• March 8, 2018
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Discussion in the Polish Discussion Club (PKD): A political nation is not the same as an ethnic nation

“Social Democrats proposed a draft of Act on National Minorities. Today, both politicians and scientists will take the floor” – a discussion organized by the Open Lithuania Fund and the Polish Debate Club entitled “What Act on National Minorities is needed in Lithuania” which was held on Wednesday (7 March) and was begun by Andrzej Pukszto.

The meeting was attended by: a conservative Audronius Ažubalis, chairman of the social democratic party Gintautas Paluckas, anthropologist and sociologist Dr Kristina Šliavaitė, and linguist dr Loreta Vaicekauskienė. The discussion was moderated by the president of the Open Lithuanian Fund, prof. Dr Milda Ališauskienė and head of the Political Sciences Department at the University of Vytautas Magnus, Dr. Andrzej Pukszto.

Paluckas: You can be Polish and love Lithuania

“Why now? In truth, we act too late, at least when it comes to Social Democrats. The issues of cultural identity or national minorities have been in our area of interests for a long time. It is not accidental that issues concerning national minorities trigger a lot of discussion and criticism, because the worldviews of individual political groups are fundamentally different. Some want Lithuanian Poles or Russians to become Lithuanians after some time. We say, on the other hand, that the political nation is not the same as an ethnic nation – you can be a Lithuanian Pole and love your homeland. Being a “Lithuanian” Lithuanian is no better than being a Lithuanian Pole or a Russian. We believe that different identities can coexist within one nation. That is why we focus on integration, not assimilation “- Social Democrats leader Gintautas Palucka explained the prepared idea of ​​the draft law.

The politician added that the project does not regulate all issues, such as the spelling of surnames. “We hope that in this way the project will encounter less political resistance and manage to take the first step, at least in this form” – noted the vice-mayor of Vilnius.

Paluckas stressed that in Lithuania there is no threat of separatism, which is often referred to by the right side of the political stage.

Šliavaitė: Why are we constantly discussing something obvious?

“As a scientist who has been examining this region for years, namely Visaginas, Soleczniki, Ejszyszki, Małe Soleczniki or Podbrodzie, I do not even ask myself about the need for such a law. It is rather strange why it has not been adopted within such a long period of time. Why are we constantly discussing something obvious? “- said Dr. Kristina Šliavaitė, an anthropologist and sociologist. In her opinion, initiatives of this kind create inter-social solidarity, and the campaign against national minorities “affects citizenship negatively “.

The sociologist added that the project in no way threatens Lithuania or the Lithuanian language. Because “all officials” in the so-called non-Lithuanian local governments “know the Lithuanian language very well”, and the permission for double inscriptions would be “a nice and symbolic gesture on the part of the state.”

Šliavaitė remarked that creating an opinion on national minorities is not always worth using public opinion research. According to the anthropologist, asking the question “whether Poles or Russians will go to defend Lithuania” is unethical in principle and causes confusion.

Ažubalis: It will split, not consolidate.

Deputy and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis noted at the outset that the proposed act “will divide, not consolidate society” and may harm the other two Baltic countries. “It is not the case that this team sitting at Latvių street (embassy of the Russian Federation – ed.) Is still thinking off a provocation. From the information I have, the interview does not work that way. Their task is to observe and use our mistakes. That is why I am convinced that this bill would certainly be used by them. I do not rule out that its adoption will be a pretext for organizing some demonstrations in Daugavpils, Riga and Narva with demands of similar rights, “said the conservative and recalled the list of Latvian parliamentarians to Lithuanian colleagues asking them to be very cautious about this issue. The politician added that if the Act on National Minorities is actually needed, then the Social Democrats’ project should be refined and it is worth looking for certain standards on which it could be based.

The current Polish ambassador to Lithuania, Grzegorz Poznański, suggested that the Polish-Lithuanian treaty is a good standard, where these issues have been described.

A social problem, not a political problem

Ažubalis stressed that the problems of south-eastern Lithuania (Vilnius region) and the national minorities living there stem from social and economic problems, and do not concern human rights. That is why, together with colleagues from the Parliament bench, he twice proposed the creation of a special fund for the development of the Vilnius region, and twice the idea was torpedoed by the government.

The politician added that the bill proposed by the Social Democrats will bring chaos to public life, because it will in fact introduce multilingualism and force all officials to learn Russian or Polish. Paluckas disagreed with such a suggestion. “This does not mean that all officials will have to know the additional language, simply the institution (for example, the local government, where several dozen to several hundred employees work) will be able to answer the question of the client in his native language,” added the Social Democrat.

Vaicekauskienė: This is not a linguistic problem

Dr. Loreta Vaicekauskienė also disagreed with Ažubalis, who gave the example of Finland, where there is bilingualism and no chaos.

“This is not a problemod a language, although it is very often in this way that our politicians are trying to portray it. This is a question of human rights, a question of tolerance of our society, a political question. I would like to appeal to our community so that we would be more critical of ourselves. Do people who speak languages other than Lithuanian are disloyal to Lithuania? What is loyalty at all? After all, also Lithuanian-speaking people leave our country, “Vaicekauskienė asked, which in her opinion, representatives of national minorities know the state language and pose no threatto Lithuania.

The linguist is convinced that it is multilingualism that strengthens the economic potential of both the region and the whole country. She also criticized the Law on Language, which used to and still does discriminate against members of national minorities. “It is thanks to this law that for years we have “raped” our citizens who did not speak like Lithuanians. It is necessary to find out the effects of the economic situation, because people did not receive such positions as the indigenous Lithuanian,” – Vaicekauskienė pointed out. She added that if we really want to imitate Scandinavia, we must start by repairing the education system. The school should teach tolerance. Vaicekauskienė reported that by conducting research among Lithuanian-speaking children, she noticed with amazement that the word “Pole” still functions as a curse.

“It’s from parents. That is why we need to get rid of nineteenth-century stereotypes and invest in children,” Vaicekauskienė summarized.


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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