• March 27, 2019
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Mokrzecka: Coercion on teachers – a sign of ‘solidarity and unity’?

In 10 days, the campaign office of Waldermar Tomaszewski collected 30,000 signatures for the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA) who’s aiming for the position of the President of Lithuania – said the party’s website last week.

The announcement emphasized that Tomaszewski’s campaign staff was the last to collect signature sheets from the Main Election Commission, while each presidential candidate has to collect 20,000 signatures. Therefore, the Polish community in Lithuania once again demonstrated ‘solidarity and unity’! More than enough signatures were collected before the deadline! “The best-organized community has had another success!” However, should it be achieved by forcing school principals and teachers to collect signatures? Does this reflect the mantra of ‘unity, strength and solidarity’?

“The collection of signatures for the local and presidential elections is over. I thought this was the end of it, but on Tuesday (26th March), I had to sign Tomaszewski’s list of support to the European Parliament. Nobody asked me if I wanted to do it; only if I had my passport with me because they were collecting signatures” – wrote a friend of mine whose child attends one of the kindergartens in Vilnius. And this is one of many messages I have received in recent months. There are e-mails from friends and from people that I have never met. The content is always similar:

– In school/kindergarten, they ask if you have your passport on you, and they ask you to sign. If you don’t have it, you must come the next day with a document.
– Do you sign? – I ask.
– Yes. I don’t want my child to be harassed.
– In what way?
– He is the best student. It could go either way. They may lower his grades.

There are also answers like: “I sign, and I want to be left in peace. Once I didn’t do it, and I felt the unpleasant look from the home room teacher all year round” or: “I sign because the headmaster says that it’s them that the supplies in Polish schools depend on.”

Intimidation is the weapon of many politicians. Trump scares people with migrants, Tomaszewski with evil Lithuanians whose goal is to eliminate anything Polish. Can one run on these slogans for a long time? Probably not, as shown by this year’s results of the local elections.

However, the fact remains that schools are expected to collect a certain number of signatures, and if they fail to do so, teachers are forced to walk from home to home (to collect more). Such practices also take place on weekends. At the expense of teachers’ free time.

Forced propaganda in schools is not entirely ethical either. “They put campaign brochures to children’s textbooks, backpacks. One day, our son brought back 16 leaflets, we counted, so we remember” – one woman wrote. This is how EAPL campaigned during the local elections. “The parents were shocked that their children were bringing home so much waste paper. We wanted to publicize it in the media because school is not a place for propaganda,” she added. They did not publicize it, they gave up because they were afraid. “Stalin’s era is over but I feel like I’m living in it. In the morning, on the day of compulsory signature-giving, a queue sets up before the headmaster’s door. In the corridor, teachers ask parents if they have already signed,” wrote another mother of a student from a primary school in Vilnius.

Not only Polish educational institutions are used before the elections. The Russian Alliance, which joins forces with the EAPL-CFA during elections, applies the same practices in Russian schools. “My son was outraged when they told him to sign the list of support for Tomaszewski. He said he would not. He didn’t sign, and I wonder if there will be any problems because this is his last grade, final exams,” said the mother of a student from one of the Russian schools in Vilnius.

I am aware that EAPL supporters will start hating on me for using anonymous quotes. Names and surnames are known to the editors and in the event of a lawsuit, I will gladly go to court. Through this column I want to say and repeat one thing – we live in a free country, we have been citizens of a democratic state for over 20 years. Statements like “I feel like during Stalinist times. I am afraid to speak up about it” cannot take place. Each of you has the right to choose. EACH OF YOU.

European elections will take place on 26th May. Will Poles be represented by Tomaszewski – the least active and one of the most passive MEPs? Everything depends on us.

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

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