Poland still against language law

  • 2011-11-30
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

ATTEMPT TO CALM POLISH POSITION: On Nov. 9, Lithuanian Liberal MEP Leonidas Donskis together with Lithuanian and Polish diplomats organized a commemoration meeting on the legacy of Czeslaw Milosz in the European Parliament. Milosz, a Lithuanian-Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner in literature in 1980, was a supporter of good relations between Lithuania and Poland.

VILNIUS - Poland did not recognize Lithuania’s independence in 1918, and Warsaw only now has come to terms with Lithuania’s sovereignty: last week, Poland’s media published a letter by Polish PM Donald Tusk asking Lithuanian PM Andrius Kubilius to revoke Lithuania’s law on education, which envisages the introduction of some lessons in the Lithuanian language in geography, history (only Lithuania-related themes in geography and history were supposed to be taught in Lithuanian) and civic society matters in Lithuanian government-funded minority schools, and the equalization of the level of the exam on the Lithuanian language in all Lithuanian schools. It is a unique letter in the history of the EU, and even Russian PMs never wrote such letters with such demands to their counterparts in Latvia and Estonia.

“I have said many times that we do not plan to change the education law, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk has known this since our first conversations on this theme,” Kubilius said during a press conference on Nov. 23.
“The activity of Lithuania’s Polish politicians is behind this,” Lithuanian Education Minister Gintaras Steponavicius said about Tusk’s letter. The political party named Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action uses this topic for its campaign. The Lithuanian parliamentary elections will be held in the fall of 2012.

On Nov. 25, the last round of the joint experts’ group of Lithuania and Poland on the education of the Polish minority in Lithuania, and Lithuanian minority in Poland, was held in Trakai. No agreement was reached. “It would be good to postpone the implementation of the [Lithuanian] education law,” said Poland’s Education Vice-Minister Miroslaw Sielatycki, who headed Poland’s side in the group. However, the Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action wants to not postpone, but to revoke the law. “This joint expert group was nonsense,” Michal Mackevic, MP of Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action, said.

Last week, Lithuania’s Polish parents’ organization announced that they are preparing for a strike in Lithuania’s Polish schools. One such parent, Renata Cytacka, was shown on Polish public TV where she was represented as a concerned parent, without the mention of her membership in Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action. On Nov. 25, a spokesman of the Polish Foreign Ministry expressed support for the stance of Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action.

Tusk’s passion for epistolary genre seems rather ethnocentric as he, as well as the Polish media, is apparently ignoring the appeals of Poland’s citizens of non-Polish origin. Last week, the leaders of the Lithuanian community in Poland wrote an open letter to the PMs of Poland and Lithuania pointing to harassment of Lithuanians living in Poland and the growth of violent and aggressive Polish nationalism, which was noticeable, according to the authors of the letter, even on Warsaw streets during the celebration of Polish Independence Day on Nov. 11. This letter received no answer or publicity in the Polish media.

The Warsaw-Vilnius tension also has a psychological and personal aspect. There was an incident that centered around Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. This incident’s origin can be found in Lithuania’s bestselling book of November, the diary of former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, titled “The Last Term in Office. The Diary of a President.” In 2009, Adamkus promised to Polish President Lech Kaczynski that Lithuania would vote for Sikorski during the election of NATO Secretary General, but Vygaudas Usackas, who then was Lithuanian foreign minister, unexpectedly decided to support Danish candidate Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and since then Sikorski has used all possible pretexts given by Lithuania’s Polish Electoral Action for revenge for such an insult.

Loreta Zakareviciene, the Lithuanian ambassador in Warsaw, during a meeting with Lithuanian journalists in September, said that she herself was a witness to how Polish PM Tusk tries to calm the anti-Lithuanian fever of Sikorski. Regardless, Sikorski remains an influential minister in Tusk’s government.

In November, Saulius Suziedelis, a researcher of the Holocaust at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, gave a lecture on Lithuanian-Polish relations in Vilnius University. He said that the roots of Lithuanian-Polish tensions are in the Polish thinking, which is that the Poles and the Polish language are superior to Lithuanians and the Lithuanian language, pointing to 19th century’s bans on the use of the Lithuanian language in churches of then ethnically and linguistically Lithuanian villages of the Vilnius region on the grounds that God does not understand the Lithuanian language and the Almighty is fluent only in Polish.

Andrius Uzkalnis, who recently returned from England where he worked for the BBC, wrote in his column on lrytas.lt that it was a moral obligation of the Lithuanian government to propose more Lithuanian language in Polish schools due to the care of future career prospects for Polish children, but if such a proposal is rejected and the Poles wish to have a worse life for their children, they should have the right for such a choice.