- July 31, 2015
Poles judge Šimašius
During the press conference in celebration of one hundred days of Remigijus Šimašius taking the office of Mayor of Vilnius, he was convincing others that he had already reduced the capital’s debt and that he was eradicating corruption. He was promising further changes and reforms which were to result in the city’s development. However, it looks like – despite his real or desired successes – the Poles living in Vilnius will not forgive the Mayor his “bulldozer” reorganisation of schools any time soon.
“A huge friction between the Mayor and Polish society”
“In my opinion, the conference – a media show in celebration of those 100 days – shouldn’t have taken place. This is not a period after which any conclusions could be drawn. Only in hindsight will it be possible to judge the achievements or failures” – says Andrzej Pukszto, the director of the department of Political Science at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas.
“I am not keen on jumping to conclusions; however, some moves create questions whether the Mayor is on the right path” – adds the political scientist.
“School reorganisation in Vilnius – unfortunately, there is a huge friction and a complete lack of dialogue between the Mayor and Polish society. On one hand, the Mayor indicates that the whole problem of Polish schools is being blown out of proportion by one party – the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL), but on the other hand, no one is stopping the Mayor from smashing AWPL’s monopoly, finding common ground with the Polish minority. It seems like Šimašius absolutely fails to find the smallest contact point and any dialogue is not likely to happen” – Pukszto thinks.
According to him, there is also much uncertainty about the issue of a 100 euro compensation for the families who send their children to public kindergartens. In the political scientist’s view, the effectiveness of the suggested solution to this matter, which is important to many Vilinians, can be evaluated only after a longer period of time.
“That changed him”
The publicist Tadeusz Andrzejewski, councillor of the Vilnius district, calls Šimašius a hostage of the ruling majority.
“Before, I remember him as the man who defended the original spelling of names, who, as the Minister of Justice, argued with councillor Songaila, and even called him a fake patriot. Today he is a hostage of the majority we have in Vilnius and that completely changed him. It is sad but Šimašius’ politics concerning minorities, which was supposed to be so inventive and open, turned out to be what we see today. Polish schools are at risk, and the Mayor is supporting such policy – whether he wants to or not, whether it is his own will or he is being forced. Thus far, I have not seen anything good in that. It is difficult to expect that anything will change on this matter” – Andrzejewski predicts.
In his opinion, the most outraging decisions for Polish society concern the J. Lelewel High school – the school will have a chance to get an accreditation, however, “in return” it will have to be moved from the building on Antokolska Street.
“Those activities are verging on the illegal, they resemble the manoeuvres of a mafia. It is a coarse blackmailing and mobbing of the supervisors against the subordinates – it is absolutely unacceptable” – Andrzejewski evaluates adamantly.
Edita Tamošiūnatė, an AWPL councillor, also faults the Mayor, mostly for the hasty actions concerning education.
“I consider all the decisions which have been adopted by the coalition in terms of education to be very bad. During the last session, there were the Matura exam takers, parents, and teachers talking – no one was listening to them. The coalition foolishly decided about the fate of young Vilnians who will soon enter the adulthood. 369 Matura takers need to either quickly look for another school, or the teachers will have to be hired in one of the two gymnasiums” – Edita Tamošiūnatė says (according to the announcement, students from grades 11-12, who have been attending the degraded schools, will be able to continue their education in the same school buildings, they will, however, sign a contract with one of the Polish gymnasiums in Vilnius. It is possible that, to keep on teaching their students who, formally, will already be gymnasium students, elementary school teachers will have to officialy hire themselves in a gymnasium for a couple of hours as well – zw.lt’s editor’s note).
The AWPL councillor stressed that the parents of children attending the Lelewel High School, which is to abandon the currently occupied building until 1st September 2016, had challenged the council’s act in court. In Edita Tamošiūnatė’s opinion, a similar behaviour may be reflected in the actions of parents from the schools which have been converted into elementary schools during the last session, and even the Matura takers who have already come of age.
“The Mayor declaimed that he will care about this city’s multiculturalism, that no decisions will be adopted without consultations with the school community. These were only empty promises. When the representatives of school communities went to the council’s meeting on Wednesday and wanted to make a speech from the tribune, firstly the council voted to not let the school representatives to make their speech. Is that a democratic governance? Does the Mayor hear what the school communities say to him. Politicians decided about the fate of young people by a hasty push of the button, voting for an act which is on the wrong side of the law” – Tamošiūnaitė concludes.
“One of the postulates he has fulfilled”
The political scientist Artur Zapolski is not that categorical in his valuation.
“The beginning of Mayor Šimašius’ term in office can be judged in various ways. It is probable that both his supporters and his opponents will find some reasons which will agree with their versions. Personally, my impression is ambiguous. On one hand, some progress can be seen, especially the fact that, starting Wednesday, information in local government will also be provided in Polish. It was one of the pre-electoral postulates of Šimašius’ which he did fulfil. The whole story from Air Lituanica is also heading to the climax which I think is a positive move” – Zapolski says.
“However, I am worried that the local government’s decision concerning the issue of Polish education are not going to solve the existing problems. This is where, in my view, Šimašius’ precipitous actions are open to a doubt and seem to be unconstructive. What appeared to me as inelegant was the debate concerning removal of the sculptures on the Green Bridge, initiated by the Mayor Šimašius. It is not a significant problem, although it does testify to the populism tendency” – stresse the political scientist.
Translated by Anna Plebanek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.