The history of the petition to the European Parliament in defence of linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania

Source: organizers' materials

This year we are going to celebrate the European Lawyers Day for the first time. On this occasion, the Law Library of the University of Gdańsk and the Pomeranian Lawyers` Chamber in Gdańsk have held an exhibition entitled ‘Human rights in the European Union – the history of a petition to the European Parliament in defence of linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania’. The exhibition presents the history of efforts undertaken pro bono publico by Tomasz Snarski, a lawyer from Gdańsk and an author of the abovementioned petition.

On the occasion of the European Lawyers Day and the Human Rights Day, which are celebrated on the 10th of December, the Law Library of the University of Gdańsk and the Pomeranian Lawyers` Chamber in Gdańsk have held an exhibition entitled ‘Human rights in the European Union – the history of a petition to the European Parliament in defence of linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania’.

The essence of this event is to present an instance of a particular petition – the petition to the European Parliament against the discrimination of Polish minority in Lithuania – as the example of a  lawyer’s deep  commitment to the protection of fundamental rights in the European Union. While visiting the exhibition, a guest can see the original protocols documenting the work of the European Parliament, materials coming from the private archive of the author of petition, photos, letters, press releases, various scientific works on human rights in the European Union. One can also familiarise oneself with the content of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and unpublished documents on the protection of linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania.

The exhibition shows the instance of the lawyer’s commitment to work for the sake of human rights with the use of legal instruments available in the European Union. In March 2011, Tomasz Snarski, a lawyer from Gdańsk, filed a petition to the European Union; the petition concerned linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania. In the petition, Mr Snarski asked the European Parliament to take all necessary actions in order to guarantee that linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania (including a right to write names and surnames with the spelling of native language and a right to bilingual references in official maps and public space) will be preserved.

‘I consider constant and argumentative actions taken in defence of broadly defined human rights to be extremely important. Every initiative which learns to respect a human dignity and identity is particularly necessary in Europe, whose citizens experience the crisis of values. That is why on the occasion of the European Lawyers Day and the Human Rights Day, which are celebrated on the 10th of December, it is worth proving that human rights are not only a slogan, but they stand for a particular rights protecting every human, which deserve and should be preserved’, comments the author of the petition.

As the aftermath of this petition, registered with number 358/2011, there was held a public hearing in the European Parliament (April 2012). In this public hearing, the representatives of Lithuanian and Polish government took part. What’s more, in December 2013, the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament issued an official letter to the Lithuanian government, asking to take an attitude towards the situation of Polish minority in Lithuania, especially in the field of standards of human rights protection defined by the European Union. The Lithuanian government has not replied to this letter so far. Nevertheless, the petition is still investigated, as the discontinue rule does not apply to petitions – the Parliament proceeds its work over such cases regardless of circumstances.

The lawyers and solicitors from Tricity (Gdańsk, Gdynia, Sopot, including the law researchers from Gdańsk, supported the idea of the petition with various activities, such as expressing officially their support, preparing legal opinions and taking part in public discussions. What is more important, all actions were taken pro bono publico. The instance of the petition to the European Parliament in defence of linguistic rights of Poles in Lithuania is the particular example of the lawyers commitment to public affairs, including actions in defence of human rights. That is why this petition became the topic of the exhibition held on the occasion of the European Lawyers Day, celebrated in the European Union for the first time.

Dariusz Strzelecki, the Dean of the Pomeranian Lawyers` Chamber in Gdańsk, took the Honorary Patronage of the exhibition.

Organizers: The Law Library of the University of Gdańsk in cooperation with the Pomeranian Lawyers` Chamber in Gdańsk.

Place: the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Gdańsk, Jana Bażynskiego street 6, Gdańsk

Date: the 10th of December 2014 – 28th of February 2015

More information about the European Lawyers Day available on http://www.ccbe.eu/index.php?id=448&L=0.

The story of the petition has been reported by the portal Wilnoteka.lt for three years. We encourage all people interested in this topic to read the following articles (in Polish):

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/unia-europejska-pyta-litwe-o-przestrzeganie-praw-polakow

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/klamstwo-metoda-ucieczki-przed-niewygodnymi-faktami

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/petycja-w-sprawie-polakow-na-litwie-nadal-rozpatrywana-w-komisji-petycji-ue

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/opinia-prawna-dotyczaca-petycji-t-snarskiego-do-pe

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/prawa-jezykowe-polakow-na-litwie-oswiadczenie-tomasza-snarskiego

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/dzis-w-pe-o-prawach-mniejszosci-polskiej-na-litwie

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/fundacja-rusza-z-poparciem-dla-inicjatywy-tomasza-snarskiego

http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/prawa-jezykowe-polakow-na-litwie

The following video presents Tomasz Snarski’s  phone comment after the first meeting of the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament concerning discrimination of Polish minority in Lithuania: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDbfwrCW0xE

Tomasz Snarski – a lawyer, lecturer, social activist and poet. A researcher of the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Gdańsk since 2009. A founder and chief editor of the newspaper of the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Gdańsk from 2010 until 2012. In 2012, the publishing house of the University of Gdańsk issued Snarski’s debut book of poety entitled ‘Przezpatrzenia’ (literally in English ‘Through-looks). The fields of his research interests are: criminal law, human rights, theory and philosophy of law (especially issues of justice and relation between law and morality), as well as a legal perspective on multiculturalism, including legal protection of national and ethnic minorities. A human rights activist. A founder and tutor of the Inter-faculty Club of Human Rights of the University of Gdańsk. A tutor of Human Rights Section of the University Law Counselling Service led by law students. In March 2011, Mr Snarski filed the petition concerning linguistic rights of Poles living in Lithuania. This petition is still investigated by the European Parliament, despite the Lituanian government’s objections.

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/historia-petycji-do-parlamentu-europejskiego-w-sprawie-praw-jezykowych-polakow-na-litwie

Tłumaczenie by Joanna Stępińska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Joanna Stępińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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