- August 19, 2015
Montvydaitė: We want to help Lithuanians to get rid of stereotypes
Since 1st July of this year in Lithuania works The Department of national minorities by the government of Repulic of Lithuania. The decision to create this institution was made by the Strategic Committee of Lithuanian Government. A similar institution – The Department of national minorities and the diaspora (which takes care of Lithuanian diaspora) – functioned until year 2010.
The Department is now at organizational stage. The president of the Department is dr. Vida Montvydaitė, who during the years 2002-2009 was the vice-president of The Department of national minorities and the diaspora, and starting 2013 she was Consul General of Republic of Lithuania in Seinai. Vida Montvydaitė talked about the tasks facing the Department during the conversation with Baltic Insight.
What are the basic objectives of the Department? What tasks will be the priority in the coming months?
We started to function on 1st July. The Department will be involved in conducting the national minorities’ policy and guaranteeing minority rights, preventing the displays of discrimination on the basis of nationality or spoken language. On the oter hand, the Department will cooperate with national institutions, national minorities’ communities and non-governmental organisations to protect the identity of national minorities, their culture, development of education and ensuring equal political representation and equal rights to be hired in institutions, organisations and companies. The Department will also give more power to ethnic communities to decide about their own matters and working on minority policy.
The last National Minorities Act was terminated in 2010. A new Act is being prepared. Will the Department take part in development of this new Act?
We work with the Seimas hand in hand on this matter. The earlier mentioned bill is already prepared and submitted in Seimas, and waits to be investigated. The procedure is in progress and right now we are waiting for the final legitimacy of the Seimas. It is a key issue that needs a detailed discussion to reach right decisions. We strongly believe that the Act will be passed soon.
You worked as Consul General in Seinai, so you know issues bothering the Lithuanian minority in Poland. How would you compare the situation of the Lithuanian minority in Poland and the Polish minority in Lithuania?
I have to clear this issue a bit: the situation of the Lithuanian minority in Poland is significantly different from the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania. Firstly, the difference is in numbers. According to statistical data, Lithuanians in Poland constitute no more than 8,000 people in a 38 000,000 population, while Poles are the largest minority group in Lithuania (200,000 people in a population of less than 3 000,000 people). Moreover, Poles are represented by many organisations, a number of associations, groups and a political party. Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos lenkų rinkimų akcija or LLRA; Polish: Akcja Wyborcza Polaków na Litwie or AWPL) has become the first in history national minority’s party elected to the parliament in 2012. Altogether, 27 parties participated in the elections, and only seven crossed the 5% threshold.
Poles are involved in various activities, i.e. The House of Polish Culture in Vilnius (pl. Dom Kultury Polskiej w Wilnie) takes active part in educatinal and cultural life of the Polish minority. It is worth to mention The Association of Poles in Lithuania (Polish: Związek Polaków na Litwie; Lithuanian: Lietuvos lenkų sąjunga) which is one of the largest Polish organisations. There are many smaller assiociations and groups participating in the public and social life in Lithuania.
Do you think that any of the legal solutions concerning national minorities introduced in Poland would be applied in Lithuania?
As I said earlier, the situation of the national minorities in both countries differs significantly. Moreover, we have to talk about decision-making powers on the local and national level. Although local governments in Lithuania have their own scope of authority, it is the Seimas that has power in the whole country.
How is the Department going to cooperate with the national communities? Will there be any institution that would gather the representatives of the government and national minorities?
The Department will continue its activity thanks to communication and cooperation on behalf of wide range of dialogue. We work together with the Council of National Communities (pl. Rada Wspólnot Narodowych) which represents all national minorities in Lithuania. As an advisory committee, the Council consists of representatives of every national community. When reaching any decision and during the lawmaking process over the national minorities’ issues, the Department always consults the Council.
Through cooperation we intend to provide equal rights and coexistence of communities and national minorities and work out suggestions for the authorities and state institutons in issues concerning minorities.
How do you perceive the role of the local governments in solving problems of national minorities?
Self-governmental institutions have an important and long-lasting role. They have the greatest influence on the social life of national minorities in Lithuania. When people have problems, they turn to local instutions in the first place. Those organisations are involved in various kinds of support, beginning with the local’s affairs, and ending with publication of magazines and organisation of educational, cultural and social events.
Do you think that social awareness of the minority issues in Lithuania is on a satisfactory level? If not, what should be improved in your opinion?
This is exactly why the Department was created. We have a number of programmes, including those about national minorities’ integration and promotion of minority identity. We continue the work on behalf of non-discrimination, equality, tolerance and social inclusion. We also plan to introduce social education as well as other actions focused on national minorities. Generally, Lithuanians are open and respect the rights, customs and opinions of others in their neighbourhood.
Can you see the role of the media or non-governmental organisations in raising the social awareness of the national minorities’ problems?
Lithuania is a coherent and multicultural country, although it also faces some intercultural challenges. Our task is to help the Lithuanians to understand certain behaviours and features of people of other nationalities that live among them. We intend to disseminate information that will help people to get rid of stereotypes and fears. Unfortunately, some journalists and comentators rely more on personal opinions than actual situation. The media still treat national minorities in a stereotypical way. This is why we plan to announce a competition for journalists who promote intercultural dialogue and raise awareness about Lithuanian national minorities.
Does the Department plan to support – in an organisational or financial way – any initiative aiming to protect the cultural heritage of national minorities?
We will do that as well. We will organise seminars, round tables, consultation concerning social education, historic heritage, language, tradition and culture, identity, social inclusion and employment together with non-governmental organisations, scientists and politicians and other significant figures. We will conduct Sunday schools, computer and language courses etc. We put focus especially on programmes of casual education for national minorities in order to strengthen their customs, traditions and folklore.
It seems like a reasonable conclusion is that problems of national minorities are well-known in Lithuania now, so the only thing the country needs is to come up with solutions to those problems. Would you agree?
I would say that we should talk about communication and closer cooperation between state institutions and national minorities, and the society itself. Lithuania can go on the European way by building solidarity between the minorities and protecting their rights, cultural heritage and language. Our task is to develop the interethnic dialogie and intercultural relations and strengthening the spirit of consent and justice.
Translated by Klaudia Chmura within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.