• June 27, 2015
  • 301

Spelling of surnames. Will it be the same as in 2010?

On Tuesday (30 June) the Seimas is to consider again the issue of the original spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames in official documents. On the same day the honoris causa doctorate will be conferred on Bronisławow Komorowski by Vytautas Magnus University (Uniwersytet Witolda Wielkiego).

One may wonder whether there is going to be a similar situation to the one from 2010, namely, when Polish President Lech Kaczyński visited Lithuania, two days before his tragic death in Smoleńsk, Lithuanian parliament rejected the draft act which stipulated that non-Lithuanian names and surnames can be spelled in their original form.

In Poland it was seen as a slap in a face for Warsaw and for Poles living in Lithuania. That incident has ended so-called strategic partnership.

Currently, the bill on spelling names and surnames submitted by social democracy and considered by Seimas is a compromise bill. It allows to use only three non-Lithuanian letters (“w”, “q” and “x”) without diacritical signs. Consequently, the draft does not solve the problem of spelling names and surnames of the majority of people with non-Lithuanian names and surnames, including Poles living in Lithuania. Nevertheless, the adoption of the the Act would be a sign of the goodwill. It would aslo be a first step to normalization of relations between Poland and Lithuania since it is easier to change already existing act.

The so-called problem of a letter “w” could have been solved in 2013 when centre-left coalition was in power. One of the objectives in their political programme was to solve so-called “Polish demands”, including the issue of spelling Polish names and surnames.

Unfortunately, almost nothing was done regarding Polish demands during three years even though Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania was a part of the coalition during the first two years.

Last year, the Constitutional Court found that the way of spelling non-Lithuanian names and surnames can only be changed with the authorisation of linguists and at their demand. Currently, foreign names and surnames are spelled according to the Lithuanian pronunciation of letters in the alphabet. The last decision (from 16 June) of the Commission of the Lithuanian Language is not optimistic. The Commission clearly stated that only foreigners who have Lithuanian citizenship, their spouses and children can use the original spelling of their names and surnames.

Since the ruling parties, usually social-democratic, are unenthusiastic about the Act on spelling of names and surnames and take a long time to force the issue in the Seimas, it is quite likely that the incident from 2010 will take place again.

Consequences are easy to predict because Poland never ceases to call for fulfilling promises given by Lithuania to Poland with regard to the issue. Moreover, many Lithuanian politicians and experts admit that Polish demands are not unreasonable and they fall under European standards.

But there is one crucial difference between the current situation and the one from 2010. Five years ago annexation of Crimea did not take place; there was no Russian expansion in Donbas and Russia had never used national minorities to realise their own purposes so openly .

Geopolitical situation has changed nowadays therefore allowing to write the letter “w” is no longer just Lithuanian internal affair concerning argument between Lithuanian society and Polish national minority. To some extent, stability of our region depends on that issue.

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

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