• July 31, 2015
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Sabatauskas: The decision of the court regarding the letter “w” might cause anxiety

Yesterday the Vilnius Regional Court obliged Vilnius Civil Registry Office to allow a Lithuanian woman married to a Belgian man to write their surname in the marriage certificate with the letter “w”. The politicians, however, do not think that the decision of the court will help with accepting a law that would authorize the original spelling of surnames.

“For some it will be another argument in support of the law, in others it will evoke anxiety. Certainly people who are afraid of this law will take this decision more emotionally” – said yesterday Julius Sabatauskas, social-democrat and the president of the Seimas Committee on Legal Affairs.

However, the politician notices positive aspects of the court’s decision. “I see that we are becoming more European. We get rid of anxieties, which are most of the time unfounded. This decision shows us that we need more freedom, because otherwise we limit ourselves and put in our efforts in pointless affairs. We need to discuss things that matter.”

Current mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Šimašius, supports the court’s decision. “I congratulate the court for its ruling about the right of a person to its own surname. I see no reasons to contest the judgement that allows the woman to have the surname of her husband, even if it has the dreadful letter ‘w’”.

Conservative Valentinas Stundys thinks that the court’s ruling generally represents the interpretation of the Commission of the Lithuanian Language. “I think that the court’s decision was influenced by the discussion about spelling of surnames and the possibility of the use of the letter ‘w’”. The Commission accepted the use of the letter in the surnames of foreigners who acquired Lithuanian citizenship and in the surnames of Lithuanian women who married foreigners” – he underlined.

Stundys added that the higher court will have to examine the case in respect of compliance with the Lithuanian law, because the act has not yet been approved.

Conservative leader, Gabrielius Landsbergis, who does not entirely understand the court’s decision also commented on the case. “There is a confusion about what law, what legal act helped the court to make its judgement. If the ruling was based on international case law, then why are we discussing it in the Seimas?” – he asked. “On the other hand we understand the need of the people to write their surnames in a way that suits them, that will not burden their everyday lives” – he added.

On the 15th of March 2014 Vilnius Civil Registry Office gave the proponents their marriage certificate in which the letter “v” had been written in the surname of the Lithuanian bride (Pauvels), while her husband’s surname had been left in the original, that is with the letter “w” (Pauwels). This year in February with the assistance of EFHR lawyers the couple turned to the Vilnius City District Court in order to change the spelling of the surname into “Pauwels”. In their complaint they stated that illegal and unfounded refusal of registration of the surname in its original form violates their rights to a private life, cultural, linguistic and religious identity, discriminates them and creates serious administrative, occupational and personal difficulties.

Vilnius Regional Court in its statement from the 30th of July cancelled the decision of the Civil Registry Office and obliged it to change the surname of the proponents into “Pauwels” and to issue a new marriage certificate. The court claimed that the private life of an individual and integrity of family life should be prioritized over protecting Lithuanian cultural identity by the state. The court pointed out that new circumstances should be taken into consideration after Lithuania joined the European Union, such as: the free movement of people and lack of interior borders in the EU. This is why limiting the rights of people to choose their surname that is not violating public order and morals is inappropriate. In addition, the court stated that the couple’s children surname would be different from the surname of the mother or the father and would limit their rights and affairs. The court supported his decision with an argument that in Lithuania, registered names or surnames with the letter “w” in them already exist.

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

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