WARSAW-VILNIUS - On Sept. 23, during a meeting with TBT and three other Lithuanian journalists in Warsaw, Miroslaw Sielatycki, vice-minister of Poland’s Education Ministry, stated that he is not fully satisfied with the recent meeting of the Polish-Lithuanian experts’ group on Lithuania’s new law on education. Sielatycki attempted to be diplomatic. “More than 90 percent of our talks were business and only two percent were emotions,” he said. Sielatycki stated that he would prefer that the level of the exam on the Lithuanian language would be equalized in Lithuania’s ‘Polish’ schools and regular schools only after many years of a transitional period, if it would ever be equalized. This means that further escalation on this issue can be expected.
Asked by TBT if he can compare the Polish-language schools in Latvia (where Polish-speakers have lived for centuries) and Lithuania, he just managed to name ‘Polish’ schools in Riga, Kraslava, Daugavpils, and Jelgava without deeper comments and started to mumble something positive about Polish-language lessons in France’s schools, which seemed proof that only Lithuania is chosen as the victim for Warsaw’s hostile actions. Sielatycki spoke very positively about cooperation with his colleagues in Germany, though there are no German state-financed Polish schools in Germany, where several million Poles live. Warsaw is not capable of fighting on all fronts – it needs one small victorious PR war for its domestic audience, like Vladimir Putin did against Chechnya on the eve of his first presidency.
Sielatycki’s words were a clear signal that a new ‘Polish’ street protest in front of the Lithuanian parliament was ready for Sept. 23. Lithuania already got used to Warsaw-coordinated demonstrations by the Valdemar Tomasevski-led Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action, in the same way that people are used to the rain in the fall, and it provoked little interest among public opinion in Lithuania as well as among Lithuanian TV stations. However, several of Poland’s TV stations broadcasted the rally against the new Lithuanian law on education, which introduced three subjects (only Lithuania-related parts of these subjects) to be taught in the Lithuanian language in ‘Polish’ schools. The new law also will equalize the level on the Lithuanian state exam in all schools starting from 2013. The ‘Polish’ schools are attended by three percent of all Lithuanian pupils. The ‘Russian’ schools, which are attended by four percent of all Lithuanian pupils, mostly boycotted this protest, though representatives of small Russian and Belarusian organizations invited by Tomasevski were also present.
Organizers of the protest promised 5,000 participants on Sept. 23. The speakers at the rally of Sept. 23 mentioned the figure of 10,000 protesters. However, there were only 1,500-2,000 participants, according to the Vilnius police data. The participants were mostly young pupils, their parents, teachers and members of the local administration from the Polish Electoral Action-controlled small towns and villages at the Belarusian borderland who were brought to Vilnius by school buses.
“Why cannot Samogitians [“Zemaiciai,” in Lithuanian] write their street names in Samogitian?” Tomasevski shouted to the crowd at the parliament. Samogitia is an ethnographic Lithuanian region situated in western Lithuania. Samogitians have their own dialect of the Lithuanian language, but they never cherished separatist ideas. Tomasevski often mentions Samogitians, though they have never shown any sympathy for Tomasevski’s radicalism. On the same day, a group of Lithuanians protested against plans by local authorities to close the Lithuanian-language primary school in the village of Veriskes in the Polish Electoral Action-ruled outskirts of Vilnius. Poland’s TV was not present there.
“It is highly disappointing that European leaders are being misled and that hatred is being incited among people who have lived peacefully side-by-side for decades, that new dividing lines are attempted to be drawn within local communities and that people are being arbitrarily sorted by how ‘autochthonous’ they are and which period they originate from. It is our belief that the current smear campaign, although attempting to involve European institutions, is first of all targeted at the local and national audience and related to the upcoming elections in both Poland and Lithuania. We would like to assure you that Lithuania does not infringe on any international conventions and respects the rights of its ethnic minorities and will continue to do so in the future. We, members of the European Parliament from Lithuania from across the political spectrum, are united in our efforts to stop the creation of new ethnic tensions in Europe,” reads the letter by MEP Leonidas Donskis and nine other Lithuanian MEPs to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
“There is no legislation of the Union regarding minority languages in schools. It is the competence of member states,” Barroso wrote in his answer on Sept. 20, adding that he has full trust in the actions of the Lithuanian government regarding ethnic minority education.