- October 25, 2018
Debate in Warsaw: Poles in Lithuania between Vilnius, Warsaw and Moscow
‘ There is a very large group of Poles in Lithuania who does not feel that AWPL (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania) is a party that represents their interests’ – said Dr. Paweł Sobik during the conference ‘Poles in Lithuania: between Vilnius, Warsaw and Moscow ‘. Education, issue of the spelling of surnames and problems in the structures of the AWPL-ZChR party (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance) are some of a few questions that were raised during the debate. On Tuesday, in the Public Library of the Capital City of Warsaw took place a meeting organized by the Pobliża Foundation, as well as the College of Eastern Europe. The discussion was led by journalist of “Przegląd Bałtycki” Dominik Wilczewski, and his interlocutors were: the board member of aforesaid foundation, author of the book “Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in the Political System of the Republic of Lithuania” Dr. Paweł Sobik and author of the “Studio Wschód” program on TVP, expert in eastern matters Maria Przełomiec. However, this group was criticized. One of the participants accused the organizers of one-sidedness of the discussion and remarked that nobody with opposite views, who could defend the interests of the party and its activities, was invited to the event.
AWPL has been a political representation of the Polish minority in Lithuania for almost 25 years. The party has been making demands regarding education in Polish, return of land and spelling of surnames for two decades,. The participants of the discussion emphasized that these postulates were put forward practically from the very beginning of the existence of the party, and none of them has been fulfilled until today. In the opinion of the guests, AWPL-ZChR not only has to constantly publicize the problems well known to every Polish citizen of Lithuania, but also try to speak to the Lithuanian authorities and point at the essence of their demands.
‘ The demands of Poles in Lithuania will be fulfilled when the Lithuanian majority is convinced about their principles and Lithuania will be the country that strives to achieve them, which society will stimulate ‘ – said Dr. Paweł Sobik.
Another issue is the lack of any actions on the part of AWPL-ZChR. According to Maria Przełomiec, the Polish party simply does not want to solve the problems that are constantly being talked about. The journalist asks whether the the demands aid the party. Przełomiec notes that as long as there are unresolved issues that pose a ‘significant problem’ of Poles from Vilnius – people will vote for the party.
At the moment, in the Lithuanian parliament there are two draft bills concerning the spelling of Poles’ surnames in Lithuania, but none of them was submitted on the initiative of AWPL. ‘One can have such an impression that the leaders of this party feel comfortable with question of surnames, return of land, double naming, that is still occurs. AWPL can say that the disgusting Lithuanian authorities do not give a consent, and their goal in these matters, as they say, is “to defend the Poles,” said the journalist.
Participants, among organizations that work for Poles in Lithuania, also named the European Foundation for Human Rights that contributes to solving these problems, although it has fewer opportunities than a political party with more resources and staff.
Split among Poles
The guests of the conference pointed out that the lack of the interest in political life on the part of Vilnius Poles is also an important problem, and the group of better educated people does not support AWPL.
‘In Polish society in Lithuania the problem lies in the fact that there is no discussion about the direction of the party, where it should go, what strive for. The party alone was the only one that dominated the political life of Poles in Lithuania’ – said Dr. Paweł Sobik. ‘The party has a problem of reaching Poles who are better educated and able to find their way in Lithuanian society. It is more difficult to conduct an election campaign in Vilnius. There is also a very large group of Poles in Lithuania who do not feel that AWPL is a party that represents their interests’ – he added.
Referring to the issue of the education of Vilnius Poles, Dominik Wilczewski asked a question about the difference in electoral behavior of Poles from Vilnius and Poles from the regions of Vilnius. The guests unanimously responded: ‘yes, there is a difference’.
‘The voter profile in the city of Vilnius is completely different than the profile of voters in Turgeliai, in Eišiškės or in Šalčininkai. This division into Vilnius and the Vilnius region for a long time answered the question why the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania is not able to exceed this 5 percent electoral threshold. Residents from Vilnius lacked conviction that AWPL would be able to satisfy their interests ‘- commented Dr. Paweł Sobik.
Alternative to AWPL
Participants of the conference emphasized that it is difficult for Poles to get to the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania when they stand for another political party. Therefore, they are often doomed to AWPL-ZChR. There is no shortage of enthusiasts, and increasingly often Poles with opposite views cut their teeth on Lithuanian political groupings. They seek support among the countrymen. Unfortunately, the environment that gives the Polish party a huge support clearly does not want to let Poles with the opposite views sit in the Seimas.
‘I know such situations when one of the Poles (absolute intelligence) stood for the Vilnius City Council and left his leaflets in the Polish House. The DKP (House of Polish Culture) authorities ordered to remove it because he did not stand for the Polish party, but for the Social Democratic party’ – answered Maria Przełomiec.
Poles and Russia
During the conference the participants also made an attempt to evaluate the cooperation of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania with the Russian minority. Sobik pointed out that if one chooses a person of the Russian origin who would be in favor of Lithuanian politics and could publicize the problems of national minorities, the party will be better seen in the world of politics than it is now when they choose controversial politicians.
‘AWPL discredits in cooperation with the Russians, choosing names that are the simplest target of the attack, especially in the international situation that we have. They invite such people who become a clear example of the Kremlin’s representation ‘- added the scientist.
Initiative from Poland
According to the speakers, the meeting of the head of the Polish diplomacy Jacek Czaputowicz with the Lithuanian authorities had the greatest impact on the warming of Polish-Lithuanian relations in recent years. On September 13, Poland’s Foreign Minister met with the President Dalia Grybauskaite, the Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and the head of Lithuanian diplomacy Linas Linkevičius.
The Minister Czaputowicz has recently talked with the Lithuanian authorities about the abolition of the electoral threshold for national minorities. After that, in the press appears a statement of Waldemar Tomaszewski that sharply attacks the Minister: ‘Some politicians come here and talk about the abolition of the electoral threshold without consultation with us, it is a scandal’. There is an impression that this election threshold was convenient for AWPL. ‘Why? What for? For whom?’ – Maria Przełomiec asked rhetorically.
At the end of the debate, criticism of the leadership of the Association of Poles in Lithuania was not spared (the prosecutor’s office in Warsaw is currently investigating irregularities in the settlement of subsidies from Poland.The president of ZPL (the Association of Poles in Lithuania) Michał Mackiewicz and secretary of organization Paweł Stefanowicz are suspected of false invoicing for printing the weekly ‘Nasza Gazeta’ – editorial note).
‘The controversial leader, president of the Association of Poles in Lithuania, very clearly articulated in the Lithuanian press that Poland as a foreign state has nothing to impose on Lithuanian citizens. I agree with that. However, Poland has been providing solid financial support for Polish organizations in Lithuania for years. If we agree to take money from someone, we also accept that this person can influence our decisions. If we do not agree, then we stop taking money from this person’ – summarized the secretary of the Council of The Foundation Aid to Poles in the East.
Translated by Irena Lehenka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.