• September 21, 2018
  • 514

Radczenko: Poles in Lithuania want respect

Same time ago, I was talking to a Lithuanian politician of Russian origin about the rights of national minorities. “ I don’t understand the demand for bilingual names of streets and towns. After all, both Poles and Lithuanians are capable of reading in Lithuanian in which town or on which street our house is located” – he did not hide doubts concerning one of the most important demands of Polish minority in Lithuania. I answered that indeed, he is partially right.

In practical sense, this demand does not matter much – the percentage of people from national minorities inhabiting Lithuania who don’t know Lithuanian language is minimal, and of those who can’t read Lithuanian names of streets and towns – none.  Bilingual names are needed not because of political reasons but as a sign of state’s respect towards its minorities. Last Saturday, in the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party organised a scientific and practical conference on the subject of the rights of national minorities and prevention of ethnic conflicts. Bumblauskas, Nikžentaitis, Smetona, Dambrauskas, Kiaulakis, Błaszkiewicz. I also spoke during that conference with the a paper titled “What Poles in Lithuania really want”. The paper was long and I raised in it all possible topics, beginning with issues of national communities and minorities, through symbolic and non-symbolic issues and ending with lack of state national policy. However, if I were to answer the title question in one word, I would answer that Poles in Lithuania (the same as all other minorities) want respect. The presence of national minorities languages in public life, including among others the names of streets and towns , is an expression of such respect. Respect that is essential for preservation of national identity of national minorities.

I have many times written that issues of Polish minority in Lithuania can be divided into symbolic and non-symbolic. Symbolic – are these which don’t have a direct influence on the quality of life of Lithuanian Poles but which – thanks to politicians and media – grew into symbols of fight for Polishness. These are, above all, the issues of polish names and surnames in official documents and the bilingualism. Bilingual topographical names but also the usage of Polish language as support language in offices in Vilnius district. Non-symbolic – are these which have a direct practical dimension: land return, regional development, education in Polish language.

I have also many times written that without Polish schools, Polishness on Lithuania will not survive. When I say Polish school I don’t mean this or that building, but an institution competitive against Lithuanian school. Also, when it comes to teaching of languages: foreign, Polish and Lithuanian.

National Examination Centre states that in this year the average of points gathered by recent secondary-school graduates from national minorities schools from the Lithuanian language state exam grew – in the last year it was 39.8 points and in this year – 42. At the same time however, the average of points gathered by recent secondary-school graduates from Lithuania schools is greater by almost ¼ – 55 points. What is more, 23% of learners from national minorities schools did not pass the Lithuanian language state exam this year (greater by almost 4% than in year 2017), and only 8% of learners from Lithuanian schools (by 3% less than in the last year).There is no doubt that without additional concessions for high school graduates from national minorities schools, their results will still deteriorate for the next couple of years. As a result, fewer and fewer Poles will be admitted to higher education institution and as a community we will still be at the last but one place among nationalities inhabiting Lithuania with a higher education. Meanwhile, with each year these concessions are being… reduced. This is also a result of lack of respect. The state doesn’t respect us, but we also don’t respect each other since we are still voting on those who cannot take care of fundamental things.

Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance which – let’s finally name things with their names – for two years is an unofficial coalition partner of “green peasants” and is “the tip of balance” when it comes to survival of the Saulius Skvernelis government, is forcing through in parliament abortion prohibition project, compulsory secondary school-leaving examination from religion and family cards. Probably important projects but let’s be honest, without any significance to be or not to be of Polishness in Lithuania. It is not capable of stopping negative effects of secondary school-leaving examinations, extending the concessions or at least stop its gradual elimination and extend the time of its effect. It is hard to imagine a more ineffective Sejmas fraction that the one run by Rita Tamašunienė. Unless we evaluate only the party effectiveness in winning the cash register: Tax inspection has already take care of the case of transferring of 1% of income tax to EAPL–CFA (at least 31 persons complained they did not transfer the tax to Polish party but it was transferred), and the government promises in return for loyalty and 1.5 more subsidies from the budget…

The situation with teaching Polish language in Polish schools is also not colourful. It is worth recalling last year’s research results of the Vilnius University, the University of Vytautas Magnus in Kaunas and the Institute of Lithuanian Language. They surveyed the prestige of languages in the eyes of Lithuanian citizens. Only 0.92% considered Polish language as a prestigious language. Even when they took into account only the answers of local Poles, it turned out that only 8% of them consider their language as prestigious – Russian 26% and Lithuanian 62%. It means that Polish language in Lithuania will slowly die. Since even Poles do not consider it to be prestigious, nobody will be interested in learning correct Polish language. I am convinced that such results are a result of an almost complete absence of Polish language in Lithuania’s public life, as it has been reduced only to the language of the school and church.

In Lithuania, the problems of national minorities are very often analysed in terms of national security. Indeed, their solution is the cornerstone of our security. However, even if Lithuania did not have a border with Russia and Belarus and it would lie on an island in Polynesia, these problems should be solved. This is required by the respect that each state owes to its citizens.

This comment was published on September 18 on the Polish Lithuanian public radio LRT Klasika.

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

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