Unsolved for decades, the question of surname spelling is stuck in Seimas

Letters on the stones
Letters on the stones / Shutterstock

The decades-long debate over the spelling of names and surnames in identification documents in Latin letters seems to have no end. When it already seemed that parliament had made progress toward permission to use Latin letters in identification documents, the bill got stuck, shelved somewhere in the parliament Monika Kasnikovskytė writes in TV3.lt

It looks as if members of parliament do not expect this issue to be solved before the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Already in June of 2017, the government agreed that in Lithuanian personal identification documents names and surnames might be spelt with Latin letters, such as W, X, and Q. The final decision, on the draft law about names and surnames spelling in personal identification documents, must be made by parliament; however, the bill got stuck instead.

Has been withheld for a couple of years

It is important to mention the draft law passed through the first stage at the parliament – after submission in spring of 2017, 64  parliament members voted in favour of the bill, 25 against and 13 abstained from voting. The project was passed on to committees for consideration. The draft foresees that original spelling of the surname in Latin letters is possible, “if the name and surname with those characters is stated in the source of a document, and the source document proves that person or their ancestors, according to direct family lineage, had citizenship of a foreign country or married foreign citizen and adopted their surname”.

The amendments were presented and introduced by parliamentarian Gediminas Kirkilas, he claimed the law would address issues regarding problems of the different spelling of surnames in personal identification documents that people in mixed marriages are facing, as well as possible improvement in relations with Poland.

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“We are trying to answer a relatively small question here, which in reality became the cause of deteriorating interstate relations. Maybe today we should show goodwill, make a decision, one that should not harm us in any way. Some are saying that we are changing the alphabet. We are not changing the alphabet, it remains the same,” G. Kirkilas said at the parliament session. During the same assembly session, after submission the parliament also approved an alternative bill, allowing personal names that include Latin letters to be written on an additional passport page. This bill was also passed on to committees for further considerations.

The authorization hearing of the draft law on witting non-Lithuanian letters was postponed until the parliament’s spring session in 2020.  

The project is hanging in the air

The Liberal Movement is raising a question, why the issue of non-Lithuanian letter usage in personal names got stuck in the parliament at the exact same time as the coalition partners – Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union (LLRA-KSS).

”Coincidentally or not, but that silence began at the almost same time as Polish politicians joined the ruling coalition. How is it that after they joined,  questions about three letters became irrelevant? And not for the first time,” Liberal Movement chairwoman Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen wrote at the end of last year. She is reminding that the draft law, which would allow Latin letters usage in personal names, is ‘stuck’ at the parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs that is being led by Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union representative Agnė Širinskienė.

“However, what did this active woman of parliament do since February for those Lithuanian citizens, whom the “Farmers” would love to see not in London or Bergen, but in Lithuania? Lithuanian citizens, who would like to come back home with families. People who have those taboo letters in their names. At this point, the Committee on Legal Affairs did not take any action. For 9 months the bill has not been touched. Because it is not considered a priority,” V. Čimilytė – Nielsen said.

Hopes to adopt the law this year – almost non-existent

Member of parliament A. Širinskienė claimed to tv3.lt that she does not know whether the bill is really in the hands of the committee, especially since it was supposed to reach the committee when social democrat Julius Sabatauskas still led it.

“While political consensus is non-existent, we do not commission expert assessment. However, if the expert assessment were to happen, the sad history of parliament showed how the hospital, pharmacy project was only passed after five submissions, as such, it might then be possible to discuss the projects at the committee if they are ours. […] We have the expert assessment questionnaire; moreover, assessments are ordered for all the bills according to my knowledge. While Sabataustas was leading the committee, specifications had not been made and the committee, as far as I remember, refused to proceed under his chairmanship,” A. Širinskienė said.

After being asked if is it possible for parliament to solve the issue of writing personal names during the current term A. Širinskienė highlighted, that while trying to figure out questions like these, the most important thing becomes a joint agreement between the political parties, which at this given moment is non-existent.

“While there is no consensus, while all fractions and their respective political groups have different understandings, for example, we always have been talking that it should be the second page of the passport used for this matter, in this way preserving the uniqueness of the national language, others think differently, therefore before a common understanding point is reached, the approval of such complicated bills is indeed difficult,” the member of parliament said.

There probably were other, more critical issues

Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Union Seimas group perfect Vanda Kravčionok states, that the Polish group is always supportive of passing the bill to allow writing names and surnames in Latin letters, but the politician does not know whether the group is going to start pushing for this project to be approved this term.

“If you want to know about national minorities, in Lithuania would not affect much, it is just one letter from the Polish alphabet. But we have always been supportive of making life for people easier. […] Such laws, especially for Lithuanian women, who form marriages with foreign citizens, it is a highly important question,” V. Kravčionok told tv3.lt.

After being asked why the draft law has been stuck at the parliament since 2017, the member of parliament said, “Maybe there were more important matters to take care of.”

“It was said outright that there is no political will, but that happened most likely during the previous term,” V. Kravčionok mused.

Bringing the issue to the court

Current legislation in Lithuania stipulates that the names of the citizens of Lithuania shall be written only in Lithuanian and only in Lithuanian characters.

However, the courts of Lithuania have already issued several non-appealable decisions requiring the second page of Lithuanian citizens’ passports and ID cards to have names also entered with non-Lithuanian characters.

For instance, last year the Klaipėda District Court issued a decision ordering the Civil Registry and Registration Division of the city to change the surname of the applicant’s daughter in the birth record by inserting the letter Q.

At the end of last year, the European Commission requested clarification from the Lithuanian authorities regarding the measures taken about other EU countries citizens names and surnames spelling in the original language. According to Brussels officials, EU citizens in Lithuania are facing obstacles when obtaining passports and identity cards if their names include the letters Q, X or W.

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