Only a handful of candidates elected
“The battle against the domestic languages of national minorities is backed by the highest authorities and is nothing more than a sign of extreme nationalism,” – these are the words commonly spoken by the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (LLRA), Waldemar Tomaszewski. The party has been around for the entirety of Lithuania’s independence. It played lower leagues in the past, but became a major league player over the course of the previous elections.
It all started from the Association of Poles in Lithuania (LLA), which had to decide whether or not it wanted to be a social organization or a political party following the adoption of the Law on social organisations in 1994.
The route of a political party was chosen. However, the Lithuanian Ministry of Justice urged to remove the word “union” from the organisation’s name. And so, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (LLRA) was born. Janas Sinkevičius was head of the party up until 1999, when he was replaced by Mr. Tomaszewski. He has been the party leader ever since.
Even though the history of the party might seem rich, it could never break through the 5% voter number in Seimas elections. One or two candidates would earn seats in the Seimas each year through the single-mandate Vilnius district elections.
It always operated in the Vilnius region, which has the biggest population of Lithuanian Poles. The party fared well in the council elections, and Mr. Tomaszewski was elected into the Vilnius district council two times. He exchanged this mandate for a seat in Seimas both times.
Dividing opinions for both partners and other politicians
During the 2012 elections, LLRA’s popularity sky-rocketed. More than 5.5 % of votes ensured that the party would have a place in the Seimas. It was also invited to join the ruling coalition.
Add to that the fact that the party leader was elected into the European Parliament (EP). Experts say that this significant turn of events for the party led to a strengthened position in the debates for multi-language street signs, educational questions and Polish surnames in passports. The EP allowed them to raise these questions in an international arena.
Even though the LLRA was invited into the ruling coalition, their positions and opinions on matters differed from those of their fellow politicians as well as coalition allies. Things would often get heated between the party and their partners, the opposition as well as the president.
One of the biggest causes for unrest was the status of minorities in Lithuania. In Mr. Tomaszewski’s view, the situation of Lithuanian Poles is always worse compared to what other politicians might think.
For example, as Lithuania was preparing to lead the Council of Europe, Waldemar Tomaszewski was heard saying: “The battle against the domestic languages of national minorities is backed by the highest authorities and is nothing more than a sign of extreme nationalism, something that shouldn’t exist in the EU.”
Critiqued by the president
The aforementioned quote referenced a fine that was given to the director of Šalčininkai municipality for having a strictly Polish street sign on his house. By request of a government member, Vilnius District court fined the Šalčininkai municipality director, Boleslaw Daszkiewicz, for 13 thousand euros. Mr. Tomaszewski found the fine “draconic”.
The member of the European Parliament urged the European Council and Commission to do something about the “persecution of national minorities in the EU”. Following this remark, he was criticised by other members. One of them was Radvilė Morkunaitė.
“When talking about national minorities and supposed violations, are you speaking on behalf of yourself or your party? You are probably well aware that the official state language of Lithuania is Lithuanian. That fine was a result of several fines adding up. Do you think that a civil servant can allow himself to disobey laws of a country in which he works and lives?” – Ms. Morūnaitė asked.
The state President Dalia Grybauskaitė also made a statement. She said that she couldn’t remember another country where national minorities had better living standards compared to Lithuania. She also addressed Mr. Tomaszewski personally, saying that all of this was done by him as an ongoing effort do discredit Lithuania at home, abroad and in the EP.
The President said that all of the commissions that worked on Mr. Tomaszewski’s accusations didn’t find any violations. She said that Lithuania is carrying out all of its international duties. Lastly, she repeated herself, saying that there is no other country where a national minority could go from kindergarten to university while studying in their mother tongue.
“Lithuanians in the Vilnius region should integrate”
The outrage that followed Mr. Tomaszewski’s words was only strengthened when the fine wasn’t being paid by the offender. Money to repay the fine was being collected from all over. Polish media, which was invited into Šalčininkai municipality, was a big proponent of the scheme. The party directed its members to participate.
Municipality workers were also asked to contribute. Unofficially, everyone had to contribute 10 Litas (3,45 EUR). Threats of being sacked followed if they refused to comply. Even parents who brought their kids to the kindergarten received monetary requests. Mr. Daszkiewicz commented that this story was a political farce.
According to experts, the only person who would benefit from these stories so close to the EP and presidential elections was Waldemar Tomaszewski. The situation of national minorities in Lithuania was one of the key aspects of Mr. Tomaszewski’s campaign during the previous presidential elections.
To demonstrate the unfairness towards minorities, the commemoration of the January Events held on the 13 of January was chosen. Just as Professor Vytautas Landsbergis was beginning to speak, the LLRA members stood up and demonstratively left. This was done to combat the supposed animosity towards minorities that Mr. Landsbergis has created. The act was condemned by most politicians, political experts and their coalition partner Algirdas Butkevičius.
Mr. Tomaszewski states that the conservative party abolished the Law of Minorities, which regulated the language use of minorities and signposts used in areas densely populated by other ethnic groups.
An opinion that Waldemar Tomaszewski holds is that in the Vilnius region, Lithuanians should be the ones who need to integrate, not the Poles.
Called the president a liar
The push for multi-language street signs created even more turmoil. The Energy Minister delegated by the LLRA, Jaroslav Neverovič, was resigned as a direct result.
It all started when the Vice Minister of Energy at the time, Renata Cytacka, had a Polish street sign on her house up until 2012. Once journalists took notice, a Lithuanian sign was added.
Two years later, when the Dalia Grybauskaitė replied to Mr. Tomaszewski about the situation of minorities in Lithuania, Ms. Cytacka called the President a liar in a public letter. The Vice Minister then removed the Lithuanian street sign from her house. She also refused to hang the Lithuanian flag on her house during two national holidays, but had the Polish flag out during Polish national holidays.
The Energy Minister received reproach from the Prime Minister. Mr. Neverovič was caught in a crossfire – the President and the entire coalition was happy with this work, but they disliked Ms. Cytacka and wanted her fired for incompetence. The LLRA, who delegated the Energy Minister to his post, demanded that the Vice Minister should stay in her post. In the end, Mr. Neverovič resigned on his own.
Soon, the LLRA left the ruling coalition.
“We had started discussions regarding national minority legislations. We haven’t finished them. We started discussions about the political situation in the country. The discussions took a long time, and it is evident that the LLRA is an unacceptable thing. They tried to dictate us so that we don’t receive a post in the Energy Ministry, that we could discuss other options. The opinion of our party was clearly stated: we were part of the coalition agreement was effective up until this Seimas meeting. If the coalition agreement is no longer in effect, we retract all of our party members and leave the ruling coalition.” – Mr. Tomaszewski said.
Open sympathy towards Russia
The LLRA was actively against a unified state exam of Lithuanian language for national minorities. They also constantly demand for the right to write their surnames in their original language in documents. A rebellious stance was taken in the talks to outlaw abortions. One of the party members, Zbigniev Jedinski, compared a woman’s body to a home and said that she doesn’t have the right to choose when it comes to another life.
“A woman’s body gives shelter and warmth to the foetus. The foetus is made so that it can develop independently, all it requires is air and food. The woman’s body is like a house, which gives the unborn child shelter. If you invite a guest into your home, do you have the right to kill them?” – Mr. Jedinski asked.
The Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania is often tied with Russia. This became a widespread opinion when Mr. Tomaszewski and his party members arrived at a Victory Day memorial wearing Georgian ribbons. Plenty of people criticised the LLRA, but the party leader countered by saying that it’s a sacred symbol: “It’s a positive symbol of St. George. All saint symbols are positive.”
This move was looked down upon by the Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland Bogdan Borusewicz. He said that Mr. Tomaszewski crossed the line by doing this. The party leader, however, is open about his relationship with Russia. He was once heard saying that we shouldn’t be so hard on Russia and that it wasn’t Russia that had started a revolution in Crimea. The Russian language First Baltic channel where he often gives interviews, was praised by him.
There are a lot of people in the party that sympathise with Russia. For example, Rafael Muksinov is a harsh opponent of NATO and the EU.
Mr. Tomaszewski isn’t very active in the European Parliament. In Lithuania, his party took part in almost two thirds of the voting, according to manoseimas.lt. One out of ten proposed projects was adopted.
The party is entering these elections with a longer name: Polish Election Action – Christian Families Alliance. In the past, the Seimas elections, the LLRA had candidates from both the Russian Alliance and the Lithuanian People’s Party.
The text translated by Aivaras Medeubetovas