- March 3, 2019
Candidates for the Mayor in PKD: Attention to the Polish language and more money for national minorities
Learning the Polish language also in Lithuanian schools, more funds for cultural projects of national minorities, commemoration in Vilnius of figures important for the history of both nations – these and other proposals were made by candidates for the mayor of Vilnius during Tuesday’s debate organized by the Polish Discussion Club.
The debate was attended by the candidates who, according to the opinion polls, have the most chances of winning the seat of the mayor: Dainius Kreivys (Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats), Gintautas Paluckas (Social Democratic Party of Lithuania), Virginijus Sinkevičius (Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union), Remigijus Šimašius (For A Vilnius We Are Proud Of!), Artūras Zuokas (Lithuanian Freedom Union (Liberals)). As informed by Alina Obolewicz, the new president of the PKD, Edita Tamošiūnaitė, a candidate of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance, was also invited to participate in the discussion, however, she justified her refusal with lack of time.
“I don’t have to stress that the elections of Mayor of Vilnius are extremely important. Vilnius is not only our most beloved and beautiful city, but also the capital of Lithuania, a showcase of the Lithuanian state, and how our life is arranged in harmony, whether we are able to communicate, combine various interests – including national minorities, different cultures and confessions – this is also the image of the whole country” – said, welcoming the gathered, Alina Obolewicz.
Renata Widtmann, a journalist from Radio Neris, asked the candidates to present their main ideas for Vilnius.
“By “Vilnians” we mean all the inhabitants of Vilnius. For the first time I understood this after I became a mayor of the capital when I said from the stage during one of the events: “Hello, Lithuanians!” After the ceremony, a man from the crowd came up to me and said: “And you did not greet me”. It turned out that he was a Pole from Lithuania. Since then I have used the phrase “Dear Vilnians” – said Artūras Zuokas, convincing that during his term of office he has cooperated fruitfully with representatives of various national minorities.
The main accent of Zuokasa’s campaign is free public transport. Next week a survey will start, during which the organizers want to ask about 100 thousand inhabitants if Vilnius needs free communication – announced the politician.
“Free transport reduces congestion in the city, provides people with lower incomes with the opportunity to reach the city centre at weekends or to move around the city in search of work. This is also important for national minorities, because unfortunately often the salaries of representatives of national communities and their social exclusion are higher than others” stressed Artūras Zuokas.
Presenting his programme, the current deputy head Gintautas Paluckas reminded that social democrats have always been “internationalists”. As he added, the priority areas for this political grouping are also social protection and social responsibility.
“The success of the city is measured by the capabilities of its inhabitants. We place emphasis on education. We don’t like the selection, which today takes place in schools through various exams. We do not support compensation of EUR 100 for private kindergartens, and we would have preferred this money to be used for the development of local authority kindergartens. We don’t like the “stronger law” in the area of territorial planning, when people only learn about the planned construction next to them when they see excavators” – mentioned Gintautas Paluckas.
The present mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius, who started his speech with a few words in Polish, pointed out that challenges, problems and joys are common to Vilnius citizens of Poles, Russians, Lithuanians and Jews.
“My priorities in the current campaign are better quality of education, renovation of schools and teachers’ mentality, which would not allow such events as in Žiežmariai to be repeated (there were recordings on the web, on which the Lithuanian language teacher sharply reprimands the students by questioning them from the accent – editorial note). We intend to continue our efforts to make the so-called satellite towns nicer and more comfortable. Moving around the city should become a pleasure – whether we are talking about cycling or public transport. A separate direction is the development of the vicinity of the station so that it becomes the urban centre of the southern part of the city” Šimašius said.
Referring to the issue of national minorities, the present mayor stressed that he agrees with the philosophy of the eighteenth-century nobility, according to which a true Lithuanian is the one who values freedom, abides the Statute and cultivates union with Poland.
According to Virginijus Sinkevičius, one should not distinguish one national minority, but talk about when Vilnius was the strongest and life was the best here – when different nations and cultures united under the sign of the Pogonia.
“Our main direction is satellite town. The residents of Vilnius live there, and today the attention for these districts is insufficient. Another issue is education and occupation of children. If we want to have a friendly, tolerant city, it is essential to educate children through community. Today, Vilnius lacks not only football and basketball fields, but also an additional ice arena, an athletics hall where our children could play sports without doing business. The third issue is communication, where problems are today a consequence of decisions taken in 2007” – mentioned the candidate of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union.
“My Vilnius is the capital of a country that for centuries has been an important country in the entire region. For centuries, a spirit of tolerance has been here, thanks to which Vilnius was chosen by everyone” said Conservative Dainius Kreivys. As he added, today, for people who want to live in Vilnius, it should be comfortable, healthy and intelligent, in addition to being open-minded.
“A comfortable city is one in which all districts are important, in every district within a 15-20 minute radius there is a good educational facility, sports facilities and all other things. A comfortable city is one in which communication is efficient, and not as it is now, when we spend almost seven days in traffic jams a year” – said Kreivys, adding that his team has a concrete plan on how to halve traffic jams in the city.
“A healthy city is one that has great health facilities. We want health services – from diagnosis to treatment – to be provided within one day. Healthy Vilnius is also a place where people practice sports. Instead of one stadium for a hundred million euros, we see many smaller stadiums for people. It’s also Vilnius without air pollution” – said politician.
When asked about their visions for national minorities, the candidates mentioned above all the quality of education.
“The education of national minorities has for many years been held hostage by politicians whose aim was to maintain the status quo at all costs, regardless of content and quality. The case of the Joachim Lelewel school was a painful subject during my term of office. However, I believe that we managed to solve this problem, now a primary school with Polish as the language of instruction is being established in Antokol” said Remigijus Šimašius.
He emphasized that during his term of office he fulfilled most of his promises to national minorities. “I managed to change the opinion of the local government in the courts on the spelling of non-Lithuanian surnames, to introduce service in the local government in four languages. Currently, I intend to devote the most attention to education – even if Poles or mixed families decide to send a child to a Lithuanian school, it should have access to education in Polish. In Polish schools, however, quality should be the number one priority” said the current mayor.
Gintautas Paluckas reminded that it was the Social Democrats who sought the status of a junior high school for three schools – Polish and Russian – which were struggling with the issue of accreditation. Speaking about the quality of education, the politician also paid attention to the teaching of the Polish language in Polish schools.
“Good knowledge of the mother tongue enables proper care to be taken of one’s own national identity” – stressed Paluckas. His other ideas include, among other things, showing in the city the signs of remembrance of the various characters and nations that created the history of Vilnius.
According to Artūras Zuokas, special attention should be paid to cultural projects of national minorities. Šimašius assured that national communities submit projects in a separate programme without competing with Lithuanian projects, while Zuokas claimed that there was no such point in this year’s budget. The former mayor believes that on the occasion of important dates and events planned in connection with them, the local government could grant periodical scholarships for managers of national minorities’ ensembles or theatres.
“The importance of national minorities is reflected in the city budget” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, recalling that in this year’s plan he did not find a special programme for national communities. Speaking of his vision, he stressed the importance of cultivating a common heritage and quality education.
Dainius Kreivys also spoke about the importance of education and pointed out that a comprehensive approach to this issue is important.
“Vilnius is a multicultural city where Lithuanians and Poles lived next to each other for centuries. I believe that Lithuanian schools should also have P olish lessons as a foreign language of first choice, alongside English. We built the Republic of Poland together, so it is worth knowing each other’s languages” stressed Dainius Kreivys.
Translated by Dominika Kownacka within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.