• June 19, 2017
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The government supports the original spelling of names

On Monday, during the cabinet meeting, the government of the Republic of Lithuania approved the draft law which allows to write the surname on the front page of the passport using the letters of the Latin alphabet, such as “q”, “w” and “x”.

“We support the project which gives the possibility of writing the surname on the first page of the passport in the language, in which the surname is written in the original,” said the Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.

The final decision rests with the Seimas.

The project of Group for 3 May and the alternative project

In May, during the first reading, the Seimas approved the draft law prepared by the parliamentary Group for 3 May. It allows for writing the surname using the letters of the Latin alphabet, such as “q”, “w” and “x”. 64 deputies voted in favour of the draft law, 25 voted against it, 13 parliamentarians abstained. The law has been passed thanks to the votes of the Social Democrats, the Electoral Action of Poles – Christian Families Alliance, the Conservatives and the Liberals. The voices of the Lithuanian Peasants and Green Union practically split into half (17 deputies were in favour of the project while 21 were against it). The majority of the deputies belonging to the Order and Justice Party abstained. The representative of the faction the Electoral Action of Poles – Christian Families Alliance Irina Rozowa has not taken part in the voting. The alternative draft law prepared by the deputies Audronius Ažubalis, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Stasys Šedbaras, Vytautas Juozapaitis, Arvydas Anušauskas and Agnė Bilotaitė has also been passed during the first reading. It allows for writing the original surname, however, not on the first, but only on the further pages of the passport. The draft law was partly supported by the Conservatives and almost the whole peasantry faction of the Seimas. It is interesting that the project was supported by the former deputy chairman of the Seimas and the current deputy of the Electoral Action of Poles – Christian Families Alliance Jarosław Narkiewicz. According to the draft law prepared by the Group for 3 May, it would be possible s to write the non-Lithuanian surnames in official documents, using the letters of the Latin alphabet, such as “q”, “w” and “x”. The amendment assumes that “the name and surname may be written in the original if it is recorded in such form in the source documents, and the source documents give evidence that a person or his or her ancestors had the citizenship of another country or was married to a foreigner and assumed his surname.” 70 members of the parliament, including the leader of Conservatives Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, the members of the conservative faction, peasant party, liberals and social democrats, supported this draft of law. The second project involves writing the surname in original form on the additional page of the passport. The basic version of the surname, on the first page, would be written only using the letters of the Lithuanian alphabet, and another version could be written using any Latin alphabet. In the official records only the Lithuanian version of the surname would be used. The writing of the surname on the main page or on the additional page of the passport has been considered in the Seimas for many years, but no decision has been taken on this matter so far.

The trials and tribulations with surnames

On the 7th of March 2017, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania has ruled that in identity cards the surnames Wardyn and Pauwels should be written both in the Lithuanian transcription and in the original. “How it will be written, of course, has been unclear so far, “said Ewelina Baliko, the lawyer of the European Foundation for Human Rights. The family of the woman being the citizen of Lithuania and the man from Poland applied for issuing the identity card for a child according to the entry in the register of residents – Wardyn. The family of the woman being the citizen of Lithuania and man from Belgium asked for writing the surname Pauwels in original both in the passport and in the identity card. Last week, the court gave the ruling in cases of Jaquet and Mickiewicz. In the ruling, the court obliged Migration Board to issue Lithuanian passports with two versions of the surname – the Lithuanian on the main page of the passport and the original on the further page. Ewelina Baliko informed that the two families asked the Migration Office for the documents, but the office refused to issue appropriate documents. “The office refuses to issue a passport as it was ordered by the court until children’s surnames are not changed for the Lithuanian version in the citizens register. So, it is a forced return to the same situation that was before the court decision. Of course, the families will not do that,” said Ms Baliko. She added that the applicants will ask for help in the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee.

In 2010, the Seimas rejected the draft law on the spelling of surnames which was prepared by the then Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius. The draft law allowed, among other things, for writing the Polish surname in the passport in its original form. The main argument for rejecting it was the fear of the fate of the Lithuanian language. The then Lithuanian Minister of Justice Remigijus Šimašius called the Seimas’ rejection of the Draft law on spelling of surnames prepared by the government “the triumph of straw patriotism”, which revealed the provincialism of Lithuania. The original spelling of surnames, bilingual inscriptions and Polish education in Lithuania have been a “sticking point” in Polish-Lithuanian relations for years.

This article was written in the framework of the project “Dialogue among nations”, which is co-financed by the Press, Radio and Television Support Fund.

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

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