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Sikorsky continues living in the spirit of the past

Kęstutis Girnius (Vytenio Petrošiaus nuotr. | Alfa.lt)
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The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorsky cannot be said to be very subtle. Approximately three years ago, he called Nord Stream – the German-Russian agreement to construct a new gas line – the second Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, completely forgetting the fact that the actual Pact incited the Second World War, which took the lives of nearly six million Polish citizens, whereas Nord Stream has not resulted in any casualties as yet, commentator Kestutis Girnius wrote in Delfi.lt news portal on 17 March.

Sikorsky is also known for his statement regarding his refusal to pay a visit to Lithuania until the local Poles are allowed to transcribe their surnames in Polish letters. Thus far, he has kept his promise. However, such obstinacy contradicts the nature of his diplomatic duties.

On Wednesday, Sikorsky referred to the Seimas voting on the amendments of the Law on Education as a "litmus test” that will purportedly demonstrate the willingness of Lithuania to protect minority rights. He asked Seimas to fulfil the requirements of the Lithuanian Poles, claiming them to be loyal citizens, who are "entitled to preserve their identity, culture, and property”.

The Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis implied that such requests, which sounded very much like interfering "with the legislation and relations between a sovereign state and its citizens”, would not be regarded. I am not sure as to what Sikorsky was trying to achieve, but his remarks will certainly encourage Seimasto adopt the amendments; they will displease quite some Lithuanians, and strengthen a negative attitude towards the State of Lithuania among many Poles – so much for the constantly cited strategic partnership between Lithuania and Poland.

Sikorsky seems to be forgetting that it is not the Interwar period, but the 21st century that we are living in now. The times when ethnical or national minorities were considered as foreign bodies that had to be assimilated, and when the neighbouring country felt obliged to defend its oppressed fellow countrymen have changed.

Presently, the European Union (EU) is promoting the trust and integration of all citizens; it also aims to reduce living solely among one’s own nationals.

[...]

The Poles are not immigrants. In addition, as is the case for most Lithuanians, they are Catholics, and they have comparable values and a similar world view. They will not turn into some international jihadists. However, it is artificially sought to dissociate them from Lithuania as if it were a foreign country; to remain outside of it, without integrating in a common life of the country; to emphasise the things that differentiate, but not those that unify the Poles and Lithuanians.

Although Lithuania has been independent for 20 years now, the results of the studies conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and published in the beginning of February showed that 42 per cent of the national minority members in Lithuania actually stated their knowledge of Lithuanian to be insufficient. I am inclined to think that most of them were Poles. The inadequate knowledge of the State language does not only narrow down the possibilities to find a good job, but also to take an active part in the country’s cultural and political life. In urging the prevention of Lithuanian being taught in Polish schools, Sikorsky aims to undermine the efforts to build a civil community that would unite all of the citizens. It is integration and greater mutual understanding that he is opposing – not assimilation (which should be opposed). Thus, he is making a stand against the key value of the EU.

A few lessons in Lithuanian will not undermine the national identity of the Polish minority. In fact, they are likely to consolidate the Polish community. At the moment, many young Poles are studying at universities in Poland and in turn seek employment there. This not only affects Lithuania, but also the local Polish community, which thereby loses its brightest and most talented children.

Lithuanians are not free from blame. Some super-patriots still consider Poles as foreigners or denationalised Lithuanians, perhaps even hoping to Lithuanise them. However, these are futile hopes. Just as in Russianising Lithuanians, denationalising the Poles would come to nothing. Considering the Poles as our enemy and satisfying their reasonable demands as subservience is a mistake. I do not understand why the street names in the Polish neighbourhoods cannot be written in both languages, especially since the references to tourist sites in Vilnius are also written in English. It is long ago that, in the official documents, the Poles should have been allowed to write their surnames as these are. Why should a person have his or her surname Lithuanised without wanting it?

However, surname transcriptions in passports and street names should not be given too much prominence. These are painful, yet minor issues – the surface, not the essence. Sikorsky has rightly noted that a national minority is mostly concerned with ensuring their right to identity and culture. In this field, the rights of the Polish minority comply with the highest EU standards, and Lithuania is the only country, outside of Poland, where all levels of education, elementary through to university, can be attained in Polish. The foreseen amendments of the said law will not endanger Polish identity, culture, or education. Instead, they will make the Poles into better Lithuanian and, in turn, European citizens.
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