• June 18, 2023
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Policy document or violation of minority rights? Dispute over new language policy guidelines

On 27 April, a draft resolution ‘On the state language policy guidelines for 2023-2030’ was registered in the parliament. The guidelines set out the basic principles and objectives of the state language policy for the next eight years. “Some statements regarding national minorities in the draft are not supported by official studies. They are unfounded and unfair,” assesses MP Beata Pietkiewicz in an interview with the “Kurier Wileński”.

Strategic document

The State Language Policy Guidelines for 2023-2030 are referred to as a strategic document: they are to be taken into account when drafting laws and development plans related to Lithuanian language and culture, as well as when providing budgetary resources for their implementation. As it is assured, “the Guidelines have been developed in order to preserve the linguistic and cultural identity of Lithuanian citizens as the main condition for the development of a democratic society […]”.

When assessing the achievement of the goals set out in the 2018-2022 Guidelines, it is noted that the problem of poor Lithuanian language teaching and learning outcomes is not sufficiently addressed, especially in non-Lithuanian schools.

Robert Duchniewicz: The draft needs to be amended

The mayor of the Vilnius region, Robert Duchniewicz, quoted by the delfi.lt portal, spoke about the pending guidelines.

“There are serious doubts as to whether this project is really aimed at solving the problems of the use of the Lithuanian language, or simply at facilitating the liquidation of the network of ethnic minority schools and further nationality-based conflicts,” he assesses the prepared document.

On Wednesday, 14 June, the mayor addressed a written appeal to the Speaker of the Seimas, Viktoria Čmilytė-Nielsen, and the heads of parliamentary fractions, in which he drew attention to the need to amend the draft “Guidelines of the State Language Policy for 2023-2030”.

In the submitted draft, according to Mayor Duchniewicz, there are contentious points that are directed against national minority schools.

The mayor pointed to the results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) mentioned in the draft. Unfortunately, the authors of the guidelines did not refer to the latest PISA study for 2021. As the mer pointed out, it is the latter that shows that national minority schools (especially those with Polish as the language of instruction) have made great progress in improving the quality of teaching.

Moreover, as he pointed out, the draft resolution also contains more misleading information. Among other things, the draft guidelines suggest that in schools of national minorities, where “education is provided in a language other than the state language and from non-Lithuanian textbooks”, allegedly “Lithuanian terminology is not learned or not learned enough.” According to the mayor, this statement raises doubts about its validity and further encourages the restriction of education in a language other than Lithuanian.

Mayor Duchniewicz also notes that the draft misleadingly states that teaching in the above-mentioned schools does not take place from Lithuanian textbooks.

“Issuing textbooks in national minority languages has long been incompatible with the needs of schools, so schools are taught from old textbooks adapted by teachers to the current curriculum. School practice is already working with textbooks written in both national minority languages and the state language. I would like to remind you that from the autumn there will be a transition to updated curricula. Textbooks in national minority languages adapted to work with this curriculum are not only not available, but are not even planned to be published,” points out mayor Duchniewicz.

Context of the war in Ukraine

He further adds that the pending project attempts to use the context of the war in Ukraine.

“In my opinion, the war in Ukraine accurately demonstrated the vitality of our common past with Ukraine and Poland, the partnership and support, updated the meaning of the past of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Therefore, a strong Polish national minority is not a threat either to the Lithuanian language or to Lithuanian statehood. On the contrary, I believe that the strengthening of the Polish language is a way to a more diverse culture of our country, to get to know a wider community, a way to disseminate the important history of Lithuania,” points out the mayor of the Vilnius region.

“National minorities are an integral part of our society. […] The contribution of all of them to the culture and prosperity of the Lithuanian state is enormous. Therefore, we must make every effort to ensure that national minorities do not feel rejected or alien, but on the contrary, feel that they are full participants in public life and co-creators of Lithuania, who have the right to learn both state and native languages,” Robert Duchniewicz stressed.

There are 23 general education schools in the Vilnius region where teaching is provided in Polish. According to the Centre for Registers, as of 1 January 2023, the Polish minority in the Vilnius region represented 46.75% of the total population.

Beata Pietkiewicz: the draft contains unfounded statements

Currently, the draft resolution ‘Guidelines of the state language policy for 2023-2030’ is under consideration in the parliamentary committee for education and science. Once approved, it will be submitted to the Seimas for deliberation in the near future. In the committee, the first consideration of the proposals and voting on their approval has already taken place, with three people – Beata Pietkiewicz, Vilija Targamadze and Laima Nagienė – abstaining. As new proposals have emerged, the committee will consider them again.

Among other things, paragraph 98 of the ‘Guidelines’ states that “in national minority schools (with Polish, Russian, German and Belarusian language of instruction), primary education is conducted in a language other than the state language and from non-Lithuanian textbooks, therefore Lithuanian terminology is not learned or not learned enough.”

“According to the logic of this statement, education in a non-state language and from non-Lithuanian textbooks must be abandoned altogether in order to learn Lithuanian terminology. This fundamentally contradicts not only the provisions of education of national minorities, but also the concept of education. Besides, it does not specify what teaching of the subjects is the problem, on which research or analysis this statement is based”, argues Beata Pietkiewicz.

On the other hand, section 114 of the ‘Guidelines’ proposes “to change by law the limitation of the time for teaching the state language, which is perceived as a deterioration of the conditions for teaching the state language.”

“Such a decision would significantly worsen the conditions for teaching the mother tongue in schools”, the MP points out. “Besides, the statement that it is a “reduction in the time of learning the state language” is a subjective assessment. Such an unsupported statement misleads the public, because the right to teach the mother tongue and the state language is enshrined in the Education Act, emphasises our interlocutor.

“I hope that the Committee will take into account at least some of my amendments. Some of the statements regarding national minorities in the draft are not supported by official studies. They are unfounded and unfair. If the aim is to increase the number of hours of Lithuanian language teaching to the detriment of the native language, what is the point of such a national minority school? Such plans hit national communities, including the Polish school,” says Beata Pietkiewicz.

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

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