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Former Lithuanian State Security chief calls on riddance of ethnic minority schools

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RU

People march during a Polish minority protest about the autonomy of their schools in Vilnius March 17, 2012

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Calling ethnic minorities’ schools «education ghettos», Lithuania’s former State Security Department chief has proposed to get rid of them.

«Such schools do not foster public spirit because they are isolated and become education ghettos. Not surprisingly, therefore, we see the pupils attending militarized children camps in Russia. Over the years, nothing has changed and the problem persists,» Gediminas Grina, former director of Lithuanian State Security Department (VSD) says.

Former VSD head points to United States

When pressed what the state ought to do with its ethnic schools, he went on saying that that kind of schools should not be left as they are.

«If there is an organizational entity, there will always be someone to fund it. And in this case, there will never be a shortage for the financier, especially that the money keeps flowing from the East,» Grina added.

He, however, refused to say if Lithuania can proceed with the implementation of the idea without risking to breach its international commitments. The European Council’s Ethnical Minority Convention stipulates, for example, that, in territories traditionally populated with ethnic minorities, the state has to ensure «as much as possible» that persons belonging to them were provided necessary possibilities to learn the minority language and be able to use it when studying.

«I am really not a lawyer and international law pundit, but in the United States, for example, ethnic minorities go to minority schools on Saturdays and alltogether go to public schools on regular days,»  former VSD director argued.

EESC director: «Intellectual provocation»

Asked to comment Grina’s idea, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, interim director of the Eastern Europe Studies Center in Vilnius, could not withhold his laughter.

«Mildly speaking, I see it as an intellectual provocation, an explosive material, I’d say. It does contain potential of straining the relations with Poland and exacerbating them with Russia,» Kasčiūnas told BNN.

Describing himself as «patriotic conservative», who believes that all schools in the country have to aim to foster national identity, he, nevertheless, thinks that local ethnic minorities have to be allowed cherish their culture and language through ethnic schools among the other forms.

«The state, however, has to do its part in the integration,» he emphasized.

The political analyst is convinced that the preposition will not get any flesh on the parliamentary floor.

«I am sure it will not get registered there,» he insisted.

Politicians are not up to the political solution

Seemingly realizing that the lawmakers would not dare to resolve to such drastic measures in fears of an international outcry, former VSD head suggested that the idea he has brought up is for «giving a thought on the issue».

«It would be a very harsh political solution obviously (if passed). I really do not think that our politicians were up to it now, but there’s much food for thought. We all see that the problem is deepening,» Grina commented his outlandish proposal on Facebook.

Referring to the scandal last summer, when a dozen Lithuanian schoolboys went to Russia and enrolled a Soviet-era militarized boot camp, he insisted that Lithuania’s Education and Science Ministry is incapable of «reigning in the situation» and, therefore, the time has come for a political solution on riddance of «education ghettos»

«Ethnic culture has to be cherished in Saturday schools, churches and Orthodox churches. And if then someone founds a school for ethnic minorities, the diplomas should be invalidated, excluding those from NATO member states’ schools for diplomats’ children,» Grina ends his Facebook post.

Dignitaries denounce inflammatory idea

After it started garnering online tons of tweets, pro and con, some dignitaries weighed in, denouncing Grina’s idea and comparing it to «a ticking bomb» and «rhetoric bringing Lithuania closer to Hungary».

«Such a proposal means that the Polish minority schools have to be closed, too. It is equal to laying a bomb in the relations between the two countries. And we were consistent with the proposal, then we should proceed with shutting down Jewish schools, among them Sholom Aleichem gymnasium in Vilnius, one of the most prestigious schools in the capital. And if it remains open, how then to explain the others the logic – which schools have to be closed and which not,» Leonidas Donskus, a philosopher and former MEP, wondered.

Donskis believes that «a big problem» arose when a security officer begins to solve education system issues.

«All the recommendations (for education system) should be discussed with the president and the ministers, but an opinion by a security officer cannot be considered as expertise,» the former europarliamentarian emphasized.

Lithuania cannot follow Hungary’s path

If certain ethnic schools are closed and others left operational, then the teachers, he says, would file a lawsuit against state of Lithuania in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

«I have no doubt that the teachers would win it,» Donskis is convinced. He added: «And if Lithuania is consistent with the bid and closes all the ethnic schools out there, then its reputation will become worse than that of Orban-governed Hungary’s. I wish our Sate Security Department worked professionally and did not interfere with the schools’ affairs».

Meanwhile, Ginatutas Mažeikis, professor of Kaunas’ Vytautas Magnus University, equals former VSD chief’s proposal to « a provocation» that works for Lithuania’s exterior adversaries, who now can try to stir a tempest among the country’s ethnic minorities and embroil Lithuania in rows not only with Russia and Belarus, but also the neighbours in the European Union.

«Such reasoning as this one by Grina can be justified only in case if he was joking, or if he knows substantially more than we do about it,» the scholar pondered.

A lot of bad examples how things should not be done

Professor reminded of Ukrainian Parliament’s decision to strip Russian of status of a regional language after the ouster of President Viktor Janukovych in2014.

«Such a decree turned out to be extremely erroneous and, albeit repealed later, has triggered major confrontations in the country. It was in fact one of the major reasons for the infuriation of the Russian population in Donbas, which eventually led to war. We can find many bad examples around, but the proposal seems to me as a provocation by the Kremlin rather than a proposition by someone among us,» Mažeikis believes.

Olga Gorškova, of Slavic Lithuanian Mercy Society, confessed she got «slightly shocked» by the Grina statement.

«The first explanation to it that comes to my mind is that the electoral campaigning has started suspiciously early…Frankly speaking, the statement is extreme, because this kind of statement aims to ignite animosity between the (Russian) ethnic minority and the Lithuanian society,» she said.

Conservative parliamentarian Paulius Saudargas also thumbed down Grina’s proposal calling it «irresponsible».

«The (ethnic) schools need to be reformed- and some of the reforms are being carried out, albeit with the resistance- but it has to be done taking into account every aspect and heeding the sensitivity of the issue,» the MP told BNN. He added: «All legislators are entitled to submit any legislative proposal, but I doubt it very much whether this kind of proposal would ever reach the stage of adoption».

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