In Warsaw one hears it said that Polish-Lithuanian relations are bad. The exchange of opinions concerning the Polish minority in Lithuania has turned into a war of words. Why is there such coolness?
I would not say that relations are bad. For us nothing has changed – Poland remains an important neighbour. But it is true that Lithuania is now being talked about differently in Poland.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski maintains that Lithuania has caused Poland disappointment…
That is surprising. Perhaps some sort of new stage in our relations is starting, after joining the EU and NATO? Poland is a large country and perhaps that is why it is changing its attitude towards its neighbours? We are trying to do our homework on the issue of the Polish minority. There are issues to be resolved, but one has to have patience in relations with one’s neighbours.
Warsaw is losing its patience. In the opinion of our Foreign Ministry, Lithuania is not making good on its promises and is not doing much to oppose the discrimination of the Polish minority. The list of problems is long: the way in which Polish surnames are written, Polish names on street signs in regions inhabited by Poles, the problems of Polish education…It is not hard to draw up a list of accusations and grievances. We can complain about Baranauskas Street in Sejny (Poland’s Lithuanian minority is demanding that Antoni Baranowski Street, named after a 19th-century bishop whom the Lithuanians consider a Lithuanian, should be renamed Antas Baranauskas Street – editor’s note) or the monument in Berzniki (Vilnius feels that the monument commemorating the Poles murdered in Ponary stands too close to the cemetery of Lithuanians who died fighting against Poles in 1920, and thus represents an affront to the Lithuanians – editor’s note). Those are very emotional issues for us. We are surprised by the Polish complaints about education. What is there to complain about here?
We do not like the creation of Lithuanian primary schools in areas inhabited by Poles. They rival the more poorly-equipped Polish schools.There are 60 Polish schools in Lithuania. There are more than 30 Polish-Lithuanian classes in other schools, which also receive a Polish programme of teaching. There are around 100 institutions of Polish education.
The Polish ambassador recently said that the plans to increase the number of subjects taught in Lithuanian will not help the Poles integrate.It is hard for us to understand those accusations. Aside from many Polish schools there is a Polish university functioning here. As far as so-called ethnic schools are concerned, the ones operating in Poland teach 60 per cent of their classes in a language other than Polish, 40 per cent in Polish. In the same kind of schools in Lithuania, the proportions are like 95 per cent in Polish, 5 per cent in Lithuanian.
Euro-MP Jaroslaw Kalinowski sent a letter to the head of parliament, with four pages listing the examples of discrimination against Poles in Lithuania.
[Kubilius] I know about that letter, but as far as Polish education is concerned I do not see a problem. We can adopt Poland’s solutions for the Polish minority – will you then be satisfied? There is another problem: young people graduating from Polish schools have trouble with Lithuanian, and that hampers their further education.
One real problem is for example the restitution of property to Poles in the Vilnius region. I have asked the respective institutions to settle this problem within two years.
We also have a problem with reprivatisation. In the Salcininkai region dominated by Poles, 95 per cent of the issue has been resolved, and 80 per cent in the environs around Vilnius. We have problems in Kaunas and Vilnius. I am not saying that we have not made mistakes there, but we are trying to settle them.
When and how will the problem of the Polish spelling of surnames in official documents, the standard example of unfulfilled promises from Vilnius, be resolved?We were the first government to present a draft law settling this problem in April, after 15 years of discussion and promises. But this bill does not have the support of the majority. The Constitutional Court has ruled that all names should be written in Lithuanian. And now we will either continue to try to push the bill through the Seimas or implement the Latvian solution.
In other words, the name would be in Lithuanian on the first page of the passport, in Polish on the second page?Not only. The problem also concerns other minorities, such as the Russian minority. Surnames are not an issue of language, but of identity. Sometimes it is not easy to resolve a problem around which there are so many emotions. We should arm ourselves with patience and continue to talk.
Dialogue about surnames and Polish street names has been underway for 15 years…I frequently travel to regions inhabited by Poles and I know what bothers them. Indeed, they talk about schools and property restitution, but also about building better roads. Those are problems.
You said that Polish politicians are heating up the atmosphere and all of this is presumably related to the situation in Poland. Do you not believe that the resistance of Lithuania’s Seimas on the spelling of names is a reflection of the situation in Lithuania?The social democrats ruled for eight years prior to us (the conservatives – editor’s note) and they essentially did nothing on the issue of names, but there were no harsh reactions from Warsaw. Why is it that the issue of names has suddenly become the most important?
And why is there such Lithuanian resistance? Perhaps on account of history and the dispute over the Vilnius region in the interwar years?History plays an important role in both sides. Both you and we have not gotten rid of the complexes of the past, but they are not the most important thing in relations with Poland. Poland is very important in the region and that is more important than a Polish “w” written in Lithuanian identity cards.
But for there to be good cooperation, the old problems need to be resolved. Mr Sikorski is determined and says: enough promises.Our relations are much important than the opinion of any minister, or even prime minister.
Have you tried to talk to Prime Minister Tusk, to ease the tension?We met in Brussels. Last year I proposed to Prime Minister Tusk to meet in the places sensitive for us, meaning the Suwalki area, and sensitive for you, in the Salcininkai and Vilnius regions. Details were not successfully worked out, but the invitation still stands.
Perhaps the time has come for some sort of symbolic gesture from both sides?I am open not only to gestures, but also to real measures. Sometimes the pressure of a large country does not help in dialogue.
Big Poland is pressing on small Lithuania, and that is not to Vilnius’s liking?We are just reading the Polish declarations, we are not dramatizing things. Emotions need to be quelled.
Do you not feel that all of these problems are a reflection of some sort of Lithuanian complex about Poland?I do not know. I believe that the cultural and historical heritage of the Poles and Jews living in the Vilnius region are a treasure for Lithuania. But the inhabitants of the Vilnius region are living in the 21st century and the development of the region is extremely important. Excessively focusing on surnames or street names puts us farther away from the most important objective: economic and social development.