• September 23, 2015
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Non-Lithuanian „w” still banned

The situation of writing non-Lithuanian surnames in Lithuania resembles a scene from a Polish movie „Sami Swoi”, when on the way to court a mother put a granade into her son’s hand and said: „The court is the court, but justice must be on our side!”

The said granade turns out to be the decision of the Vilnius Migration Service, which refused to issue a passport of a Belgian wife who has „w” in her surname after a foreign husband. However, earlier the court where the woman submitted the case ordered to issue her marriage certificate with unified form of her surname with the letter „w”.

European Foundation of Human Rights (EFHR), which won the case, has already appealed to the decision of the Migration Service.
„The decision of the Vilnius District Area Court, which examined the case, concerned Registry Office, and the Migration Serrvice was a third party in the court hearing, so we issued a motion concerning the unfavourable decision of the court”, says Ewelina Baliko, EFHR’s lawyer. According to Mrs. Baliko, it was possible to prove earlier in court that the couple has problems due to the discrepancy between the written form of their surnames and the fact that there are many cases in Lithuania, where marriage certificates and other documents are issued to the people with non-Lithuanian surnames.
„Those cases concern mostly foreigners, so when taking a decision in our clients’ case, the court recognised that the registry office’s decision might have a discriminatory character”, says the lawer.
Let’s remind that the Lithuanian and Belgian citizens received a marriage certificate from Vilnius registry office, in which the wife’s surname was written differently than her husband’s surname – „Pauvels” instead of „Pauwels”. At the beginning of this year the spouses, with the help of the EFHR, turned to the court to unify the way in which their surnames would be written. As a justification for their claim, the couple wrote that the difference in the written form of their surnames is a violation of their private life, cultivation of culture, language, religion as well as is discriminatory, because it causes problems in everyday life, especially in administratory and occupational areas.

On the 30th July 2015 the court cancelled the decision of the registry office and committed itself to issue a new marriage certificate with unified surnames. In substantiation, the court underlined that the private life of persons and inviolability of their family life must constitute a priority against the policy of Lithuanian cultural identity protection. It was also highlighted that after Lithuania joined the European Union, new circumstances arouse, and they have to be taken into consideration. Moreover, according to the court, if the difference in surnames is the case, the surname of their child would differ from the surname of a mother or father, what violates their rights and interests of a family.
„Those are the arguments that do not need additional proof in the court for the Migration Service”, says Ewelina Baliko, as she hopes that it is the reason that will help them win another case.
„We are dealing with a legal absurd because in the national register there are many foreign surnames with letters that do not occur in the Lithuanian alphabet. What is more, we know cases where register offices issued marriage certificates with unified surnames and Migration Services issued personal documents without the court’s ruling.

In the meantime, the Vilnius Migration Service, which refused to issue a passport with „w” in a surname explains that the Service isn’t obliged by any ruling to actually issue the passport.
„I do confirm that after the judge’s decision that orders to issue the marriage certificate with a non-Lithuanian letter (…) the citizens started to ask us to issue the documents with non-Lithuanian letters in them. At present we refuse to do that because the legislation does not allow us to do so”, said Paulius Radvilavičius from the Main Police Station of the Vilnius Region, whose Migration Service refused to give the couple documents with a unified surname.

So far, the biggest group to solicit for writing non-Lithuanian surnames in official documents was the Polish minority in Lithuania. Recently, more and more cases concern Lithuanians, especially the Lithuanian women who decide to marry foreigners. Those women also demand to have their husbands’ surnames. This case is a political issue, and each time it gains masses of opposing voices, mostly from nationalistic and national groups.

The Seimas immediately tried to accept the corrections to the legislation which would allow using non-existent letters in the Lithuanian alphabet such as „q”, „w” and „x” in written form of non-Lithuanian surnames. This idea would satisfy the minorities’ demands only partially, as they expect having surnames written in their original form, and it would concern a small percentage of the „Lithuanian Poles”. However, this suggesstion was met with a strong opposition of the radicals. They announced an event of collecting signatures for a civil act, which would allow writing surnames in their original form but not on the first page of passports. According to the latest ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, such law wouldn’t be legally binding. The opponents of this solution consider having a surname on farther pages of the passport only as a sentimental decoration.

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

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