• August 6, 2014
  • 180

Higher fines for using Polish are coming

Polish minority in Lithuania is still being persecuted for using their native language. At the beginning of this year, the (now ex-) Director of Administration at Šalčininkai District Municipality, Bolesław Daszkiewicz, paid over 40,000 litas (about 11,500 Euro) for Polish street names located on private properties of the residents of the district.

It seems that Daszkiewicz’s successor, Józef Rybak, will have to pay even higher fine.

The Director of Administration at Vilnius District Municipality, Lucyna Kotłowska, may also have to pay a few thousand litas for the same “offence”: Polish street sign on a Polish house.

The case of Polish street signs has lasted since September 2008. During those six years, Daszkiewicz has heard three judgements and appealed many times, to no avail. Eventually, he was fined with 40,000 litas for failure to implement a court ruling to remove Polish street signs off private properties in the district and leave Lithuanian names only.

Bolesław Daszkiewicz paid the fine. He retired this year. Now the new director may face financial harassment for Polish signs. Józef Rybak serves as the Director of Administration since June 2. On Tuesday, August 5, the Šalčininkai court moved the responsibility for the Polish signs from the previous director to his successor. Therefore, Rybak will have to pay the fine he inherited from Daszkiewicz who “paid the authorities and court enforcement officers off” for the March 2013-February 2014 period.

Since then, the court enforcement officers fined Rybak with 1,000 litas for every day of delay. Therefore, Rybak has to pay about 400,000 and 200,000 litas, respectively. However, during the Tuesday’s court hearing, a court enforcement officer from Šalčininkai Teresa Gierasimowicz, responsible for enforcing one of the judgements, agreed to have Rybak fined from June 2, the day he began serving as the director. Now, the officer responsible for enforcing the other judgement will have to agree with Gierasimowicz’s decision. Even if he does, however, Rybak will have to pay over 80,000 litas–twice the amount his predecessor had to pay.

The Šalčininkai court is to reach the final verdict on August 26. The court will also decide whether to comply with a request of Rybak’s solicitor to lower the amount of money the director has to pay, since many Polish signs were removed. Gierasimowicz did not object to the request.

However, Audrius Skaistys, a representative of the Lithuanian government in the Vilnius County, is objecting to the potential lowering of the fine. For years, Skaistys has continued the crusade started by his predecessor Jurgis Jurkevičius in 2008; he fights Polish street names in the Vilnius Region, as well as naming the streets after notable Poles. (Jurkevičius appealed against the local authorities’ decision to name a street after a poet Julian Tuwim.)

The government representative demands in court removing all Polish street names. The Directors of Administration of Šalčininkai and Vilnius District Municipalities are responsible for that. Daszkiewicz and Kotłowska complied with the judgements and the Polish street signs were removed from public buildings.

However, owners of private possessions refused to remove the signs. What is more, since the central government had started harassing Polish minority, much more signs has begun appearing on Polish houses. The local authority explains that it has no legal power or mechanisms to force the owners to remove the signs. They do not even appear in the trial as a third party and the judgements refer to the local administrations only.

The Directors of Administration are also not keen on fighting the Polish identity because of moral reasons, since, as many residents of the Vilnius Region, they are Poles as well. Starting his job as the director two months ago, Józef Rybak said that he “certainly wouldn’t fight his mother language.”

POLITICAL GOODWILL IS NEEDED

In his conversation with Kurier Wileński, the Director of Administration Józef Rybak did not want to predict how his trial would end.

“There is an enormous pressure to remove the Polish signs, so it’s hard to tell how the trial will go. The fine amounts to six-figure sum already, and while the Šalčininkai court enforcement officer alleviated her demands, the government representative is objecting to that. Also, I’m not sure what the Druskininkai court enforcement officer will decide in regards to the other court case,” said Józef Rybak. He believes that the case is of political nature: “The goodwill from the government is needed. Its representative can always withdraw legal action or reach out-of-court settlement. However, the goodwill is severely lacking.”

Stanisław Tarasiewicz

Translated by Michał M. Kowalski within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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