• September 8, 2015
  • 291

Vilnius Calvary without a Polish school

The Polish school building in Vilnius Calvary was erected in 1937 as part of a project aimed at building 100 Józef Piłsudski schools in the Vilnius Region.

Over the years, the school, situated in the northern part of Vilnius where the famous Calvary is also located, has undergone many changes: in the 1940s Lithuanian language instruction was introduced, and after the war the school offered instruction in 3 languages: Lithuanian, Russian and Polish. After gaining independence, Russian classes were moved to the  Bołtupie district and two schools remained in the building: Polish and Lithuanian. Since the 1st September 2015 the Polish department of the school in Vilnius Calvary has ceased to exist.

There were hardly any children, with too few to form classes, and parents enrolling their children in other schools – explained the principal of the school in Vilnius Calvary, Linas Vasarevičius. – For many years Polish classes hadn’t  fulfilled  “basic” requirements and students had learnt in mixed classes. One class had just two students, so others joined it.

For years the school was popular among students from Santaryszki, Bajorai, Verkiai, Bołtupie, Vilnius Calvary, Gulbiny, Malacka Street, Žaliasis Ežeras, Skersinės, Didlaukio and 100 other local streets. Many Polish people live in this part of the city and the inability to form a full class with Polish as a language of instruction seems quite strange.

Former Mathematics and Physics teacher, Zofia Kuncewicz, who had worked in the Calvary school for 44 years since 1958, says that full Polish classes were always formed there.

– At the beginning in 1958 there was only one mixed Polish-Lithuanian class, which the youngest pupils were attending, with 2-3 in each class. However, Polish classes were always formed. Depending on the times they were attended by 15, 25, and even 34 students – Zofia Kuncewicz told the “Kurier”.

Since perestroika times, when the Lithuanian department of the school got stronger, it was routinely suggested that the Polish department should be closed.

– There were talks about closing the Polish school all the time. A secretary in the school secretary’s office was convincing parents wanting to enroll their children that there would soon be no Polish classes formed – Zofia Kuncewicz expressed her indignation. Teachers were even organizing special office hours to prevent the agitation. We were fighting to keep Polish classes.

– I cannot tell you why we weren’t able to form a full class. It was the choice of parents – says the principal Linas Vasarevicius – I think that such small classes scared them away.

Enrollment terms for the Polish school are not transparent because, as our interlocutors point out, parents with application forms were just being turned away. “We didn’t have a Polish first grade for the first time last year because when parents were bringing application forms to the secretary’s office they were refused and their documents were not accepted. They were told that there won’t be any Polish classes formed. Even in the notices about the enrollment of 1st grade students, we did not provide the school’s phone number, but a phone number to a 1st grade teacher. Maybe parents were not informed enough.” – says one of the teachers.

On the 15th June the Principal called a school meeting, which was a “decisive” moment in that he “explained” to parents the necessity of transferring their children to other schools.

– We met with the parents and we discussed this situation together. I think that students have to have the opportunity of learning within their peer groups, not in mixed classes – claims the principal.

“When authority in the form of the principle claims that a child is not welcome in the school, parents start to wonder if the school is worthy to educate their child.” – commented one of the teachers, who asked for anonymity.

On 18th June, the documents of one student from the Polish school department were taken, with many such cases following soon after.

– I have tried to convince the Principal that there is a need for keeping the Polish classes and the friendly environment that the children have here. However, the Principal didn’t want to listen to any of my arguments. His aim was to get rid of the Polish classes – Lilia Jasiulewicz, the Polish language teacher, told the “Kurier”. Ms Jasiulewicz graduated from this very school and, after getting her university diploma, has worked there for 28 years. She lost her job on the 1st September and didn’t celebrate the beginning of a new school year with her students.

Currently, Polish children from the northern part of Vilnius have to cover a very long distance to get to other schools.

– Polish people have always been unwelcome in this school. They were told that it would be better for them in other Polish schools, and they faced a lot of inconvenience – the chairman of the Polish Schools’ Teachers Association in Lithuania “Macierz Szkolna”, Józef Kwiatkowski, told the “Kurier”.

– We were intervening in this case, we were going to school meetings. Nevertheless, the school administration put a lot of pressure on the parents to transfer their children to other schools.

The Polish School Strike Committees in Lithuania, the Polish Schools Parents Forum in Lithuania, and School Defense Committees protested against getting rid of the Polish school in Vilnius Calvary and sent an open letter to the President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Prime Minister, Algridas Butkevičius, the Minister for Education and Science, Audronė Pitrėnienė, and Vilnius Mayor, Remigijus Šimašius.

“We demand that the guilty be punished, for them to face the consequences for what they have done. The act of closing the school in Vilnius Calvary results in the lack of possibility of receiving instruction in the Polish language in this part of Vilnius: in Verkiai, Santaryszki, Bołtupie and Calvary – follows the statement. It continues: We demand the establishment of a new Polish school in Calvary in a separate building and with separate administration. Judging by the number of  application forms and the fact that 20% of the Polish population live in this part of the city, a primary school in Calavary is needed. It is evidently necessary to re-establish a Polish primary school in this part of Vilnius.”

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

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