• October 30, 2015
  • 326

Malewski: The issue of national minorities cannot be left only to politicians to tackle

The biggest international science conference in the region is going to take place at the end of November. The issue of linguistic rights is going to be discussed there; the conference is entitled “Integration and exclusion: linguistic rights of national minorities in Europe”. We are talking to the Head of the Association of Polish Academics in Lithuania (SNPL) prof. Henryk Malewski and the Science Secretary of SNPL Elżbieta Kuzborska

Ewelina Mokrzecka, zw.lt:  On 27th November, The SNPL is going to organise an international scientific conference on linguistic rights of national minorities. How many conferences has the SNPL organised so far?

Prof. Henryk Malewski: It is the tradition of the SNPL to organise at least one scientific conference a year. It has not always been like that but in the last years we had one or even two conferences per year.  For example, 2013 conference was entitled “Lithuanian Poles or Poles in Lithuania? National identity problems from the 19th to the 21st century”. In April 2014 we organised a big international conference with the help of the Polish Society of Political Thought “European political thought and the challenges of the 21st century”. This year in November we are going to organise an international scientific conference “Integration and exclusion: linguistic rights of national minorities in Europe” which will be attended by eminent scientists from numerous EU countries and Canada and the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In 2016 we plan to coordinate the conference “National minorities – a chance, a threat or a danger to national security?”

What is the reason for choosing the topic of linguistic rights of minorities for this year’s conference?

Prof. Henryk Malewski: The topic of national minorities is especially important in today’s world. We cannot rely solely on resources from the second half of the 20th century or even on the opinions from the 19th century. The issue of national minorities cannot be left only to politicians to tackle. They often approach it from an economic point of view, so do journalists who often choose shortcuts in their quest for news. An accurate, science-based analysis of rapidly changing processes is needed. Demographical changes and migration processes change our perception of some of them in terms of titular majority –  traditional national minorities relations.

Are linguistic rights of minorities currently protected in Lithuania?

Prof. Henryk Malewski: It is worthwhile for the government of Lithuania to support nationally conscious – through their relationship with their native language and culture – national minorities, e.g. the Poles, the Russians or the Byelorussians who, while identifying themselves as minorities, would feel a connection and take responsibility for the fate of their common country as the titular majority’s equal partners and citizens of Lithuania.

The Lithuanians put a strong emphasis on the protection of their language. It is necessary but at the same time they need to appreciate the rights of national minorities living in the country.

What actually are the linguistic rights of minorities?

Dr Elżbieta Kuzborska: The linguistic rights of minorities are for example the right to speak one’s native language in public, to receive instruction in one’s native language, to use one’s name and surname in their original version, to use bilingual place and street names.. It is a complex matter. Let us take a simple rule of non-discrimination on grounds of language – in various European countries, that is among the member states of the Council of Europe and the EU, there are politicians and government officials who do not understand that rule. The conference organised by the SNPL will present the opinion of experts in the field and show what the linguistic rights of minorities are and how to protect them successfully.

Could you tell us something more about the conference?

Dr Elżbieta Kuzborska: Thanks to months of our work,  not only will Vilnius host real experts in the field, but also young scientists from European research centres. The conference will become a platform of exchange of experiences in respecting linguistic rights in particular countries: Spain, Romania, the countries of the Southern Caucasus, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Kosovo. Such scholars as prof. Fernand de Varennes, prof. Francesco Palermo or prof. Lauri Hannikainen will explain how the policy and practice of the countries of the world should look like in the light of international standards.

I am also very pleased to announce that the International Observatory on Language Rights of the University of Moncton in Canada has assumed the patronage over our event. I have not heard of a more important research centre in the field of linguistic rights. Their patronage increases the importance of our event and makes us even more responsible for it.

How can one apply to take part in the conference?

Dr Elżbieta Kuzborska: We would like to invite not only specialists, like politicians, lawyers or government officials handling the issue of the rights of minorities, but also students, scientists and anyone interested in the topic and the state policy concerning it. Due to a limited number of place it is necessary to register by sending the application to kuzborska@gmail.com

More information can be found on: www.snpl.lt

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

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