law. At that time the working group led by the representative of the Ministry of Culture was appointed. Although the group was working for four years, its draft law was not even discussed during the sitting of the government. That draft law that has been drawn up earlier was finally refined by the new working group of Trusewicz. This time the document got stuck in the government.

The Deputy Minister of Culture Edward Trusewicz who was seconded to the government by the EAPL believes Motuzas’s initiative was an attempt to torpedo the work on the draft law. According to him, the deputy chancellor “wants to create chaos”. Trusewicz accuses the deputy chancellor of “abusing his position”. The EAPL insists upon passing a law drawn up on the basis of the one in force until 2010 by the end of the spring session of parliament. According to the prior announcements the EAPL’s demand is also supported by the coalition partners. Nevertheless, the law does not draw support of Dalia Grybauskaitė who would have to sign it.

Previously the President indicated that she would not sign any document that is non-compliant with the Constitution. The President considers the old law passed before adopting the Constitution of 1993 in referendum to be such a document. It was not a problem for the President as well as the critics of the document that the old law was extended several times by the parliament and was in force together with the Constitution. Under the law national minorities had the right to use bilingual street and place names as well as to speak the language of national minority as auxiliary language in the government administration in the districts densely inhabited by national minorities. The law did not specify the term “dense habitation”, which would be caught up in the new law. According to the proposal of Trusewicz, such a regulation would be in force in the districts where a national minority makes up over 25 per cent of inhabitants. In Lithuania there are several “Polish” districts – the Vilnius district, Šalčininkai district, Trakai district and Švenčionys district. There is also one “Russian” district – in Visaginas.

Adopting a draft Law on Spelling of Non-Lithuanian Surnames has also been postponed by the ruling coalition until “better times after elections”. The draft law drawn up by the left-wing deputies provides that it is possible to spell Polish surnames in original form using Latin alphabet. Adopting that draft law has been postponed until “after elections”. The draft was heavily criticized by the opposition. There was also no solidarity among coalition partners. However, if the coalition manages to outvote the draft, it is unlikely that the President will sign it. According to Dalia Grybauskaitė, the draft law on spelling of surnames is also non-compliant with the Constitution, and, as we know, she is not going to sign such a document.

Translated by Martyna Kołtun within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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