• March 15, 2024
  • 73

He was a Jarosław for barely a year. The court took away the letter ‘Ł’ from Wołkonowski again.

Jarosław Wołkonowski sought the right to the original spelling of his name since 1992. The District Court adopted a sentence on the 1st of June 2022 (judge Skaistė Cinkutė) that one cannot use the ‘ł’ title for Jarosław Wołkonowski’s name or surname.

Finally, after a 32-year-old battle, he could write down his correct name and surname in documents. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long because, on the 28th of December 2023, the Constitutional Court decided that the law does not project a different possibility than using the Roman alphabet without titles to write down names and surnames in personal documents.

In 2022, The District Court recognized, that the diacritic ‘ł’ can be used in the spelling of Jarosław Wołkonowski’s name or surname. This decision was made because Jarosław Wołkonowski confirmed his Polish nationality, and his father’s name in the church register was recorded at baptism as Albert Wołkonowski with the letter ‘w’ and the diacritic ‘ł’. Until July 1st, appeals could have been submitted to the court, but neither the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language nor any other institution did so. Therefore, on July 1st, the adopted judgment became final, and all registers were changed to reflect the name and surname as Jarosław Wołkonowski.

In August 2022, the General Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a motion to the court in Vilnius to reopen the case because it identified a violation of the law on the spelling of non-Lithuanian names and surnames. In September, the court reviewed the motions and decided to reopen the case with a different judge, Rūta Poniškaitytė-Liatukė. At the subsequent hearing in November 2022, the District Court revoked the previous verdict from June 1st and decided to refer the matter of spelling of the diacritical mark to the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, which accepted the case.

Diacritical marks do not contradict the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

On December 28, 2023, the Constitutional Court, in its decision, acknowledged that the law provides for the possibility of recording names and surnames in personal documents in the Roman alphabet, but without diacritical marks. It also stated that these diacritical marks do not contradict the Constitution of Lithuania and will be allowed in the surnames of Lithuanian citizens of other nationalities if the Lithuania Parliament adopts the relevant legislation. So, the Constitutional Court of Lithuania concluded that diacritical marks do not contradict the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and gave the green light to the Parliament to amend the law on the spelling of names and surnames. As the Constitutional Court put it, this would allow, among other things, the inclusion of Polish diacritical marks,” explained Jarosław Wołkonowski, former dean of the Branch of the University of Białystok in Vilnius, Faculty of Economics and Informatics, to the “Kurier Wileński”.

In January 2024, the District Court of Vilnius City appealed for new arguments in this case by February 8th. Jarosław Wołkonowski, with the support of the European Foundation for Human Rights, submitted relevant documents and scans illustrating that for several months he had functioned as a citizen of Lithuania under the name and surname with the diacritical mark “ł”.

“On March 4, 2024, during the visit of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to Vilnius, discussions revolved around the strategic partnership between Lithuania and Poland. However, the district court issued a verdict stating that the diacritical mark, the letter ‘ł,’ cannot be included. Such a decision creates dissonance in the otherwise good relations between Poland and Lithuania. This ruling from March 4, 2024, is completely contradictory to the previous verdict, as the court in June 2022 ruled that such a letter could be included. Judge Skaistė Cinkutė, who issued that verdict on June 1, 2022, legally justified that if the diacritical mark is based on a letter of the Latin alphabet, it means that if the Polish letter ‘ł’ is based on the letter ‘l,’ which exists both in the Latin and Lithuanian alphabets, then such diacritical marks can be used in recording the name and surname of a Lithuanian citizen of Polish nationality. Such an interpretation would solve all our problems,” emphasizes Jarosław Wołkonowski.

On the other hand, judge Rūta Paniškaitytė-Liatukė gave in to the pressure of the General Public Prosecutor’s Office and revoked the previous sentence, and decided that diacritical marks could be used if the parliament adopted such a jural act.

Delaying tactics in the Parliament and threats on Facebook.

-Two months have passed since the ruling of the Constitutional Court, and the Lithuanian Parliament has done nothing about it. I believe they could have done something by now. Let’s be honest, a lot of time has passed, and there have been plenary sessions, but I don’t know why they haven’t amended the law on spelling names and surnames. Minister Dobrowolska, as well as those who prepared this law on spelling names and surnames, only did it for some Poles. Dobrowolska can write her surname correctly and has done so, which deserves respect, but she forgot about others. After all, we have many Poles who have diacritical marks in their names and surnames, and as we can see, courts do not accept their spelling. Therefore, the minister would have to amend and revise this law. I am waiting impatiently for this – emphasizes Wołkonowski.

As our interlocutor states, he has been fighting for the spelling of names and surnames for 32 years now. He even has been getting threats about it.

-On my Facebook profile there had been a comment where a counsel wrote ‘(…) Lithuania is not your homeland. (…) So gather your things, family and relatives and go to Poland. Until the patience of the Lithuanians runs out.’ These are already threats, in my opinion, this is inciting ethnic hatred, which is punishable under the criminal code, but the prosecutor will decide on that. This is also very sad. – says the former dean of the Branch of the University of Białystok in Vilnius, Faculty of Economics and Informatics.

The spelling of names and surnames in documents is regulated by law.

Meanwhile, the chair of the Commission of the Lithuanian Language, Violeta Meiliūnaitė, is skeptic about possible changes.

-Now that we started to talk about diacritical marks, a lot of things have been connected. The first one is that when it comes to business or informational texts, where we need more precise language, we always suggest that names and surnames are to be spelled originally. In this case, we are just talking about the standard Roman alphabet, but in some instances, it is about the original spelling of names and surnames including all diacritical marks. When it comes to texts intended for the general public, for children, the commission proposes, for the sake of transparency and readability of the texts, to write names and surnames in Lithuanian. As for the original spelling of names and surnames in documents, this is an area that is already regulated by law, not by the decision of the language commission. Here, we can only provide linguistic commentary. This does not mean that our opinions will necessarily coincide – comments Violeta Meiliūnaitė in an interview with the ‘Kurier Wileński’.

According to what she says, introducing changes would increase the influence of other languages on the Lithuanian language, and would also mean the emergence of many new diacritical marks. In this way, new citizens will appear in computer systems, which the system will not recognize.

-The current law on names and surnames states that in some cases, the names and surnames of Lithuanian citizens whose nationality is not Lithuanian should be written in their original form but without diacritical marks. When the commission was asked about this, it did not agree to such an intermediary spelling of surnames. Members of the Parliament listened to the commission’s position and decided to add a note that names and surnames should be written in the original form but without diacritical marks. This decision was made due to the needs of state information systems because the registry center, e-sveikata, and other main systems of the country do not recognize diacritical marks, which poses a problem. Therefore, we currently have partially original spelling of names and surnames in the documents of those citizens whose nationality is not Lithuanian,” emphasizes the head of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language.

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

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