• September 2, 2015
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Reactions to the strike in Polish ethnic minority schools

The organisers of so called empty benches strike in ethnic minority schools said that they aim to turn the attention of the state’s authorities and the international community to the worsening situation of the Polish and Russian education in Lithuania. First reactions from the Lithuanian authorities are not positive or even optimistic and it seems that nothing will change.

The Minister of the Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, Linas Linkevičius, stated that by accusing Lithuania of discrimination of Poles in the education sector “some of the politicians defame the state”. In his opinion, Lithuania is providing great conditions for education in Polish language that are not present in other countries. “There are 20 million Poles living outside Poland, including 200 thousand living in Lithuania. There are hundreds of Polish schools outside Poland, including around 90 in Lithuania. Here you can acquire education in Polish from kindergarten to university. I think it is not so bad. Of course, the situation could be better, but to proclaim to the world about discrimination is just irresponsible”, said the chief of Lithuanian diplomacy.

The Lithuanian Prime Minister, Algirdas Butkevičius, also thinks that organising undertakings like that is ‘politicking’. He rejected the possibility of fulfilling the strikers’ demands. In his opinion, the exam from Lithuanian language was passed better by the students from Polish schools than those from Lithuanian schools. In Polish schools only 2,7% of the students did not pass the exam, while in Lithuanian schools it was 5,3%. (Ed. Note: According to the data provided by the State’s Examination Centre 89,79% students overall passed the state’s exam from Lithuanian language and literature in 2015. In the Lithuanian schools the pass rate was 90,11% while in ethnic minority schools 83,95% )

“Demanding to introduce an obligatory exam from Polish language would be equal with violation of law. Children of Polish ethnicity would have to pass an additional exam. In our opinion this would be discrimination”, said the PM. The ethnic minority schools are, according to Butkevičius, financed better than the Lithuanian schools. “In 2014, the amount of money allotted for one student from the Šalčininkai District Municipality was 2,224 euro while the state’s average was 1,604 euro”.

The Ministry of Education and Science issued a statement in which they called the EAPL management to “instead of politicking and inciting to strike, encourage the students of the ethnic minority schools to attend classes, because good education guarantees successful future”. According to the Ministry “the students of ethnic minority schools pass the standardized a few years ago exam from Lithuanian language and literature well, sometimes they acquire maximum amount of points.” The education department also claims that the ethnic minority schools are equipped with the materials needed to learn Lithuanian and that the student financing designated from the state’s funds is one fifth bigger than in Lithuanian schools.

The Ministry of Education of Poland informed that the Minister Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska is preparing a letter to the Minister of Education and Science of Lithuania Audronė Pitrėnienė in order to defend the Polish schools in Lithuania. On Wednesday morning the Polish Minister contacted the Polish minority representatives by phone. Edyta Zubel, the director of the Joachim Lelewel Secondary School and Renata Cytacka from Parents Forum of Polish Schools in Lithuania (Forum Rodziców Szkół Polskich na Litwie) have informed the Minister about the situation and why they are beginning a strike.

Vice-marshal of the Polish government, Marek Kuchciński, who participated in the mass at the Gate of Dawn in intention of Polish schools in Lithuania informed that the Polish parliamentarians are preparing a special resolution calling the Lithuanian authorities to support and defend the Polish education in Lithuania. “We encourage the Lithuanian authorities to act according to European standards. Let’s not break things that unite us”, he said in a talk with Wilnoteka.

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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