• January 23, 2020
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Dobrowolska: It’s not worth it to manipulate the concept of discrimination

In recent days, the concept of ‘discrimination’ on national grounds is extremely popular in the Lithuanian media. Not only journalists use it, but also representatives of Lithuanian authorities. “This term is often manipulated, and it’s all the more dangerous because it makes it difficult to react properly when we are actually dealing with discrimination,” says Ewelina Dobrowolska.

The interview with Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis for the delfi.lt portal, in which he stated that criticism of the Minister of Communications Jaroslaw Narkiewicz may be discrimination based on nationality by the President and the opposition, took the discussion on the minister to a completely different level. According to Ewelina Dobrowolska, a lawyer of the European Foundation of Human Rights,  it’s difficult to evaluate this discussion because the terms are used interchangeably and ambiguously.

“In particular, in the case of the president’s statement, it is very difficult to spot discrimination based on nationality. However, it is worth paying attention to what is, in my opinion, a very important problem. It often happens that both journalists and politicians, when speaking about the political party Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Association, refer to its representatives, in short, as Poles. In this situation, it is difficult to determine when a statement relates to the activities of the party, which of course is not discriminatory, and when to the national minority, which could already be a sign of discrimination,” notes the lawyer.

Dobrowolska emphasises that such simplification of the party name to the name of a nationality, even if it cannot be called discrimination, is not only improper but also unethical. “Especially in the situation when we are dealing with an assessment of negative behaviour, identifying EAPL-CFA politicians in short, as Poles, contributes to strengthening negative stereotypes and maintaining social divisions. On the one hand, it is a matter of ethics, on the other, a certain culture of public statements, in which there can be no place for similar simplifications. EAPL-CFA is a specific political party with a long name, but it is not a party to which only Poles have access, it is not closed to Lithuanians or other national minorities,” the lawyer emphasises.

She explains that discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfavourably (e.g. Mr X has been refused employment because of his ethnicity) compared to how other people in a similar situation have been or would have been treated (e.g. a woman who earns less than a man in the same position).” In addition to direct discrimination, which is relatively easy to notice, we can also deal with indirect discrimination, i.e. a situation where there is no formal discrimination, because, for example, the conditions are officially the same for everyone, but the practices are completely different,” she notes.

The representative of the European Foundation of Human Rights emphasises that manipulating the concept of ‘discrimination’ is also harmful because it makes it difficult to respond to the real manifestations of discrimination, which Lithuania is not lacking. “Discrimination is not a matter of feelings, it’s a legal category. If we encounter it, we should report it. I do so myself. For example, when I see hate speech on the Internet, I do not write about it on my Facebook, but I report it to the prosecutor’s office,” Dobrowolska notes.

The lawyer emphasises that she constantly receives inquiries about cases regarding, e.g. limitations of the right to speak in a minority language at work or the right to use this language when dealing with authorities.” These are real examples of discrimination we should tackle,” he says.

According to Dobrowolska, the reason why the fight against discrimination based on nationality is so difficult in Lithuania is the lack of a law on national minorities. “There is no document that we can refer to that defines the exact [regulatory] framework of discrimination in specific Lithuanian conditions. The adoption of such a law is crucial,” she notes.

The lawyer believes that the topic of discrimination or nationality-based divisions may also be emerging for political reasons. “Usually in the pre-election period – and we are, without doubts, currently in one – such problems come to life. It’s not unusual, it is a common way to arouse the electorate. However, it seems to me that it’s a very positive sign is that, despite a large amount of negative information in the media, we do not have more frequent cases of hate speech on the Internet. This shows that our society is becoming more and more mature,” she notes.

“In the current situation, it is worth that all parties that engage in political rivalry refrain from manipulating concepts such as ‘Poles’ or ‘discrimination’.  These concepts do not need politicisation” – Dobrowolska sums up.

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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