Ažubalis compares Dobrovolska‘s plans to the Soviet Union: “It divides the country”

Polish and Lithuanian flags
Polish and Lithuanian flags, DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

The Freedom Party, with its Minister Evelina Dobrovolska at the forefront, will present a project to the Seimas this spring, which could legalise bilingualism in certain regions of the country. The minister says that this project will bring nothing new and certain matters already factually exist. However, this does nothing to reassure the legislation’s critics who compare such initiatives to arrangements in the Soviet Union and call for the minister to ensure that existing laws would be upheld, Vilmantas Venckūnas writes in tv3.

One of the tasks outlined in the Seimas spring session is the national minority law. It outlines that regions, where at least a fifth of the population is of a different nationality, would have it legalised for street names to be indicated in two languages, also allowing citizens to use their native language in government offices.

Avoiding political manipulations

“It is clear that given how we usually bring up this topic prior to elections and this has a significant element contains much political manipulation. Thus, respectively, this project returns when we are at the beginning of our term when there’s less political context,” Minister of Justice Evelina Dobrovolska spoke on a Žinių Radijas broadcast.

According to her, certain matters outlined in the law already exist de facto. In some regions, bilingual street markings already exist and, in some municipalities, it is already possible to consult the local administrations in languages other than Lithuanian.

“The most often raised question is, of course, to what extent this complies with our state language law, which is a very legitimate question.

It must be understood that national minority lingual rights and, in general, national minority rights, which Lithuania pledged to when signing the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, do not have to clash with our language law and this regulation is logical, it is definitely possible and necessary for Lithuania, with safeguards being put in place,” the minister assured.

The law brings nothing new?

For example, according to E. Dobrovolska, an existing government directive indicates that the municipal administration director can approve procedures, which would permit requests from local residents to be received in a language other than Lithuanian.

These procedures are already in place for the Vilnius city municipality, which can be addressed not only in Lithuanian, while the official response is presented in Lithuanian with an unofficial translation included alongside.

“The law brings nothing cardinally new. Factually, we will have the same as now, just that currently, many of those relationships are in a grey zone where things depend on the political inclinations of the local government,” the minister said.

In terms of bilingual street names, E. Dobrovolska explained that factually, in certain regions, they already exist, but it is chaotic, unregulated as to what names are official.

“Poland is an example where in some regions, there are Lithuanian titles, Lithuanian naming in certain regions, we also have Lithuanian schools. It’s just a question of what standards we would like to apply,” she said.

Awaiting public discussions

According to E. Dobrovolska, the law is important in that it would define what a national minority is.

“One of the criteria set by this project is that a national minority is a group of Lithuanian citizens. We are simply talking about our citizens who are of a different nationality,” the minister said.

The politician stated that the national minority law is not her individual initiative. Drafting the legislation began in a workgroup in the previous government, which included representatives from the language commission, ministries and the national minorities.

E. Dobrovolska said that in around a month, the legislative project would be presented for a public discussion and later, it will be presented in the government agenda and then will be tabled in Seimas. The minister rejects criticisms that this law is divisive.

“It should probably be understood that Lithuanian citizens can be of various nationalities and Lithuania does not suffer due to it. Quite the contrary, it is enriched. […] What is most important is that we would define what we view as a national minority and what the state’s commitment is, which, if we recognise our citizens, allows us to protect them from threats emanating from rather unfriendly states,” E. Dobrovolska said.

Compared to the Soviet Union and China

Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) Seimas group member Audronius Ažubalis disagrees with the legislative project being drafted by his fellow member of the coalition.

According to the Conservatives MP, the national minority law fails to resolve anything and according to him, national minority issues are even exemplary.

“There are no boundaries for perfection, but in this case, I do not see a reason for a separate law. Especially given that our legislation and its complete framework guarantee an equal and respectful view of every Lithuanian citizen regardless of their nationality. This is a Western, civilised approach.

It was primarily the Soviet Union that had such laws, I think it’s also the case in China. In the European Union, a few countries have them, but as a rule, these are former Warsaw Pact countries,” A. Ažubalis told the tv3.lt portal.

Minister must ensure compliance with the law

According to him, the Lithuanian language is constitutionally the state language and should be used in public life.

“As for non-compliance and why it happens… In this respect, I think this is something the minister of justice should take action regarding, to ensure that the laws that exist and were approved by the will of the nation’s representatives would be complied with. This is the main task and not discussing grey or some other zones,” the politician said.

The Conservatives MP believes that such a law reminds him of plans developed in the last decade of the previous century for South-East Lithuania to have autonomy.

“I would say it is a proposal that divides the country, it will definitely not help the citizens of different nationalities feel equal. […] We can come up with a lot of things, but this desire to grant exclusive rights, undermining even the titular nation’s rights, it is known of throughout the period,” he said.

Reminding of Narkiewicz’s house

Bilingual street signs or their translation to another language are, according to A. Ažubalis, nonsensical.

“How many misunderstandings this could cause. Are they entering Trumpoji Gatvė or Ulica Krotka [Short street in Lithuanian and Polish] as was written on the house of former Minister of Transport and Communications Narkiewicz, who continues to audaciously not remove it.

When we see such cases and tolerate them, that’s when those grey zones emerge. The minister’s duty is to ensure that such grey zones where the country’s laws are ignored would be no more. However, I see that we are moving in the opposite direction.

I think that this is a law to fill checkboxes. If it’s a law for checkboxes, so that we would look better for someone somewhere, I’m not certain to whom we would look better,” A. Ažubalis said.

The national minority law isn’t the only project, which will lead to fierce discussions in the spring session. The tv3.lt portal has already written about the looming legalisation of partnership.

The Freedom Party politicians who are drafting it are seeking ways to secure the support for the project among as many MPs as possible and are looking to relinquish tying partnership with the family to this end. Some of the Conservatives and “Farmers” are musing that this way, the liberals might mislead the people and are proposing to return to a project proposed in the previous Seimas term, which would allow more than two people to form an agreement on cohabitation.

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