- March 17, 2016
Thousandth mass rally in defence of national minorities’ schools
“We, parents of students attending national minorities’ schools, as well as parents of children attending kindergartens, are against the current Vilnius authorities’ nationalistic and discriminative policy towards the national minorities’ educational institutions. Today we’re standing up for our and our children’s rights,” said Renata Cytacka from the Parents’ Forum at Polish Schools in Lithuania during the mass rally that took place today by the Vilnius City Local Government seat.
A thousand people gathered on Thursday in front of the Vilnius City Local Government seat in the Europa Square in order to stand up for national minorities’ schools in Vilnius, which are threatened with relegation or close-down. Communities from the schools, mainly from the Polish educational institutions located in Vilnius, attended the rally.
The school communities protested against the delay in the accreditation of the Władysław Syrokomla Secondary School in Vilnius, intent to appropriate the building of the Joachim Lelewel Secondary School in Antakalnis, as well as against the attempts to close the existing Polish and Russian schools down (the Szymon Konarski School, School in Lazdynai, Lew Karsawin School, Alexander Pushkin School, School “Ateities,” School “Centro,” School in Liepkalnis, School “Saulėtekio,” School “Senamiesčio,” School-Kindergarten “Saulutė,” School-Kindergarten “Svaja,” Schhol-Kindergarten “Berželis”).
Andżelika Nowogrodzka – a graduate of, teacher, and parent of a student at the Władysław Syrokomla Secondary School in Vilnius – expressed her anxiety on behalf of the whole school community that this educational institution, being one of the most numerous and best Polish schools in Vilnius, is not included in the accreditation plan of the secondary school curriculum, despite the fact that “Syrokomlówka” has never suffered from lack of students (853 pupils attend it this school year) and that they have great results both during classes and when taking part in olympiads.
“We are determined, we are indignant at the Lithuanian authorities’ ignorance and the way they treat us. Double standards emerge here – some schools have the right to be accredited, others don’t. Is it possible that political consideration and sympathies are what guides the authorities when choosing schools to be given the ‘gimnazjum’ status?” Tatiana Korzeniewska, a representative of the Committee for the Defence of the Władysław Syrokomla School, expressed her resentment.
Also a student of the school, Konrad Czeglik, decided to defend it. “We, contemporary young Poles, are the citizens of Lithuania, a European state. And here we want to study, gain knowledge, and work equally with others, as well as work and pay taxes in our native country. And just as other citizens we have the right to express our will. We want “Syrokomlówka” to attain accreditation of the secondary school curriculum; we want to graduate from “gimnazjum” and guide ourselves by Christian values throughout our lives,” said Konrad Czeglik.
The parents protested also against occurrences of corruption of the liberal-conservative coalition in the local government of Vilnius when it comes to the case of funneling about €6 million to private bank accounts of private kindergartens’ owners, incidents of political corruption, as well as documents forgery when holding competitions for the official’s position.
Valdemar Tomaševski, the chairman of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL) and a member of the European Parliament, attended the rally to express his solidarity with the picketing group.
“Thank you all for your civic attitude, for courage, for coming here today to defend your children’s rights,” said the AWPL leader. He expressed his regret that “in our country, which is said to be democratic, we have to defend our rights in such a way.” He pointed out that what saddened him the most was that the current authorities of Vilnius – a city built cooperatively by Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Jews, and Lithuanians – were destroying the bases of democracy by destroying national minorities’ schools.
“We’ll save our schools for sure. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then the day after. There is no other option. As the native occupants of this land we went through much rougher time. We went through the Bolshevik times, various occupations, but the Polish school survived,” the AWPL leader stressed.
The organisers of the event – the Parents’ Forum at Polish Schools in Lithuania, Committees for the Defence of National Minorities’ Schools, and Strikes Committees of National Minorities’ Schools – have announced another mass rally in defence of the national minorities’ education, which is due to take place on 22nd March at 3 p.m. by the US Embassy seat in Vilnius.
“It is a very important decision on the part of the parents, as there should not be such a situation that after we had joined the NATO and the European Union, national minorities’ rights in Lithuania were grossly limited. We will also say insistently for the representatives of the Western democracy countries that in our state we have to face discrimination of the native Polish population and all the national minorities,” said the MEP. He emphasised that if the authorities were still deaf to the parents’ postulates and still pursuing the bulldozer policy towards the national minorities’ schools, it would be time for bigger protest campaigns.
“We will never allow destroying schools of the native Vilnius inhabitants. For sure we’ll carry out even bigger actions, and for sure we’ll win. So help us God,” said the AWPL leader.
The rally took place on 17th March not accidentally, for, as Cytacka has reminded us, exactly five years ago – on 17th March 2011 – an act on education that was unfavourable to national minorities’ education came into force. “We have taken to the streets for five years. There have been lots of us – 10,000 people in front of the Seimas, 4,000 by the Government. We organised smaller actions many times. Today there are a thousand of us. What do we still have to do to get what we’ve wanted? Do we as parents have to chain ourselves to a school radiator?” Cytacka said on the authorities’ ignorance towards the national minorities’ pleas.
Danuta Narbut, the chairman of the Vilnius Parents’ Forum, pointed out that the delay in the accreditation of the national minorities’ schools could be seen as a form of discrimination, breaking human rights, and even psychological pressure. “Politicians have to understand that we parents and our children create the school’s future. Let’s be the power of today, let’s be the power of tomorrow, let’s be the power always,” said Narbut.
Beata Bartoszewicz, the chairman of the Committee for the Defence of the J. Lelewel Secondary School, and the student Milena Syrnickaja spoke on behalf of the community of this school, the one which has not been accredited yet and which the Vilnius authorities are planning to move to another district.
“It’s the only national minorities’ school in one of the biggest parts of the city, which is attended by youth from 249 streets. Having cultivated Polish traditions for over 70 years, it’s brought up many well-known Poles, including two Nobel prizewinners. It’s scandalous that the authorities of the Vilnius local government are forcing Polish students to get out of the old building to another one, to its branch in the Žirmūnai district, leaving the huge area without a school with Polish as a language of instruction,” said Bartoszewicz. She emphasised that the school community was ready to appeal for justice in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
She expressed also her conviction that the ministry intentionally hampered the accreditation process of the secondary school curriculum, thus allowing discrimination of the national minorities’ education and aiming at lowering the status of secondary schools.
“The Joachim Lelewel Secondary School, just like the Lithuanian Daukšos School, has chosen a specialised branch of engineering teaching. When Minister Pavalkis had handed in her resignation and the duties were temporarily performed by Bernatonis, the Daukšos School was accredited in a few days without any problems, and our school has not gained the accreditation to this day. This decision confirms lack of good will on the part of the politicians and unequal school treatment,” Bartoszewicz pointed out.
The organisers submitted the petition to the Vilnius authorities. “This petition was signed by almost 1,000 people who gathered in the Square,” said Edita Tamošiūnaitė, a Vilnius local government councillor as a representative of the AWPL, when reading out main demands of the parents, who categorically called for the accreditation of all the national minorities’ schools in the Vilnius City and maintenance of the existing primary schools and kindergartens.
Translated by Karolina Katarzyńska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.