• February 19, 2018
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Radchenko: Social Democrats meet the expectations of minorities

In November last year, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LPSD), on the initiative of the councilman of the Vilnius region, Robert Duchniewicz, organized a public consultation on the Act on National Minorities. I took part in them from the Polish Debate Club. Only 3 months have passed and here on February 15 the LPSD faction registered the appropriate project in the Parliament (Sejm). As for Lithuania – even a staggering political speed!.

This is not an ideal project, but it is the first draft of the Act on National Minorities, registered by the national party and facing national minorities’ expectations, if my memory is correct. So far, projects in this matter have been reported either by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (and so unfortunately they did not have much chances to win), or the national wing of conservatives (and thus limited even the few language rights that national minorities currently have in Lithuania). I am glad that this project – probably not coincidentally – appeared on the day of the first visit of President Andrzej Duda in Lithuania. It clearly shows that relations between Poland and Lithuania also affect the situation of Lithuanian Poles. If relations are good, if we talk to each other, the solution to the problems comes faster than when we dislodge one another.

If we are talking about particulars, then the Social Democrat project contains several important assumptions:

First, approves the catalog of obligations of the Lithuanian state towards national minorities. It is an open catalog, so it can be freely expanded in special acts. However, it can not be reduced, and in the event of a legal loophole, it orders to apply by analogy the law and principles contained in the Act on National Minorities.  Among these commitments are: commitment of the Lithuanian state to take all necessary measures to ensure the integration of national minorities, preserve and develop their mother tongue, culture and traditions. Also to ensure the right of national minorities to learn their mother tongue and language, celebrate national holidays, preserve cultural heritage, and create national communities, as well as counteracting assimilation and discrimination of national minorities.

Secondly the Act stipulates that in self-governments, where national minorities constitute no less than 1/3 of the total population as auxiliary language in local offices not only of local government but also of state, the language of this national minority may be used along with the Lithuanian language. So, the petitioners will be able to submit and receive answers in their mother tongue as well.

Thirdly, in self-governments, where national minorities make up over 1/3 of the population, all public information can be given next to the Lithuanian language also in the language of the national minority.

Fourthly, and this is just a novum proposed during the November consultations by me, in municipalities where national minorities constitute no less than 1/3 of the total population names of places, streets and other topographic names can be saved in two versions: Lithuanian and minority language national. However, in communes where minorities constitute less than 1/3 of inhabitants, bilingual names can be introduced, if such solution is accepted by the majority of residents in the local referendum. So contrary to what the Lithuanian media say, which apparently did not understand the project, the local referendum will not apply in all situations, but only if the percentage of persons belonging to national minorities is less than 1/3.

In previous projects, bilingual naming was associated with the entire local government, so Polish inscriptions would be valid in Lithuanian-speaking communities, for example in the Vilnius or Šalčininkai regions (this was meaningless solution, for why, for example, Polish inscriptions in the village, 90% of which are Lithuanians?), but they would not apply to Polish-speaking municipalities, eg in Vilnius (eg in Nowa Wilejka). This project changes it. In addition, it creates an incentive for national minorities in municipalities where they make up less than 1/3 of the population, for closer cooperation with neighbors-Lithuanians. If they convince them to be bilingual – he will be introduced in such a commune by way of a local plebiscite.

There are also some assumptions in this project that create mixed feelings in me. The definition of a national minority is related not only to the subjective criterion (one who considers himself to be a person of a nationality other than Lithuanian), but also to an objective criterion (and has ancestors (ancestors) of appropriate nationality). I am an advocate of the principle of “minderheit ist wer will” – a minority is one who considers himself a minority. No obligation to prove the origin of ancestors. Also, the threshold of 1/3 from the total population is very high (similarly applies only in Croatia). And the catalog of obligations of the Lithuanian state could be longer (eg concerns and the right to the original spelling of names and surnames). But in general, I rate the project in plus. As Andrzej Duda said in Vilnius: “Let’s not get too high expectations.” Perhaps the project will also encourage to act and present even better projects or amendments to the Social Democrats project other parties and the government…

This project is undoubtedly a sign of how deep changes are taking place in the LPSD after the election of the party of Gintautas Paluckas. Social Democrats have always had in their party program the postulate of the adoption of the Act on National Minorities, but they never implemented it. Because, as we know in Lithuania, party and election programs are written on the principle of “wise write for fun, stupid reads, because it’s interesting.” Perhaps it begins to change before our eyes. I do not know what chances the project submitted by the seven-member opposition faction is to receive, but it undoubtedly shows that something has changed in Polish-Lithuanian relations, something is changing for the better. And perhaps in the new century, the Republic of Lithuania has a chance to build Lithuania under the banner of “Lithuania for all”!


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

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