• June 17, 2015
  • 392

Radczenko: The decision of State Commission of the Lithuanian Language is illogical and discriminating

This is the end my only friend, the end of our elaborate plans, the end” Jim Morrison once sang. Lyrics of probably the most famous The Doors’ song came to my mind yesterday (16th of June), after I had read that during the emergency meeting initiated by the parliamentary Law and Legality Committee, the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language for the second time did not agree to use the original spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames of Lithuanian citizens so mainly the names and surnames of Lithuanian Poles.

On the 5th of September 2014, the Commission discussed the issue and decided that the original spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames of foreigners, their spouses and their children will be allowed to use in the official documents. However, the Commission recommended the rest of the Lithuanian citizens to spell their non-Lithuanian names and surnames with Lithuanian letters as they did until now. Nevertheless, the Social Democrats kept pushing the work on the law project regarding the spelling of names and surnames in the parliament. The last option of the project, prepared by the parliamentary Law and Legality Committee, provided a possibility to use the original spelling by anyone who wants it, however the spelling cannot include diacritic symbols (the only non-Lithuanian signs which may be used are “w”, “q” and “x”). Yet, the Lithuanian linguists denied even such a consensual project repeating their statement from 9 months ago when they claimed that only foreigners who have Lithuanian citizenship, their spouses and children have a right to spell their names and surnames with non-Lithuanian letters; national minorities are not allowed to do it. Technically, the Commission’s decision concludes the issue of original spelling of Polish names and surnames because, according to the Constitutional Court, the spelling rules of names and surnames in official documents may be changed only if the linguists request it.

In my opinion, the Commission’s decision is a huge misunderstanding from the legal point of view. There is no difference between a surname of a Polish citizen, their Lithuanian spouse or children and an identical surname of a Lithuanian citizen who has Polish, origins which explains unequal treatment (the former have a right to use the original spelling, the latter does not have; the only reason of unequal treatment is citizenship). Thus the decision – from the legal perspective – is not only illogical but also it is discriminating. And yet, a language or rather the believers of St. Alphabet have their own rules. It was no coincidence that the parliamentary Law and Legality Committee did not even intend to consult again with with the Commission (as alkas.lt, the right-wing portal claims the Committee was forced to do it by the president and the leader of Lithuanian parliament) as the Committee planned to put to the vote the project of the law on the names and surnames spelling in the parliament.

There are several scenarios what will happen next: either the project will be postponed (until the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language’s representatives are replaced with the more liberal ones; however it needs a generation change) or the right of all Lithuanian citizens to use the original spelling will be erased from the project (then we can sue the act as it is inconsistent with the constitutional rule of equality; nobody can predict the Court’s decision though), or we will step back to the idea supported by the majority of parties which allows to use the original spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames on the last pages of passports (the idea which solves nothing), or – and this is the most improbable scenario – the current project will be accepted despite the Commission’s negative opinion and then the president will veto it…

In such situation, as in all anecdotes, there is good news and bad news. Good news is that our minds will not be preoccupied with the spelling of names for the next few years (probably they will not pass the right to use more than one language in official documents as the Commission of the Lithuanian Language has not allow to name towns and streets in two languages; in this case the constitutional doctrine does not exist, however I have doubts if the politicians agree for such solution without the linguists’ blessing) and so we can focus on really important actions such as solving problems within education system and culture and counteracting Russification. The bad news is, that because the problem of the letter “W” grew so big it became a symbol, it will be repeated over and over again poisoning the relations between Poland and Lithuania until it is solved. Maybe I went too far with this sacramental-Morrison-like “the end” at the introduction of this article. However, the solution to the problem to which we were so close, undoubtedly has again drifted away from us for years. Hopefully not for light years. A hypnotizing dance around the names and surnames, driven by Lithuanian and Polish nationalists – click “like” if you are fed up with it as much as I am – starts yet again. Just like in the song of our Polish-Lithuanian-Vilnius Gravel:

Round and round we go
But our roads went separated
Round and round, we go

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

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