• June 15, 2023
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Duchniewicz on the project of state language policy: in my life I have also seen many poorly literate Lithuanians

On Wednesday, the mayor of the Vilnius region, Robert Duchniewicz, issued a letter to the speaker of the Parliament Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen and parliamentary groups with a request to introduce amendments to the draft concerning the policy of the national language in 2023-2030. – It is not only about the problems of schools of national minorities. We must focus on the quality of education in all schools in Lithuania – says Duchniewicz in an interview with LRT.lt.

LRT.lt reminds that the document entitled “On the assumptions of the state language policy for 2023-2030” (“Dėl valstybinės kalbos politikos 2023-2030 metų gairių”) presents a strategy for developing and popularizing the Lithuanian language. The new project guidelines set out the main principles, goals and assumptions of the eight-year national language policy.

Meanwhile, Duchniewicz believes that among the problems to be solved by the project, there are points directed against schools of national minorities.

– I addressed the letter to all parliamentary groups in our Seym. I hope that the President of Parliament will take note of my observations. I believe that Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen is also not indifferent to the issues of national minorities. That is why I believe that the Sejm will hear and react properly – says Duchniewicz for LRT.lt.

According to the mayor, there are serious doubts whether the project is really aimed at solving problems related to the use of the Lithuanian language, or whether it is simply to facilitate the liquidation of the network of schools of national minorities and provoke further conflicts on a national basis.

– There is a lot of concern about the proposed direction of the project concerning language policy in the coming years. If we are talking about striving to create a strong civil state, the project does not seem appropriate to me. I will remind the statements of some right-wing activists who drew attention to the somewhat existing problem with the state language in schools of national minorities, that not enough attention is paid to the Lithuanian language, that children of such schools do not know this language well and later have a problem at universities. As a solution to the problem, it is suggested not to improve the quality of teaching, but to practically minimize the teaching of the mother tongue, for example Polish. It is obvious that some treat it as a possible threat, and even as plans to liquidate the network of schools, including national minorities. That cannot be the case. This is where I see the risk of such a narrative – Duchniewicz explains.

– We must make every effort to ensure that national minorities do not feel marginalised or rejected. On the contrary, we must strive to make them full participants in public life and co-creators of Lithuania, with the right to learn both the state and mother tongue – says the mayor of the Vilnius region.

Duchniewicz points out that the project is related to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), not to the results of the 2021 PISA survey, which show that schools of national minorities (especially those with Polish as the language of instruction) have made significant progress in improving quality. Moreover, the project contains more misleading information.

– Article 30(2) of the Education Act assumes that schools of national minorities “devote at least as much time to teaching Lithuanian as to teaching their mother tongue”, and not, as the project states, “no more”. We are aware that there is no need to include a change to the Education Act in the draft. We simply propose to use the existing legal provision to strengthen the teaching of the state language,” Duchiewicz continued.

The mayor also points out that the statement contained in the project that “in schools of national minorities the main language of instruction is not the state language and teaching takes place from non-Lithuanian textbooks, which results in the lack or insufficient learning of Lithuanian terminology” raises serious doubts as to the legitimacy of this statement and becomes an incentive for the initiative to reduce the number of schools in languages other than Lithuanian.

The mayor notes that the project contains another misleading information about the fact that teaching in these schools is not based on Lithuanian textbooks.

– Textbooks in minority languages have long failed to meet the needs of schools, so they use old textbooks that teachers adapt to the current curriculum. Schools have long practiced working with textbooks in both national and state minority languages. I would like to remind you that from autumn we are waiting for a renewed core curriculum. Not only are there no textbooks in minority languages adapted to work with these programs, but there are also no plans to publish them – says Duchniewicz.

In addition, he points out that the project is trying to take advantage of the war in Ukraine in a tactless way. The mayor is convinced that also in the context of interstate relations, such a project may raise a lot of controversy.

– In my opinion, the war in Ukraine showed the strength of our common past with Ukraine and Poland, our partnership and support. It stressed the importance of the past of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Therefore, a strong Polish minority is not a threat to the Lithuanian language or Lithuanian statehood. Strengthening the Polish language is a way to make Lithuania’s culture more diverse, to get to know our country by the whole society and a way to spread the important development of Lithuanian history. After more than thirty years of Lithuania’s independent history, we no longer have to look at each other, referring to Lithuanians and Poles, as a threat, but strengthen ourselves together as neighboring European countries – says Duchniewicz

He adds that not so long ago, politicians paid attention to the threats arising from the geopolitical situation and emphasized the role of relations between Lithuania and Poland.

– There were also attempts to introduce teaching Polish as a foreign language also in Lithuanian schools. Two months have passed since the announcement of such a position and we observe totally opposite actions in the form of attempts to approve such a document. I would like to stress once again that such sharp attempts to change the language policy are not in line with the declared nationwide policy of creating a strong and civic state. This involves not only the right to education in the mother tongue, but also the issue of safety. How are we going to implement the integration of national minorities? By imposing restrictions? Or is it by enabling them to preserve their national identity, mother tongue and the possibility of using it in public life? I approach this issue from the liberal side. That is why I expressed my observations and proposals that also members of the Sejm should consider this topic in more detail – argues Duchniewicz.

Asked what proposals and solutions the new mayor of the Vilnius region suggests, Duchniewicz says that first of all he calls not to accept such “harsh projects”.

– It is not only about problems in schools of national minorities. We need to focus more on the quality of our education, regardless of whether it is a school with Lithuanian or a minority language of instruction. I have seen in my life many poorly literate Lithuanians who once graduated from a Lithuanian school. It is definitely a matter of quality and it is quality that we must ensure in every school. This is the interest of the whole state, both central and regional, that is, self-government. Let’s focus on how to maximally improve the overall quality of teaching – says Duchniewicz.

– Another important aspect to ensure the correct direction of statehood is the availability of reliable information also in the languages of national minorities. We see here many good examples and active media activities. The media must be effectively financed so that they can also operate, for example, in Polish or Russian. Only in this way will we get rid of propaganda trends. Proper and comprehensive attention from the central authorities will ensure the creation of a strong and civil state – sums up the mayor of the Vilnius region.

LRT.lt reminds, there are 23 schools in the Vilnius region where teaching takes place in Polish. According to the data of the Centre of Registers, as of January 1, 2023, the Polish minority in the Vilnius region constitutes 46.75 percent of the total population.

The amendments to the project met with considerable criticism – both from Lithuanian linguists and representatives of national minorities. According to the LRT.lt portal, the discussion of the project has been postponed indefinitely.

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

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