• December 10, 2018
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Polish issues at the National Human Rights Forum

The first edition of the National Forum on Human Rights took place at Martynas Mažvydas National Library. The conference was also full of Polish issues.

“Such Forum was held in Lithuania for the first time. The reason of this event was the 70th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I think that this is a good opportunity to talk about human rights as a whole. During the event were discussed the rights of national minorities, issues of disabled persons, issues of social assistance, the rights of sexual minorities, gender equality. It is worth emphasizing that these issues are changing within the European Union. The forum was such an experiment where people could talk about human rights with representatives of non-governmental organizations, the media and the academic world,” said Andrzej Pukszto, head of the chair of the University of Vytautas the Great and one of the organizers of the event.

Local Poles atended the discussions which were the part of the Forum. Political scientist Andrzej Pukszto was the moderator of the discussion “Rights of national minorities: how to set standards?”, and its participants were, among others, Ewelina Dobrowolska, lawyer of the European Foundation for Human Rights; editor-in-chief of ru.delfi.lt Oleg Yerofeev.

“There is a confusion with the rights of national minorities not only in Lithuania, but also in the EU. And I think it will stay for a while. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe put more emphasis on these problems than the countries of Western Europe, where generally the standards are fixed. In contrast, Hungary, Romania or the Baltic States have more issues. That is why it is worth discussing it. I sometimes regret that the leaders of Polish organizations in Lithuania do not talk about minority rights in the broader context of human rights,” Pukszto pointed out.

According to the lawyer Ewelina Dobrowolska, the problem of national minorities in Lithuania lies in the lack of legal regulations in this area. “We have a Convention and we can not provide rights entered into it. I am referring to the naming of streets and towns, names and surnames. There is no regulation, despite the fact that court decisions oblige them to do so “- she stressed. She gave as an example, the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court, against which Lithuania has the obligation to adopt legal regulations concerning bilingual tables. “In opinion of the court, the government must do it, but it has done nothing till today. We should remeber that the ruling is from 2015” – said Dobrowolska.

The journalist of the portal zw.lt and the president of the Polish Discussion Club Ewelina Mokrzecka appeared in the panel “Social right for information and the role of the media”. Prof. Audronė Nugaraitė from the University of Vytautas the Great, editor-in-chief of LRT Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė, adviser in the Parliamentary Regulators’ Office Vytautas Valentinavičius, Journalistic Ethics Officer Gražina Ramanauskaitė, head of the investigative department of the portal 15min.lt Šarūnas Černiauskas, Russian opposition journalist Mikhail Maglov also attended the panel.

At the very beginning, Černiauskas stressed that politicians, as well as officials of state institutions must answer to journalists questions and it is the foundation of freedom of speech. “Society has the right to know everything about their actions. Unfortunately, the number of politicians in Lithuania who says: “I will not talk with this journalist; I will not go to this newspaper or television because they make propaganda.” is growing up. In fact, journalists do not make propaganda, it is a simple criticism, which is necessary so that our society, and hence the state, can function normally “- said the journalist.

Vytautas Valentinavičius pointed out that the media have the right to information, and the public have the right to objective information. “Self-regulation mechanisms, codes of journalistic ethics should play a big role here. Unfortunately, not all media have it, hence there is a media crisis in Lithuania today. On the one hand, it happens that politicians or institutions refuse to provide information, on the other, the public confidence in the media that participate in some games decreases” – he noted.

”The struggle for a few square meters of freedom of speech is ongoing. The media are attacked by the rulers around the world. Just look at the attitude of President Trump to the press. In this respect, Lithuania is no exception,” said the head of LRT (Lithuanian National Radio and Television) Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė. She added that she supports the transparency of the media, whereas some solutions are imposed on the press indisputably by the government.

Journalist Ewelina Mokrzecka in her speech pointed out that the Polish press in Lithuania struggle with similar problems as the Lithuanian press. “A large part of the Polish-language media in Lithuania is directly or indirectly controlled by one party – AWPL-ZChR (Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance). As Radio ,, Znad Wilii” and the portal zw.lt, we try to look critically at the actions of this group, its politicians or delegated officials. On the other hand, we often encounter the limitation of our right to information by party officers. For example, in the Vilnius region, which is ruled by AWPL, we have the limited access to local government institutions, schools, and cultural centers. Often, we meet up with the fact that the door is closed before us,” she said.She indicated that the problem faced by the Polish press in Lithuania is the lack of responsible financing by the Lithuanian state. “The financial resources that we receive as part of competitions from Lithuanian institutions constitute only 7 percent of our budget . Our mission is to preserve and promote Polish culture, as well as to fight against Russian propaganda. Poles in Lithuania represent 7 percent of the general population, and unfortunately the majority is strongly russified because of the influence of attractive Russian media,” underlined Mokrzecka. She added that the Lithuanian state should seriously look at financing and supporting Polish media in the country.

Professor Audronė Nugaraitė from the University of Vytautas the Great, adviser of the Lithuanian president, was in agreement with journalists that the media should be independent. She also admitted that they have the opposite situation. “The media dependent on local governments are created in the regions. We must support non-commercial media: educational, children’s and cultural, ” she said. She also referred to the financing of Polish media: “It’s good that we give the Polish media even a few percent, but Lithuanian Poles deserve much more funding from the state. It is worth noticing that this minority struggle with problems of access to information. We must support independent Polish media “- she stressed.

“Our press law is quite good and transparent. The regulations correspond to EU and global standards. However, a lot depends on how this law is implemented. And, unfortunately, there are many differences. This transparency and media objectivity are different, but social requirements and expectations are very high in this field”- Journalistic Ethics Officer Gražina Ramanauskaitė concluded.


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

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