Report prepared by the Association „Wspólnota Polska”
in collaboration with the Union of Poles in Lithuania
and the Association of Teachers of Polish Schools in Lithuania
Warsaw, May 2009
Poles are the largest national minority in Lithuania. In accordance with the last population census (2001), our compatriots constitute almost 7% (235 thousand) of Lithuania’s population. Thirty-one thousand Poles live in the Salcininkai Region (80% of its total population), 12 thousand live in the Trakai Region (33% of the total population). The largest number of Poles, 104 thousand, live in Vilnius (19%), i.e. one inhabitant of Vilnius in every five declares Polish nationality. A large majority (85%) use the Polish language in daily life.
The 1994 Treaty between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Lithuania on friendly relations and good-neighborly cooperation explicitly addresses the issue of minority rights. Furthermore, the Polish minority meets the criteria laid down in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ratified by Lithuania in 2000), such as traditional inhabitation in substantial numbers, and is thus entitled to fully enjoy the relevant European standards. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Lithuania.
We follow situation of Poles in Lithuania with concern. Polish education continues to be a target of discrimination, attempts to introduce Polish as an auxiliary language have been unsuccessful, Polish names cannot be spelled in Polish, and there is no consent for Polish street names. Poles are discriminated against during the restitution of land. Election laws are designed to reduce the impact of Polish votes. These are just a few examples of how of the rights of the Polish minority are violated. Regrettably, we get the impression that the policy of Lithuanian authorities is in fact aimed at de-Polonization of the area around Vilnius. For comparison, one should turn to the Lithuanian-inhabited town of Puńsk in Poland, where signs in Lithuanian are displayed everywhere and children are taught in Lithuanian at the local primary and secondary schools – schools that receive higher financing than Polish schools in the vicinity.
We do note certain positive moves on the part of Lithuanian authorities. We welcome the 2008 decision of the Lithuanian government to increase the „pupil’s basket” by 10% for the national minority schools as well as its consent to establish a branch of Bialystok University in Vilnius.
Polish and Lithuanian authorities often underline that the two countries are linked by a strategic partnership. Yet despite years of campaigning by successive Polish governments and assurances of good will by Lithuania, the problems described in this report still require urgent resolution.
The Association „Wspólnota Polska” has called on the President of the Republic of Poland, the Prime Minister, the Speakers of the Sejm and Senate to intensify their efforts and undertake appropriate measures to solve the problems in question. We express the hope that resolute actions by Polish authorities will result in the observance of Polish minority rights in Lithuania, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty and the Convention. Minority rights are treated in the European Union as part of the catalog of fundamental civic rights and their observance is a common concern of all the authorities and citizens. Wspólnota Polska will monitor the situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania and, if needed, will intervene with both Polish and Lithuanian authorities, and with European institutions. An updated version of this report will be published next year.
1. Discrimination against Polish education in Lithuania
The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Lithuanian legislation (Act on national minorities, Act on education) guarantee the right of national minorities to receive education in the native language up to the level of secondary school. In practice, however, pupils of Polish schools in Lithuania do not have the same opportunities as pupils in Lithuanian schools to obtain a secondary education.
1. The regions of Vilnius and Salcininkai, both with a high percentage of Polish population, are the only regions in Lithuania where the authorities are establishing government schools, with instruction in the Lithuanian language, financed out of the state budget, alongside local self-government schools (the Vilnius Region has 17 government schools, the Salcininkai Region has 5). Decisions relating to their establishment, size and profile are taken without consultations with the local self-government bodies or the local population. The government schools have higher budgets and are well equipped, with gymnasiums which are often lacking in local government schools. The policy of the authorities is not aimed at strengthening already existent Polish local self-government schools, but, in fact, has the goal of discouraging parents from sending their children to attend them. This leads to absurd situations, with well-equipped schools being established for small groups of Lithuanian children, while Polish schools next door struggle with financial problems.
2. The financial situation of the Polish schools is significantly inferior. The so-called „pupil’s basket” for Polish schools, as compared with Lithuanian schools, is higher by only 20%, while the actual expenditures per pupil for the operation of minority schools are 40% higher in rural areas and 30% higher in towns (higher costs of implementing the curriculum) than in Lithuanian schools.
3. During the recent reorganization of the school network, six Polish schools were closed in the Trakai Region and one of two Polish schools in the Sirvintos Region – moves that were explained by falling numbers of pupils. The authorities rejected demands by the Polish community of Lithuania to set lower size requirements for the establishment of school forms for Polish schools, as national minority schools. On March 12 2008 the government adopted resolution 257 which increased the number of pupils per form and deprived local self-governments of the right to maintain classes with lower numbers of pupils; its implementation would lead to the closure of many schools and forms which did not have the numbers of pupils required by the resolution. On March 27 2009 the Self-Government Council of the Vilnius Region adopted its plan for the school year 2009/2010 with 100 departures from the above resolution, since implementation of the latter would have been harmful to Polish education.
4. Persistent moves are made to reduce the use and role of Polish in schools where it is the language of instruction, through:
– removal of the Polish-language exam from the list of mandatory secondary school graduation exams;
– eradication in 2010 of Polish-language exams from the list of primary-school-leaving exams;
– the requirement that school internal memos, meetings and even the minutes of pupils’ self-government meetings be conducted in Lithuanian in Polish-language schools.
The situation has been acerbated by moves of the Lithuanian authorities designed to further hinder the operation of Polish schools. A resolution of the Ministry of Education and Science of Lithuania envisages the introduction in 2012 of the same Lithuanian language secondary school leaving exam for Lithuanian and national minority schools. This is unjustified for pedagogical and practical reasons. For pupils of Lithuanian schools – Lithuanian is their native language, for pupils of Polish schools – it is an acquired language. The teaching of Lithuanian in Lithuanian and Polish schools is conducted on the basis of different curricula and with the use of different textbooks, with 29 lessons per week less in Polish schools, in forms 1 to 10.
Violations of the Treaty between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Lithuania on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighborly Cooperation and the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.
Article 14 of the Treaty
National minorities have the right to „learn the language of their national minority and receive education in that language” and to „establish and maintain their own institutions, organizations or associations, particularly cultural, religious and educational ones, including schools of all levels”.
Article 15 of the Treaty
The Parties „shall ensure suitable conditions for the teaching of the language of the national minority and for receiving education in that language in kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools”.
Article 12.3 of the Convention
„The Parties undertake to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities”.
Article 14 of the Convention
„1. The Parties undertake to recognize that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.
2. In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavor to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their educational systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language”.
Comparison with the situation in Poland
In Poland the teaching of minority languages is financed out of the state budget. Pursuant to the regulation of the Minister of National Education of December 21 2006 on the division of the educational part of the general subsidy for units of territorial self-government in 2007 (Journal of Laws No. 246, item 1799), authorities operating (financing) national minority schools receive out of the state budget a subsidy for educational tasks increased by 20% per national minority pupil in the case of large schools and by 150% in the case of small schools (i.e. schools in which the number of pupils does not exceed 84, in the case of primary schools, and 42, in the case of a middle or secondary schools).
Pupils in which a minority language is the teaching language may take school-leaving tests (in the case of primary schools) and school-leaving exams (in the case of middle schools) in the minority language. Teaching of the Lithuanian language and in the Lithuanian language is available at all levels of schooling. Lithuanian language exams are mandatory for secondary-school leavers in Lithuanian-minority schools in Poland. „The development strategy of Lithuanian minority education in Poland” was endorsed in 2001 without reservations by organizations of the Lithuanian minority. In contrast, the strategy for Polish minority education in Lithuania was only adopted in 2005, without any consultations.
2. Problems with the public use of the minority language
It is particularly difficult to attain practical progress regarding the public use of Polish, as an auxiliary language alongside the official Lithuanian language, in public administration offices and institutions, in areas of compact Polish minority habitation.
The Polish community in Lithuania, living in the Vilnius Region (over 61% of the total population), the Salcininkai Region (80%) and the Svencionys Region (over 28%) has long petitioned the state authorities to be allowed, in areas of compact habitation of Lithuanian Poles, to publicly use – also in administrative offices – their language as an auxiliary language, alongside Lithuanian. The goal is to obtain consent for the use of Polish, spoken and written, alongside Lithuanian, in officially specified areas, in public administration offices and institutions, meaning that officials would have to respond to oral or written queries addressed to them in Polish - in the same language. All official documents would still be exclusively in Lithuanian.
Poles in Lithuania have repeatedly sought the right to publicly use their language. Fifty thousand eligible voters (i.e. a substantial part of the population) signed a petition asking for the preservation of the currently binding Articles 4 and 5 of the Act on national minorities. The Act guarantees the right of national minorities to publicly use their languages in administrative offices: Article 4 – „The language of a national minority shall be used in local offices and organizations, alongside the state language, in administrative-territorial areas of compact habitation of that national minority”, and Article 5 – „Information signs may be spelled in the language of a national minority, alongside the Lithuanian language, in administrative-territorial areas of compact habitation of that minority”.
Unfavourable legal regulations in this sphere started appearing in 1995 with the introduction of the Act on the state language, which contravene the provisions of Articles 4 and 5 of the 1991 Act on national minorities. Any doubts are resolved in line with the Act on the state language. It is state policy to eliminate the public use of the Polish language and reduce its use in communication among family members and friends.
On January 30 2009 the Central Administrative Court of Lithuania ruled that street names in the Vilnius Region should be spelled exclusively in Lithuanian, without the use of Polish (alongside Lithuanian). In its substantiation, the Court invoked the Act on the state language, while ignoring the provisions of the Act on national minorities. In March 2009 the Vilnius Region self-government removed signs with street names spelled in Polish. A similar situation occurred in the Salcininkai Region in October 2008, where the head of administration was fined by the State Language Inspection for spelling street names in Polish.
Article 14 of the Treaty:
Minorities have the right „to unhindered use of the minority language in private life and in public”.
Article 15 of the Treaty:
The Parties „shall consider allowing the use of national minority languages in offices, particularly in administrative-territorial units where a national minority constitutes a high proportion of the population, and shall ensure access to public mass media by national minorities”.
Article 10 of the Convention:
„The Parties undertake to recognize that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to freely use and without interference his or her minority language, in private and in public, orally and in writing (…) the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities.”
Article 11.3 of the Convention:
„…the Parties shall endeavour (…) to display traditional local names, street names and other topographical indications intended for the public also in the minority language…”
Comparison with the situation in Poland
Pursuant to Article 9 of the Act of January 6 2005 on national and ethnic minorities and the regional language (Journal of Laws of 2005, No. 17, item 141; No. 62, item 550) the use of a minority language as an auxiliary language, spoken or written, is permitted in communication with commune authorities, in communes where the minority constitutes at least 20% of the population. Pursuant to Article 12 of the Act, topographical and street names in such communes may be spelled in the minority language, in addition to spelling in Polish. In the commune of Puńsk, which has a Lithuanian majority, street and topographical names are spelled in both languages, with Lithuanian is used as an auxiliary language in local offices.
3. Absence of regulations concerning the spelling of Polish names in IDs
Representatives of the Polish community in Lithuania have repeatedly demanded the right for Polish Lithuanians to use the original spelling of their names in official documents, including Polish diacritical marks, since a person’s name is a personal right and the state should not use administrative measures to force citizens to abandon that right.
At present, only Lithuanian spelling of names is permitted. For example, the name „Anna” cannot be spelled with a double „n”; the name has to be spelled as „Ana” – which means „that one” in Lithuanian. The common Polish surname „Kowalski” has to be spelled as Kovalskis or Kovalski (the Lithuanian alphabet does not contain the letter „w”). The problem applies to all Poles who have the Polish letters „³”, „ę”, „” and „” in their names – also absent in the Lithuanian alphabet. There are also problems with Polish names which include the „cz” and sz” combinations. Occasionally, during the registration of Polish names, officials will add the Lithuanian ending „us” and „ius” for male surnames and „aite” for female surnames.
At present in Lithuania, there are no relevant legal regulations in force. Even though several years have passed, the provisions of the Treaty and the Convention are not being implemented.
In September 2008, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg admitted an application by the Vilnius Region Self-Government against Lithuania. The case concerns the spelling of the name of 19th Polish century independence struggle heroine, Emilia Plater, whose name was conferred on a Polish-language school at Lavoriskiu near Vilnius. Lithuanian courts ruled that the school’s name should be spelled as „Emilijos Platerytes”. After exhausting the legal path in Lithuania, where all courts ruled against the original Polish spelling of Plater’s name, the Council of the Vilnius Region Self-Government applied to the Court of Human Rights is Strasbourg. The case is pending.
Article 14 of the Treaty
Minorities have the right „to use their names and surnames spelled in the minority language; detailed provisions concerning the spelling of names and surnames shall be elaborated in a separate agreement.”
Article 11.1 of the Convention
„The Parties undertake to recognize that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use his or her surname (patronym) and first names in the minority language and the right to official recognition of them, according to modalities provided for in their legal system.”
Comparison with the situation in Poland
Article 7.1 of the Polish Act on national and ethnic minorities and the regional language explicitly stipulates that „Persons belonging to minorities have the right to use and spell their names and surnames in accordance with the spelling rules of the minority language, in particular in civil register entries and identity documents.” Pursuant to paragraph 2 of the article „the names and surnames of persons belonging to minorities written in a non-Latin alphabet shall be subject to transliteration”. Under an authorization contained in the Act, the Minister of Interior and Administration has issued a regulation determining the rules of transliteration with provision for the spelling rules of the minority language. The right to use names and surnames in the minority language spelling is guaranteed in treaties on friendship and good-neighborly relations with the Federal Republic of Germany, Ukraine, the Republic of Belarus and the Republic of Lithuania.
4. Restriction of the electoral rights of the Polish national minority in Lithuania
1. During the first free parliamentary elections in independent Lithuania in the autumn of 1992 there was no minimum threshold for national minorities. Candidates sponsored by the Union of Poles in Lithuania gained 8 seats. In 1996, a 5% threshold was introduced, also applying it to national minorities. Polish candidates won 2 seats.
2. Attempts are made to reduce the force of Polish votes by shifting the boundaries of electoral precincts, which currently are extremely unfavourable to the Polish community. The Vilnius Region (70 thousand voters) and the Salcininkai Region (30 thousand voters) were split into five parts, three of which were then incorporated into neighbouring regions with Lithuanian majorities. As a result of these moves, today Poles constitute the majority in the only Vilnius-Salcininkai precinct (20 thousand voters from the Vilnius Region and 20 thousand from the Salcininkai Region). The Central Electoral Commission has decided to add another Lithuanian-majority district of Vilnius (Solenniki) to the Vilnius-Trakai precinct, further changing the nationality proportions to the disfavor of the indigenous Polish population. If the precinct boundaries had been set in accordance with European standards, Poles would have majorities in four of them.
Despite such obstacles, Polish candidates in the last parliamentary poll in October 2008 did relatively well, gaining 4.79 % of the vote and winning 3 seats (in single-seat constituencies). Exceeding the 5% threshold would have probably given them 7 seats.
Article 14 of the Treaty
National minorities shall have the right „to participate in public life directly or through freely elected representatives at the level of state and local authorities, and shall have access to the civil service on equal terms with other citizens.”
Article 4.2 of the Convention
„The Parties undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority. In this respect, they shall take due account of the specific conditions of the persons belonging to national minorities.”
Comparison to the situation in Poland
The Law on elections to the Sejm of the Republic of Poland and the Senate of the Republic of Poland of April 12 2001 (Journal of Laws No. 46, item 499, as amended) contains preferences for representatives of national minorities. Committees established by voters affiliated in registered national minority organizations (Article 134 of the election law) are exempted from the 5% threshold. Similar solutions had been incorporated in earlier electoral laws adopted after 1989. During the elaboration of the new administrative division of the country, which came into effect on January 1 1999, one of the key arguments for the creation of the Sejny County was the national makeup of the local population, including a high proportion of Lithuanians. The size of the German population was one factor taken into consideration in establishing the Opole Voivodship.
5. Discrimination against the Polish minority during land restitution in the area of Vilnius, resulting in the dispersal of compact Polish communities
Lithuania is witnessing a process of „in-settling” of ethnic Lithuanians into the area around Vilnius, previously compactly inhabited by the Polish minority. The procedure has been made possible by the Act on the right of citizens to existent real estate (Restitution law), under which any Lithuanian citizen who owned land in the past may apply to regain it, or its equivalent, also in another location. This makes it possible to make claims in the region of Vilnius, where land was owned before the war primarily by Poles, for land lost in outlying areas. It is noteworthy that land prices around Vilnius are several times higher than in the provinces. Land near Vilnius is often allocated to persons from outside the area, while its former owners (usually Lithuanian citizens of Polish nationality) are offered land elsewhere. This happens even though Lithuanian law gives priority to former owners in claiming land restitution.
Article 15 of the Treaty:
The Parties undertake „to refrain from any actions that might lead to the assimilation of members of a national minority against their will and, in compliance with international standards, shall refrain from actions which could lead to changes in the national composition of the population in areas inhabited by national minorities”.
Article 16 of the Convention:
„The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities…”.
Comparison with the situation in Poland
There are no problems with the restitution of the property of Polish citizens of Lithuanian nationality in Poland.
6. Disproportions in supporting culture and preserving the national identity of minorities
Funds for supporting the national identity of minorities are primarily distributed by the National Minorities and Emigration Department attached to the Lithuanian government. Regrettably, the division of funds is slanted in favor of Lithuanian emigrants. The 2008 budget of the Department amounted to the equivalent of 5.3 million EUR, of which only 170 thousand EUR was allocated to national minorities, including 26 thousand EUR for the Polish minority.
Under the Treaty of 1994, Poland and Lithuania undertook to ensure that national minorities have access to the public mass media. The Polish-language press published in Lithuania for the almost 300-thousand-strong Polish minority does not receive any financial support from the Lithuanian authorities. Lithuanian television has only allocated 15 minutes of its air time a week for the Polish minority. Official websites could be helpful to members of national minorities, yet the website of the Lithuanian parliament brings information about its work in English, French, Russian, German and even Chinese – but not Polish.
Article 13.2 of the Treaty:
„Persons belonging to the Polish minority in the Republic of Lithuania (…) have the right, individually or jointly with other members of their group, to freely express, preserve and develop their national, cultural, linguistic and religious identity without any discrimination, enjoying full equality before the law”.
Article 15 of the Treaty
The Parties shall „ensure access of national minorities to public mass media”.
Article 5.1 of the Convention
„The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.”
Comparison to the situation in Poland
The Section for National and Ethnic Minorities of the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration allocated in 2008 the equivalent of 152 thousand EUR for the needs of the Lithuanian minority, which numbers about 6 thousand. Subsidies are provided, among others, to the Lithuanian biweekly Aušra, the children’s monthly Aušrele and the quarterly Šaltinis.
Policy of de-Polonization in Lithuania Commentary by the President of the Association „Wspólnota Polska”
On March 27 2009, the Council of the Salcininkai Region Self-Government, defending Polish education, adopted a resolution on the organization of the new school year that was incompatible – in one hundred instances – with a government resolution on the subject. The 2008 government resolution poses a threat to the future of Polish education. In September 2008, the Self-Government of Vilnius Region, after losing its legal battle in Lithuanian courts, lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against an order to change the name of the patron of a Polish school from the original Polish „Emilia Plater” to the Lithuanian-sounding „Emilijos Platerytes”.
That is the latest stage of a years-long battle for the right to spell Polish names in Polish. Add to this the obvious discrimination against Poles in the restitution of their land, the manipulations with election-precinct geography, designed to reduce the power of Polish votes, or the recent „war” over the Polish Card, and we get a different image of Polish-Lithuanian relations than that painted by politicians of the two countries, who frequently refer to „a strategic partnership”. – It is an image seen daily by common Lithuanian citizens of Polish nationality. Perhaps it is not complete and thus, exaggerated, but the picture of a strategic friendship is not true, either.
Why, then, do the disputes remain unresolved for so many years? Is there no treaty basis allowing movement ahead? No, the 1994 Polish-Lithuanian Treaty and the 2000 European Convention for the Protection of national Minorities, ratified by Lithuania without reservation, unequivocally affirm the right of the Polish minority to Polish schools, Polish spelling of names and public use of the Polish language.
Is there a shortage of top-level contacts between the two countries? No, since 1990 every Polish president, prime minister, speaker of the Sejm and Senate has repeatedly met his Lithuanian counterparts and each time issues relating to Poles in Lithuania were on the agenda. The program of such visits always includes meetings with the leaders of the Union of Poles in Lithuania.
Perhaps the implementation of the relevant provisions is impossible due to budgetary constraints on the Lithuanian side? - No, resolution of the contentious issues does not require additional expenditures.
So what is the reason for the deadlock? The Lithuanians have probably noticed that the fate of Poles in Lithuania is not a priority for the Polish authorities, that they prepared to sacrifice it for the sake of goals they consider strategic, such as NATO, the European Union, the anti-Russian coalition, or the support of someone’s candidacy to some international institution. Then there is the gullibility of many Polish delegations, which take declarations of Lithuanian authorities at face value and eagerly return home, bringing with them „good promises”. The changes we await seem constantly bogged down in parliamentary committees and somehow never reach legislative conclusion before the expiry of yet another term of the Lithuanian parliament. A few days ago Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus made yet another promise to President Lech Kaczyński that the matter of spelling of Polish names would be resolved at last. The only problem is that President Adamkus’ term expires in another month.
The Lithuanians know how to look after their interests. In 2000 the Polish government wanted to increase the number of personnel at a border post in Puńsk. The Lithuanians initiated vigorous protests, involving their president, prime minister and speaker of the Sejm, accusing the Polish side of wanting to change national proportions in Puńsk by bringing in 20 officers. Poland backed down.
Quite a few members of the Polish elite insist that we should understand the „small nation” and its historical complexes in relation to its „great neighbor”, that we should let it blow off steam. That kind of attitude tends to be coupled with expressions of concern about Polish nationalism, references to the need for tolerance and not antagonizing Polish-Lithuanian relations, and to calls for a Jagiellonian-like, harmonious cooperation - all this being underpinned with a willingness to sacrifice the civic rights of other people.
I believe that quite a sizable section of the opinion-making community has an out-dated, pre-Union understanding of state sovereignty. In the European Union, minority rights are not an exclusive preserve of internal policy of a given country but part of internal policy of the whole Union. An intervention by a Polish politician in defense of the civic rights of a Pole in Lithuania would not amount to meddling in Lithuania’s internal affairs. It would constitute concern for the observance of common Union legal standards, wherein the rights of national minorities are part of the catalog of fundamental civic rights. Like it or not, that is the undertaking we subscribed to upon establishing the Union.
I have a vivid memory of the difficulties connected with the passage in Poland of the act on national minorities. It took long, evoked a lot of emotions and even accusations of national treason, yet in 2005 we adopted it. Premier Donald Tusk (and I) were its fervent advocates. Today, no one is bothered by German street names in Opole Voivodship or the Kashube language in the schools and offices of Pomerania. The same applies to Lithuanian schools and street names in Puńsk. The same, too, goes for the Polish school and Polish signs in the Zaolsi part of the Czech Republic. So we expect the same from our Lithuanian neighbors and we want the government of Donald Tusk to be resolute in pursuing the matter. The European way of resolving national conflicts consists in moving forward even if you have to do that against your public opinion.
Alas, the Lithuanians have chosen a different path. For a number of years they have conducted a policy designed to de-Polonize the area around Vilnius. It would be naive not to realize this.