• June 25, 2014
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Poles appeal to Germans to protect rights of national minorities

Yesterday, on June 25th several hundred Lithuanian Poles and representatives of other national minorities picketed outside the German Embassy in Vilnius. They appealed to the German authorities and the Chancellor Angela Merkel to support their demands within the  fight for the rights of national minorities and against ethnic discrimination.

The picket was organized by the Vilnius branch of the Association of Poles in Lithuania which received permission from the central authorities to hold a protest involving 500 people. A head of the branch, a leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (EAPL), MEP Waldemar Tomaszewski said to “Kurier” that one of the protest’s objectives was to publicize problems faced by the Polish minority and other national minorities in the international arena. The German Embassy was chosen as it represents the country that won the greatest respect in the European Union.

He also indicated that, in reality, problems faced by the Polish minority in Lithuania are not well known in the international arena and sometimes come as a surprise to the representatives of European countries.

–– British Prime Minister David Cameron was surprised and at the same time upset when I informed him about the constraints put on the rights of the Polish minority in Lithuania as well as about the persecution of those who speak their mother tongue – the EAPL leader says about the conversation with PM Cameron who pledged his support for actions taken by the Polish minority in Lithuania. Yesterday’s picket outside the German Embassy is supposed to remind the international opinion that although the Polish minority in Lithuania has been fighting for their rights for 25 years, their situation is not improving and is even deteriorating.

–– Although national minorities in Lithuania make up almost 20 percent of inhabitants, Lithuania is the only country in Europe that has no Law on National Minorities – MEP indicates. He adds that the Polish people in Lithuania demand nothing more than what is enshrined in international law and is in force in other countries. He also indicates that Germany is a good example not only of how to exercise and protect the rights of national minorities in the country, but also how to effectively strive for such rights for the German minority in other countries. Polish people who picketed in Vilnius hope that thanks to such an attitude of Germany this country will be able to understand their expectations and will provide support of Berlin for the protection of the rights of national minorities in Lithuania.

People who picketed presented the German ambassador to Lithuania, Matthias Mülmenstädt, a petition and made a request for passing their demands on to the authorities in Berlin. “We, Poles living in the Republic of Lithuania, (…) appeal for support for our demands that guarantee exercising and protecting the rights of national minorities in Lithuania according to the European law and the EU standards. We make a request for help to fight against ethnic discrimination we have been facing for many years in our country” – the presented document says.

In the petition it has also been stressed that the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania deteriorates regularly. “Although Lithuania has been a member of the EU for 10 years, instead of improvement there is a clear legal regression in the field of protection of the rights of national minorities that is non-compliant with recommendations of OSCE and the Venice Commission. Paradoxically, even in the Soviet times nobody dared to take the kind of actions we deal with today. For many years in Lithuania there has been a fight against the Polish language and the Polish character” – the document says. The authors of the petition also inform about the fines imposed on Polish people for placing Polish-Lithuanian street signs, a ban on spelling non-Lithuanian surnames in original form, protracted restoration of land ownership right and the constraints put on education of national minorities.

Moreover, in the document it has been emphasized that Lithuania ignores a number of international documents where the rights of national minorities are enshrined, for example the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. “We do not demand privileges, we demand that Lithuania respects the conventions and international treaties signed, especially the Framework Convention, which protect national minorities. We want to live according to the rights we have as national minorities, that is the right to multilingualism, multiculturalism and multinationality that are the values strongly stressed and promoted in the European Union. We oppose any kind of ethnic discrimination we face in Lithuania which should not occur in the 21st century in Europe” – the petition presented by the participants of the picket outside the German Embassy says. The picket’s organizers requested the German ambassador to Lithuania to pass the document on to the Chancellor Angela Merkel and the deputies of the German Bundestag.

Earlier there were protests staged outside the embassies in Finland, Czech Republic and Sweden. A year ago Polish people greeted the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz who also comes from Germany and participated in the opening of the European House in Vilnius in celebration of the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of the European Union. People who picketed were holding posters saying for example: “Mr. Schulz, do you want to be Šulcas?”, which was supposed to draw the EU official’s attention to the unresolved problem of spelling non-Lithuanian surnames in Lithuania. The issue of breaching the rights of national minorities and persecuting Polish people in Lithuania was raised in the European Parliament in the sitting summarizing the Lithuanian presidency. MEP Waldemar Tomaszewski who spoke on behalf of the faction of the European Conservatives and Reformists stressed with satisfaction and contentment that the Lithuanian presidency was “up to the mark and successful”. However, he expressed his regret for outrageous events that happened during this presidency and came as a blow to the national minorities in Lithuania. These events gave a very negative impression and were a fly in the ointment during the Lithuanian presidency.

“The fight against language of national minority supported by the highest authorities is an indication of extreme nationalism which should not occur in the European Union” – the deputy stressed and appealed to the Council and the Commission of the EU.

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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