- September 15, 2015
Teachers: Lawlessness and Disorder in Polish Minority Schools Caused by Local Authorities
“Mayor R. Šimašius, why do you throw teachers on the scrap-heap?”, “Equal rights for everyone”, “Mayor R. Šimašius, did we do any harm to you?”, “Mayor, do not use Bolshevik methods” – those were some of the messages written on posters held by Polish teachers who were picketing today in front of Vilnius Municipality.
The difficult situation relating to Polish minority education in Vilnius resulted from the re-organization of the education system in Lithuania and was the reason for this latest picket.
On Tuesday, teachers from Polish schools in Lithuania organized a protest. Standing with posters in front of a government building they objected to the re-organization of the Lithuanian education system which, they argue, discriminates against minorities in Lithuania. Another reason for the protest is the unregulated law on the situation of 11th and 12th grade pupils and teachers from the Polish Szymon Konarski Secondary School, which could soon be downgraded to a primary school.
In a discussion with journalists the pupils admitted that, officially, they are pupils of Adam Mickiewicz Lower Secondary School – but they still have their classes in the building of Szymon Konarski Secondary School. This situation is not regulated by law. The teachers also objected to the fact that the local authorities informed them that the case must be arranged between the schools.
Therefore, the future for both students and teachers of Konarski Lower High School remains uncertain.
“Some of the teachers who work with 11th and 12th grade pupils might be hired by Mickiewicz High School. But it will not be a full-time job, so they will be worse off. A contract will be for one year and then we will see if the 11th grade still exists and if we can still work at that school,” said one of the teachers picketing from Konarski School.
The teachers said that the pupils do not want to leave Konarski School, despite the tense situation. According to the Russian language teacher the students wrote ‘Konarski School’ in their notebooks of their own will to emphasize that they are Konarski School students.
“We do not have any guarantees, we are afraid for our future,” said the picketing teachers from Konarski School.
The teachers are outraged due to the fact that these changes have been made illegally during the school year. One said: “It would not have happened in the civilised world. We could have talked, negotiated and informed the pupils and theirs parents during the holidays.”
“We do not want to fight with anyone. We just want to be noticed. We are open to dialogue and we need someone to speak with us,” said teacher Jadwiga Grynkiwecz.
Picketing teachers from Konarski School were joined by fellow teachers from others schools in a similar situation and they collectively sent a letter to the Mayor of Vilnius. The letter reads:
We demand the cancelling of the latest decisions concerning the reorganization of the education system at the next local council meeting. Further, we insist on allowing the 11th and 12th grade pupils to finish the school year in the school they choose. And finally, we demand the dismissal of the Deputy Director of Vilnius Municipality, Rokas Uscila, who is also responsible for education.
Minorities in Lithuania are determined to defend their system of education, which is currently at risk due to the actions of the government.
On the 31st July a picket defending the education system for minorities was organized in front of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another strike defending J. Lewel Secondary School was organized on the 1st of September in front of the school building. Determined to fight for their schools, the Polish minority organized another picket in front of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Polish minority in Vilnius have been surprised by the outpouring of support from Poland and Polish organizations. Last week the Sejm adopted a law on the Polish Education System in Lithuania, at the same time expressing concern about the situation of Polish education in Lithuania. The Minister for Education Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska and the Congress of Polish Education, concerned about the Lithuanian Government’s actions, have sent a letter to Polish families in Lithuania. Solidarity with the Polish minority has also been expressed by the German minority in Poland.
Translated by Angelika Gucik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.