- June 22, 2023
The Constitutional Court will assess whether non-Lithuanian letters in passports are constitutional
The Constitutional Court (CC) on Tuesday, 20 June, began considering a motion filed earlier by a group of MPs as to whether it is constitutional to allow Lithuanian citizens’ names to be written in personal documents using the non-Lithuanian letters W, Q and X.
MPs have approached the CC regarding the Law on the Spelling of the Name and Surname in Documents, which allows names to be recorded in documents in a language other than the state language. The matter will be considered by the CC in writing.
“The right to spell one’s name in the original is the right of every citizen. It is a family inheritance that every person receives. It emphasises each person’s nationality. In my opinion, it would be unacceptable if in a European country, Lithuanians were not allowed to write their surname down for their children in the form they have. I think that Lithuania, too, would have to abide by norms and allow the surname to be written down in the original form,” assesses MP Rita Tamašunienė from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance.
The law on the spelling of non-Lithuanian surnames in documents came into force on 1 May last year. Its adoption was demanded by Lithuanian Poles for almost 30 years. For years, it was the subject of disputes among politicians, while the argument against its implementation was the opinion that the non-Lithuanian form of writing surnames threatens the preservation of the Lithuanian language. The right to the correct transcription of surnames was often asserted by citizens in the courtroom. The amended Law on the Spelling of the Name and Surname in Documents legitimised the non-Lithuanian letters W, Q, X in documents, although it did not create the possibility of writing personal names with diacritical marks. There was also the possibility to write bilinguals in first and last names, such as ‘sz’ or ‘cz’, as well as doubled letters, so that ‘Ana’ in a Lithuanian document could revert to ‘Anna’.
The CC was approached by 30 MPs, mainly – opposition ‘peasants’ – regarding the spelling of non-Lithuanian names in personal documents. Referring to the CC’s earlier statements, the MPs argued that although the court did not at all forbid the spelling of names in documents with non-Lithuanian characters, when changing the spelling of names, the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language (Valstybinė lietuvių kalbos komisja – VLKK) should be approached, and the official proposal adopted by it “is binding on all institutions of power.”
According to the MPs, by adopting amendments to the Law on the Spelling of the Name and Surname in Documents, the Parliament ignored the proposal presented by the VLKK and established the disputed legal regulation, thus violating, among other things, Article 14 of the Constitution on the status of the State Lithuanian language.
“The Constitutional Court has already pronounced on this issue much earlier that the recommendations of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language are not obligatory – they are recommendations. I think that the Constitutional Court will not change its decision any more, as it has already made a conclusion on this issue,” comments Rita Tamašunienė.
In 2021, VLKK submitted a proposal to the Seimas Committee on Law and Rule of Law to transcribe in Latin letters only the surnames of spouses and children of foreigners and foreigners who acquire Lithuanian citizenship in accordance with a document issued by another state.
The Commission did not support the possibility to transcribe the surnames of Lithuanian citizens in the Latin alphabet if the surname of his/her parents or one of the parents is written in the source of the document in non-Lithuanian characters, and also if the parents, grandparents, ancestors had or have citizenship of another state, and the name and surname are written in the source of the document in non-Lithuanian characters.
Thanks to the amendment of the Law on the Spelling of the Name and Surname in Documents, some Lithuanian Poles have already changed the spelling of their first and last names. As Jolanta Kuzmienė, head of the civil metrication department of the Vilnius City Government, informed our newspaper, for the period when the new legal regulations are in force, i.e. from 1 May 2022, the office has received 250 applications to change the surname using the allowed letters. On the other hand, a total of 9 applications were submitted to the Civil Registry Office of the Šalčininkai District Self-Government requesting to change the spelling of the surname from Lithuanian to Polish.
Some local Poles claim that the amended law does not satisfy them, as it still does not allow names to be written in their original form, due to the inability to use diacritical marks. The CC has also received a complaint on this issue.
“The current law does not satisfy some citizens with non-Lithuanian surnames, especially those who have letters with diacritical marks in their names. It cannot be that the law covers only a group of citizens and creates divisions between them, this is not logical. Currently, only a subset of citizens can exercise their right to change the spelling of their surname. The more nationalist-minded MPs believe that this is already a lot anyway, as the original spelling of names in passports allegedly threatens the Lithuanian language. They want the CC to consider whether they are in conflict with the Constitution of Lithuania. In my opinion, the Constitution ensures equal rights for citizens by stipulating that national minorities in our country are respected and can cherish their native language, culture and religion, which includes the spelling of names,” Rita Tamašunienė stressed.
According to Rita Tamašunienė, on Thursday, 22 June, a revised draft law will be presented once again, proposing the legalisation of diacritical marks in personal names.
Translated by Izabella Krupa within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.