The belief that the standoff between Russia and the West will spark ethnic enmity in Lithuania’s Russian and Polish regions has not lived up. The Russians have not roughed up amid the tensions, but the Poles, herded by the Electoral Action of Poles (EAP), a clamorous parliamentary faction, have hit the streets. Last Wednesday, Polish pupils in Vilnius bypassed their classrooms and swarmed the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn, asking God to turn ear to the Poles’ laments over ostensible educational drawbacks.
Poles swarm popular Vilnius chapel
Protesters demanded elimination in Polish schools of reinforced Lithuanian language exam, seen now too difficult by many Polish pupils and their parents. The Poles also want to have the so-called pupil’s basket, which is about the amount of money allotted yearly for each schoolchild, to be raised one a half time. Irritatingly to the education policy-makers, the Poles also insist on introducing the Polish language exam in Polish minority schools as mandatory.
Reportedly a half thousand Polish primary and secondary school pupils gathered at the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn clamoring for change in curriculum and the order of exams. The crowd also booed the reorganization of some of Polish schools in the predominantly Polish Vilnius region.
Lithuanian Poles have long been seeking right to write Polish names and surnames using Polish alphabet letters, which Lithuanian laws exclude.
Orchestra conductor is obvious?
«The rally has obviously been orchestrated by the Electoral Action of Poles. It needs to get people talking no matter what to keep the spotlight until the parliamentary election,» says Kęstutis Girnius, a US-born Lithuanian political scientist.
Although the organizers of the rally were officially named as «Polish and Russian pupils’ parents», but with the presence in it of the Polish party’s high-ranking officials and chairman Valdemaras Tomaševskis himself, few had doubt that the walkout had been orchestrated by EAP leaders.
According to the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and Science, among the participants of the protest were schoolchildren from as many as 32 minority schools in Vilnius region, 18 schools in Šalčininkai region and 4 schools in Trakai region.
Among the protesting Vilnius schools were Joachimas Lelevelis, Simonas Konarskis, Vladislov Sirkokomle, Levas Karsavinas and Lazdynai secondary schools.
Pupil turnout varied on rally day
According to the Vilnius Municipality, the pupil turnout on the morning of September 2, when the rally was held, varied from 5 percent in Vladislov Sirokomle secondary school to 83 percent in Lazdynai secondary school.
The municipality officials have also hinted that teachers and pupils in some of the schools were instigated to miss classes and attend the rally.
The Municipality is said to be investigating the claims.
Talking to BNS, a Lithuanian news agency, Edita Zubel, the principle of Joachimas Lelevelis secondary school, told that every fifth pupil showed up for classes on September 2.
«The teachers are working according to the schedule, but we have very few pupils today indeed- a mere 90 out of 503 on the pupil list,» the principle was quoted as saying.
Zubel, however, did not want to speculate what the reason for absence of the children was.
«We will learn of the reasons Thursday, when the missing pupils will explain themselves,» she said.
Too tough Lithuanian language exam
Meanwhile, Kristina Kratkovska, the principle of Simonas Konarskis Secondary School, told Lithuania media that majority out of the school’s 403 pupils showed up for classes last Wednesday.
The Polish youngsters in the rally complained, among other things, of too high requirements for the Lithuanian language exam and mess in the reorganization of Polish schools.
«I have graduated this year from Simonas Konarskis secondary school and I came here with a friend of mine, a graduate student this year. We were in the same school, but it’s a pity now that she cannot calmly finish her years at the school. I don’t know whether it makes sense to change something at the last minute. All feel intimidated now. My female friend was supposed to be in the 12th grade and she still doesn’t know whether she is in the school, or not,» Modestas, a resident of the Lithuanian capital, was quoted as saying.
The exasperation is about the reorganization of the school, which saw 11 and 12 grades abolished this year.
Parents: reforms are sped up
Speaking to BNS, Dariušas Zibcovas, the father whose daughter attends Simonas Konarskis secondary school, rebutted Vilnius authorities for «an expedited reform» of Polish minority schools.
«The reorganization should be carried out not in a month, which we see happening now, but in two years’ time, which is foreseen by the law amendments. One of the gymnasiums is entitled to form fifth grades, whereas others, releasing 11 and 12th grades, are stripped of the right. All actions should be coordinated jointly,» the fretted father pointed out.
One of the organizers of the rally, Danuta Narbut, who is also a representative of Lithuania’s Polish School Parent Forum, told the protest action would be taking place a single day.
«We are expecting that the walkout will lead to a suitable and purposeful conversation with the Lithuanian authorities,» she hoped.
The Education and Science Ministry, meanwhile, urges heads of the Electoral Action of Poles to stop «politicizing», entangling pupils and their parents in protests, and encourage pupils to excel academically.
According to the Ministry, ethnic schools’ graduates do well in the exams, including the Lithuanian language and literature exam with enhanced requirements.
«For pupils in ethnic minority schools, certain exam facilitations are applied – they get away with more mistakes in the works- get the exam passed,» statement by the Ministry says.
The easement will be valid through 2019-2020 school year, according to the Ministry.
Ministry: Polish schools are richer
And, finally, when it comes to the pupil basket funds, it in ethnic schools is one-fifth larger, insists the Ministry.
There are 51 Polish language schools and 32 Russian language schools in Lithuania. In 36 educational establishments, curriculum subjects are taught in several languages. A single school in Lithuania teaches in Belarusian.
The Ministry also brings attention to the fact that, over the last 15 years, the number of Polish language schools has shrunk by 35 percent. However, the number of Lithuanian schools has also been declining.
Foreign minister: EAP leaders slander Lithuania
Following the rally, Linas Linkevičius, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, lashed out at the EAP leaders, accusing them of« slandering Lithuania» on presumable discrimination in the field of education. The minister believes that the conditions that Lithuania has set for Poles’ secondary education are hardly matched by any other country.
«There are 20 million Poles living outside Poland and some 200 thousand of them reside in Lithuania. In comparison, there are a several hundred Polish language schools abroad and, let it note, 90 of them come for Lithuania. In Lithuania, one get education in the Polish language from a kindergarten to a high school,»Linkevičius told a Lithuania radio channel Wednesday.
He added saying that the situation can be improved, but suggest to the entire world that the Poles are discriminated in Lithuania, which some of our politicians do, is irresponsible.
Poles’ party need to stoke flame to hold grip on power
Asked whether the September 2 rally is about the EAP’s kick-start of a parliamentary election campaign, Kęstutis Girnius, the political analyst, believes behind the cultural and educational demands lies the politics.
«The Electoral Action of Poles can expect to last on the Lithuanian political stage as long as it will be stoking the feeling that local Poles are ostensibly abused by Lithuanians. The chairman of the party, Tomaševskis, is well aware of that and I don’t think it will let the sentiment die. Simply because it would not serve his political interests and the party’s,» Girnius told BNN.
Meanwhile, Vladas Sirutavičius, an expert on Lithuanian and Polish relations, notes that September 1 marks day when the Soviet Army forayed Poland back in 1939.
«I really do not see here what you call «Moscow’s hand talking about the September 2 rally at the chapel,» Sirutavičius told BNN, but withheld from further comments.
Polish MP: Lithuania needs to heed UK example
Rita Tamošiūnienė, a parliamentarian from the faction of Electorate Action of Poles, disagreed that the party stokes rebellious mood among the grassroots.
«What kind of politicizing are you talking about? We’ve have included the demands we voiced during the Wednesday rally in EAP election program laid out yet in 2012. Do you believe that the Lithuanian Seimas will do the job we are asking to be done for us?» the MP asked rhetorically.
She insisted that Polish school accreditation system is biased and flawed.
«Look, Lithuanian schools pass accreditation easily, but not the Polish schools. We do not understand the ongoing reform of Polish schools, when some schools get closed, others see their status changed, which at the end have the pupils moving from one school to another. All this creates much stress and distrust that others schools are not put through,» Tamošiūnienė noted.
In the United Kingdom, she points out, Lithuanian émigré children are free to take Lithuanian exam.
«If the UK were like Lithuania distrusting other ethnicities, it would be impossible. We want effectively the same: allow Polish pupils here take the Polish language and literature exam, which we want to be on par with the Lithuanian language exam. I don’t think there is something wrong about the striving,» the lawmaker told BNN.