- July 15, 2014
Law on minorities to be postponed again
After long and emotional debates on how to write non-Lithuanian surnames in Lithuanian documents the Parliament eventually approved two projects of the law in the first reading.
The authors of one of them are deputies Irena Šiaulienė and Gediminas Kirkilas – people, who are deciding on legal problems arisen from different spelling of non-Lithuanian surnames that belong to citizens of Lithuania and corresponding to the expectations of the Polish minority in Lithuania.
The second one-alternative, is elaborated by the deputy Valentinas Stundys- and it allows writing surnames in original language on other pages of passports.
This solution, even according to the earlier explanation of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania (pl. Sąd Konstytucyjny Litwy), will not have any legal power because the only legally valid spelling is that one which is written in Lithuanian language on the first page of the document.
The Parliament also had to debate on the project of the Law on minorities yesterday. The discussion was conducted during the morning meeting but more than hour of work does not allow deputies to slant the project.
The discussion was moved to the evening meeting but at the beginning of it oppositional conservatives suggested taking the break in the discussion till the next reading. In the same way the project of the law was postponed twice during the last week.
The Parliamentary debate on the project of Šiaulienė- Kirkilas was accompanied by protests outside the Parliament and inside as well. But the chairman of the meeting, Vice-marshal Algirdas Sysas had to calm down not only people, protesting in the lodge on the balcony but also his colleges in the conference room.
The proof of the fact that discussion was really intensive is the circumstance that its opponents- mainly deputies of the oppositional Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (pl. Związek Ojczyzny – Litewscy Chrześcijańscy Demokraci) and the Liberal Movement in Lithuania (pl. Ruch Liberalny Republiki Litewskiej) and part of the non-union deputies- blamed the authors of the document for betrayal of the state and of the native language. They were also accused of posing a threat to national security, pressures of Poland, referring to the ultimatum of Warsaw in 1938 and blackmailing the partners of the coalition by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, EAPL (pl. Akcja Wyborcza Polaków na Litwie).
Also invoked to the memory of the Lithuanian educators who were repressed by tsardom at the beginning if the last century and graves of the famous Lithuaian people buried in the Rasos Cemetery (pl. Cmentarz Na Rossie, lit. Rasų kapinės).
Battle of Grunwald (pl. Bitwa pod Grunwaldem) whose next anniversary was celebrated on the day when the debate about how to write surnames took place was mentioned as well.
-It is symbolic that the discussion about writing surnames is taking place on the Battle of Grunwald’s day. And reminding this victory we must remember that today is also lasting a battle for the mental territory – said a conservative Valentinas Stundys. He also recalled another date – 1938 and ultimatum that Poland gave Lithuania which- as the conservative thinks- made the authorities of Lithuania adopt a regulation of writing non-Lithuanian surnames in original language.
– Despite this, the regulation was really abstract- noted a deputy Stundys.
In turn, his college from the non-union group – a deputy Povilas Urbšys, agitating the Parliament for rejection of the project of Šiaulienė-Kirkilas claimed that it cannot be compared with pre-war law, because that one, despite the fact that it allowed non-Lithuanian spelling of surnames its priority was to restore Lithuanian surnames.
-According to the law second names were changed, for instance, Narkiewicz into Norkus or Talmont into Talmontas- said non-union deputy referring to the surnames of deputies who are members of the EAPL including Vice-President of the Parliament Jarosław Narkiewicz i Leonard Talmont.
The deputy of the oppositional Liberal Movement in Lithuania- Remigijus Šimašius was trying to soften emotions by claiming that suggested by the authority project is the only one to solve legal problems that appear from the different spelling of surnames, for example, Lithuanian spouses and foreigners.
Irena Šiaulienė was referring to this fact while presenting the project. As she underlined, insinuation of the opposition that the project is forced on the governing coalition by their partners from the EAPL or under the pressure of Poland has almost nothing in common with the reality. To her mind, more than 90 percent of proposals to the government about solving this issue are written by Lithuanian people who are married with foreigners.
As the proof of these problems Šiaulienė presented to the Parliament a letter of a German man and his Lithuanian wife whose surname which is spelled in Lithuanian transcription is different from German original. And everything is connected with the letter ‘W’ in second names, which is not accepted by the Lithuanian alphabet. The couple admits that because of different spelling of their surname they even now have problems in banks when proving that they are married. They also underline that they can be accused of an attempt of extortion in the case of joint insurance and even of adultery while traveling to Arab countries.
A conservative deputy Vytautas Juozapaitis whose wife’s second name according to the Lithuanian tradition sounds Juozapaitienė admitted that he had problems abroad in proving that he is travelling with his wife. A famous opponent of the rights of the national minorities claimed that problems which appear during a journey cannot cause changes in the regulation of writing surnames.
During the discussion the opponents of the project Šiaulienė-Kirkilasa were trying to present it as contrary to the law which is breaking the bases of the Lithuanian language and on the whole sneak. In turn, alternative project of Stundys is presented as the only one which is consistent with the international law, judicial practice and Lithuanian constitution.
The deputy Arvydas Vidžiūnas – conservative as well- blamed Šiaulienė and Kirkilas for the discrimination against Russian, Georgians or Armenians because it demands spelling surnames according to the letters of the Latin alphabet.
In turn, a deputy from the the Liberal Movement in Lithuania Dalia Teišerskytė reacting on the argument that adopting the law about spelling surnames will improve relations with Poland suggested implementing Cyrillic in order to improve relations with Russia.
Both documents were adopted by majority of votes and both will be examined during the autumn-winter reading of the Parliament.
Translated by Diana Donichenko within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.