• November 27, 2015
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The international conference about linguistic rights of national minorities

World-renowned experts talked about international and European standards of protection of linguistic rights of national minorities during the international scientific conference.

The conference “Integration and Exclusion: Linguistic rights of national minorities in Europe” took place on 27th November 2015 in Vilnius. It was organised by the Association of Polish Academics in Lithuania (SNPL).

-“The public discussion about linguistic rights of national minorities is often dominated by emotions of particular politicians. We wanted to focus on scientific, academic approach and present the dominant European trends in the issue. – said the secretary of the SNPL dr Elżbieta Kuzborska. –“We should not escape from the fact that Lithuania is currently facing a difficult problem, it has to choose the direction to follow for the future law concerning the rights of national minorities, that is the National Minorities Act. We wanted to make a kind of contribution to the discussion by explaining certain problems, because it is widely known that ignorance leads to uncertainty and concern. We wanted the lectures delivered by the most famous experts in the field to broaden the Lithuanian experience by presenting solutions from other countries” – she added.

The guests were welcomed by the Director of the SNPL Prof Henryk Malewski and by the Science Secretary dr Elżbieta Kuzborska. “Language is a key to equal and effective contribution of national minorities to the life of the European countries” – said Kuzborska in her inaugural speech. –“Lithuania is famous not only thanks to Baranauskas and Donelaitis, but also thanks to representatives of other nationalities, for example the Poles, the Jews or the Tartars. One can mention Mickiewicz, Miłosz, Skoryna or Brodski at this point.” – said Prof Malewski in his speech. He also condemned the fact that the Lithuanian government still has not applied appropriate measures yet in order to allow national minorities to write their names and surnames in the original form. –“It is bad for the reputation of Lithuania. I hope that the arguments provided during the conference will be heard by the politicians.” – he emphasised.

Dr Vida Montvydaitė, the Director of the Department of National Minorities delivered a speech as well. She noticed that the issue of the minority language is a politically loaded topic, one of the most vigorously discussed ones in the country. –“The boundary between the importance of the official language and the languages of minorities is very fuzzy. (…) The majority of people believe that it is the minorities that should integrate with them, whereas they should also remember that they should be open to the minorities and welcome them so that the minorities can consider themselves a part of the community.”- she said.

The crucial issue for the Polish national minority in Lithuania is maintaining their identity: development of the Polish schools, the right to use one’s own name and surname and to use one’s native language in public. Unfortunately, Lithuania is guilty of breaking these laws.

-“When it comes to the latest reports of international organisations, we received a publicised opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Council of Europe, concerning the adherence to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities by the Lithuanian government, which highlighted problems in the field of education, that is unsatisfactory preparation for the schooling reform of 2011 and the standardised exam in 2013” – said dr Kuzborska. –“They also mentioned the lack of appropriate legal measures concerning the original spelling of names and surnames and problems with using minority languages in public”

According to the scientist, all problems of minorities are a result of one fundamental problem – it is the lack of the National Minorities Act which is an obstacle in the process of implementation of particular laws and their use by the Polish minority.

Belen Rodriguez de Alba, the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (Switzerland) also took part in the conference. She said that international communities must pay a lot of attention to national minorities but they efforts are unsatisfactory and uneven.

-“It is often forgotten that social conflicts do not come from nowhere. A given country must acknowledge its fault and grant every citizen their right to dignity” – she said and also emphasised that forced assimilation is contrary to international standards.

During the conference, the lectures were also delivered by: a world-renowned expert in linguistic rights and the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Université de Moncton in Canada, dr Fernand de Varennes; prof. Lauri Hannikainen, a long-standing member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and a lecturer at the University of Helsinki, the staff of the  European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) in Flensburg (Germany): dr Eva Chylinsky and dr Hanna Vasilevich; a researcher at the Institute for Minority Rights of the European Academy (EURAC) in Bolzano/Bozen (Italy) Sergiu Constantin, Boris Cilevics, Member of Latvian Parliament and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, prof. Eduardo J. Ruiz Vieytez, the Dean of the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Deusto (Bilbao) (Spain); dr hab. Katarzyna Łasak from the University of Gdańsk; Lithuanian scientists: dr Elżbieta Kuzborska and dr Katarzyna Bogdziewicz-Miksza. The issue of protection of linguistic rights in the EU was introduced by dr Łukasz Wardyn.

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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