- November 21, 2018
Something is changing for the better
At the end of October I had the pleasure to participate in a conference on the theory and practice of legal regulations concerning national minorities. Ljubica Djordjević, Fernand De Varennes, Anton Thomsen – the best international experts, real stars in the field of protection of minority rights. After the meeting, the journalists asked me: but what are the practical results of the conference? Have you established anything specific? I do not know the answers to those questions.
Of course, during the conference there were many interesting observations and recommendations. The most important things: the language rights and education in the mother tongue are the basis for the protection of national minorities. All foreign experts tried to get this simple idea across to the listeners. So, did they do it? I do not know. The conference in the hall of the local government in the city of Vilnius attended scientists, journalists, diplomats, but state and local government officials and politicians were absent. Neither the national parties nor the AWPL-ZChR (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance) were present, while the mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius “got out” immediately after his five-minute welcome message, promising to read the conference materials in written form. Hope so! I do believe, however, that something starts to change in the matter of the rights of national minorities in Lithuania, and that, in my opinion, was discussed at the conference of the European Foundation for Human Rights.
Economist Gitanas Nausėda, currently the most popular presidential candidate in Republic of Lithuania, expressed his views on the subject of the so-called Polish postulates :
“First of all, I would like to examine whether this (the original spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames in documents – editorial note) is indeed a problem in bilateral relations. Three letters can be consedered, but the problem is with more diacritics. For now, I stand for the compromise version – the original spelling should be on the other side.”
These words indicate that either Nausėda is from Mars and he has never heard about what the Poles in Lithuania and Warsaw have been demanding for circa 15-20 years, or he just has a false hope for the right-wing electorate voices. Anyway, the candidate also assures: “However, I warn that I can change this position if more facts and information appear.”
So it seems that he leaves a loophole that will allow him, as he becomes the president, to withdraw himself from this unfortunate “compromise variant” in favor of the law that legalizes at least w, x and q. However, can such a far-sighted candidate win?
Another candidate is more determined and, in my humble opinion, has much greater chances to become a new Lithuanian president, Ingrida Šimonytė: “The problems in our relations are not great, and I think that the issue such as “w” letter in the passport could be resolved.”
Also, she is not against the bilingual street names and the use of Polish in public life: “I do not believe that because of allowing a foreign language for public use, the Lithuanian language will perish. We had this situation thirty years ago, when our language was oppressed and everything was in Russian. I remember it well because I was a mature child who understood a lot. But now? Our language is not in danger. “
It is worth appreciating, even if it is not a radical statement, such as the statements of Remigijus Šimašius on Polish postulates during the local electoral campaign in 2015. However, the issue is more important and the significance of Polish votes is much smaller than in the election of the mayor of the Lithuanian capital. It is worth to appreciate this courage also for another reason: Ingrida Šimonytė is a candidate of right-wing conservatives, and in the fight for the voices of this electorate her counter-candidate Vygaudas Ušackas, who only yesterday sat in the board of the Polish-Lithuanian Forum of Jerzy Giedroyc and wanted to give Poles everything, made unfortunate statements. For instance, that “original spelling of surnames can not enter the first page of the document. It can be introduced as a certain complement, but officially the names should be written in Lithuanian. I appeal for Polish friends to take this into account and do not put too much pressure on us. Because we also have our Constitution that we must follow. ” As for the street names: ” We have to wait for people to get used to it. Because there are historical wounds in Lithuania. ” Fortunately, he is not a candidate anymore. Šimonytė won with 80:20. Flirting with nationalists is no longer worth votes of conservatives.
Since the Ukrainian crisis, the attitude of Lithuanian political elites to the issue of minority rights has changed for the better. It is already commonplace to understand that the issue of national minorities is crucial for the security of the country, that the demands of national minorities should become a part of the Lithuanian political agenda. There is not yet a “critical mass” in the Sejm, which would be ready to vote on the necessary legal acts, but the number of representatives who announce to vote for the Act on national minorities or the Act on names and surnames is gradually increasing. I have no illusion that these laws will be adopted before the presidential election, but I am absolutely sure that the new president will get them for signature.
Next year. In two years. In four, but he will get. And he will sign.
This comment was released today (November 20) on a broadcast of the Polish Lithuanian public radio Polish LRT Klasika.
Translated by Iryna Lehenka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.