Multilingualism and legislating

  • 2008-05-08
  • Staff and wire reports

An ancient proverb says storks carry the seimas

VILNIUS - Most Lithuanian parliamentarians would never be confused when visiting foreign countries: they speak several languages and feel at home in the most distant and exotic locations.
However, some Lithuanian MP's completely rely on their interpreters when visiting abroad. Lietuvos Zinios newspaper has studied the issue by examining questionnaires filled out by deputies at the Seimas (parliament) chancellory.
All members of Lithuania's parliament have stated that they are fluent in Russian. Several MP's admitted that Russian is regrettably the only foreign language that they have mastered. But most parlamentarians in Lithuania claim proficiency in 2-3 foreign languages, and some have working knowledge of even 4-5 languages.
Ninety four members of Seimas speak English, 42 are fluent in Polish, 36 have a command of German, and 22 have good knowledge of French.
Seven MP's mentioned fluency in more exotic languages, while three Lithuanian parliamentarians could be described as true polyglots. Kazimera Prunskiene, Egidius Vareikis and Emanuelis Zingeris have stated in the questionnaires that they are fluent in five foreign languages.
Prunskiene, minister of agriculture, speaks Russian, Polish, English, German and Portuguese. Her colleague Vareikis is fluent in Russian, English, Polish, French and German, while  Conservative Zingeris speaks Russian, Yiddish, English, Polish and German.

According to MP and diplomatic protocol expert Arminas Lidiaka, proficiency in foreign languages is a "must have" qualification for all European politicians.
"It is imperative for anyone engaged in international politics in Europe to speak foreign languages. However, in this respect I would not single out politicians only. It is equally important for government officers and journalists," said Lidiaka.
The Website of Seimas is worded in five languages (English, Russian, German, French, and Chinese). The phrase "Seima nesti" ("to carry the Seimas") and its synonym "seimauti" in Lithuanian folklore mean negotiating at a local community meeting.

Seimas also denotes storks gathering in flocks before flying south in autumn. Every October Lithuanians say: "The long-legged birds carry the seimas." It means that autumn has come again to Lithuania.