• March 31, 2022
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The Outpost

Longin Komołowski Polish middle school in Paluknys could be named, referencing the canon of Polish literature, The Outpost [a novel by Bolesław Prus – Ed]. The Outpost guards the Polishness on the south-western frontier of the Vilnius Region. For the last few months, it has been doing it literally.

Heavy clouds hung over The Outpost right after the reelection in Trakai District Municipality caused by the previous governess’  promotion to the Lithuanian Parliament. After another election, young liberal Andrius Šatevičius began to rule with vigor. He was particularly passionate about improving the network of schools in his region. After only a few months since his inauguration, a young governor took up a very delicate matter of youth education. To be precise, the availability of said education to the students from rural areas. The liberal mayor started his reform with the national minority youth, especially vulnerable to any improvements, reorganizations, and optimizations due to its limited demographic potential.

The mayor proceeded with great boldness, not to say nerve, to optimize the network of Polish schools in the region by partially closing them. He invoked, of course, noble and lofty goals: the well-being of students, the well-being of schools, the prospects of both schools and students, and finally, an order from the Ministry of Education, which has come up with another much-needed reform, and with it, new criteria and new requirements.

As I mentioned at the beginning, “The Outpost” in Paluknys, the frontline of the Polish language, culture, and tradition in the Wilno Land, became the first victim of the reorganization efforts of the hotheaded governor. He arrived in escort of his lieutenant governor and another “vice-” from the Ministry, Ramūnas Skaudžius, at the welcoming doorstep of the Longin Komołowski middle school to meet with the local community and talk about his reform. The gathering did not seem to be friendly but rather tense. The mayor did not come to consult and listen to the voice of those who care about the school. He came to communicate the decision he had already made himself. The polish core of the middle school will reorganize (be relegated) to the primary level and then administratively combine with Henryk Sienkiewicz middle school in Lentvaris. Mayor Šatevičius is fond of this plan because it saves some money on the school funding and is beneficial to the older students.

Deputy minister Skaudžius continued to laud those benefits in a colorful manner. He insisted that transporting senior year high school students to Lentvaris would increase their educational opportunities by placing them in a larger, urban institution. Only there will they finally spread their wings. They will have access to varied extracurricular forms of education, computer classes, and whatnot. The ride will, of course, be comfortable and cost-free in a designated student bus. The irony of the situation is that some students already commute to Paluknys from distant villages. They would have to transit 35 kilometers in one way every day. A daily commute of 70 kilometers and a few hours in the afternoon to do homework eliminates several hours of sleep every morning. The vision of enriching extracurricular activities will remain only a vision for a very mundane reason. The bus will not wait for those students who want to stay after classes. The Deputy minister tried to embellish the reality of the situation by pointing out that the change would mean more students for the Henryk Sienkiewicz middle school in Lentvaris. However, the benefit is also questionable because the polish middle school in Lentvaris already has a complete student list. It is also worth noting that the middle school in Paluknys offers a variety of extracurricular activities, so it is not necessary to search for them as far as Lentvaris. In the end, the arguments presented by the reformers have turned out to be very thin. In some cases, somewhat deceitful.

The misleading stories mentioned above contributed to the growth of tensions during the meeting, despite the hospitality. The young mayor glanced at his watch more and more frequently, making it clear that he wanted to run off the panel as fast as possible. Especially when the guest’s main narrative that the only solution to the shrinking of the polish middle school is its relegation and decrease of autonomy began to collapse like a house of cards. The school management proved using reliable data that after a brief crisis with the number of students (the school currently has 113 students) is showing a great promise of quick recovery. The recruitment to the primary grades has significantly increased. Regional Poles return to their roots after an infatuation with the promise of their kids’ ministerial careers after graduating from the Lithuanian schools.

And this fact is not unlikely a reason for the zeal and haste in the clipping of wings of the center of Polish education in Paluknys. The desire to optimize the network of Polish schools to the limit of perfection without touching the Lithuanian competition. The reorganization would definitely benefit the Lithuanian schools, which generally draw from the same source – the Polish source. Should the Polish institution become a thriving, full-fledged middle school, it will be harder to attract Polish children and claim that only the competition can provide them with secondary education.

History teaches us that such a thesis may be accurate. A not-so-distant history, actually. In Vilnius, a Polish high school in Verkiai Calvary was similarly “reorganized.” It was so “reorganized” that now it no longer exists. Then the process too was methodical. One of the best Polish educational institutions ceased to exist in a few steps. First, it was “optimized” to the primary level. Then, after a few years, it was terminated completely to make space for the Lithuanian school, which had to increase its capacity. The Polish school was moved downtown by an administrative decision, therefore completely stripping the northern outskirts of Vilnius from Polish education. As many as three Polish high schools get in each other’s way downtown: Joachim Lelewel HS, Władysław Syrokomil HS, and the one from Verkiai Calvary, later renamed Antoni Wiwulski HS. The schools are in unhealthy competition. Students from the Polish families in the capital’s northside lost their chance of equal access to education.

Today, the scenario for Paluknys is looking to be very similar. The formula, one could say, is trialed and tested in eliminating Polish schools from their natural environment. The financial argument is laughable and even embarrassing, considering how much money Poland has pumped into making the school in Paluknys look European. I will not be modest and mention that it is well over 300 thousand euros. The contribution of Trakai District Municipality is, in comparison, a drop in the ocean.

The geopolitical situation is very hard currently. Someone, please school the young–the mayor and deputy minister–so they quickly rise to the occasion. Until they do, the concerns of the local polish middle school in Paluknys (same as the polish elementary school in Senieji Trakai) should become the concerns of the Lithuanian government too. Which supposedly has strategic interests with Poland.

Tadeusz Andrzejewski
councilor of the Vilnius region

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

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