“Claiming that this was a sort of oppression of ethnicity, belittling and criticising over ethnicity – that’s incorrect,” signatory and jurist Česlav Okinčic says, Rasuolė Bauraitė wrote in lrytas.lt
According to him, we should not be talking about ethnic Polish politicians being discriminated in Lithuania.
“The news media has its eyes on every minister. If we are to look at our minister of healthcare – just how much criticism he has faced,” the signatory said.
Journalist Mindaugas Vasiliauskas and Č. Okinčic‘s conversation on the Lietuvos Rytas television broadcast Lietuva Tiesiogiai.
Last week (In January), the Lithuanian Polish Union responded to criticism toward Minister of Transport and Communications Jaroslaw Narkiewicz by releasing a public statement, which in essence said that the Polish Union, ethnic Poles in Lithuania are lately experiencing discrimination and even anti-Polish hysteria in the news media. You are also a member of the Lithuanian Polish community, do you feel an anti-Polish frenzy, discrimination?
I believe there is undoubtedly no hysteria at all, bar perhaps in certain groups of the Polish Union. This is more likely support of a sort for the party, which raises questions regarding absolute hysteria and is unable to explain its incompetence.
It is unable to explain its actions and whether they are in line with ethics and morals. It is first and foremost a matter of competence, and I do not believe that there are any questions associated with the oppression of an ethnic minority or such.
I feel just fine and am happy that over thirty years, we managed to reconstruct an independent state, emerge on the European and global political map. Lithuania’s name is heard, and we are safe.
All this shows that the events that occurred 30 years ago were necessary for the Lithuanian nation, we can be proud of those decisions and have a positive outcome.
You say that you feel no discrimination and that this is an effort to cover incompetence. This is simply that political power’s defensive tactic – if they are criticised, they pull out the discrimination card?
I believe that our prime minister took the ethnic minority discrimination out of context. I do not think that the prime minister said so because he is a major supporter of good Polish-Lithuanian relations and suitably interacts with Mr Tomaszewski’s party.
This shows that they are together in the coalition and their cooperation in earnest. But when specific questions arise that are related to competences and when there is the natural process of journalists watching, particularly the new ministers, how they act, how they function, when certain facts emerge and another thing is on what basis regional newspapers are controlled, who their owners are – everything is associated with politics, it’s a massive nepotism.
Naturally, the news media is taking an interest not only because these are Poles, but also because they are officials, politicians, relatives included.
All politicians and officials face criticism, regardless of their ethnicity.
Something like that. And claiming that this was a sort of oppression of ethnicity, belittling and criticising over ethnicity – that’s incorrect. It doesn’t exist.
The president has made no such statement that he has information on ethnicity, he had facts about specific individuals, who are related to the party and that’s all. Whether the president should have done this or not – let’s leave that to him.
From what can be found online, the Lithuanian Polish Union is led by members of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. Is the Lithuanian Polish Union more representing the interests of Lithuanian Poles or is it a union led by the same Electoral Action of Poles?
I believe that as of currently, the Polish Union and party can be confidently equated. Waldemar Tomaszewski himself heads the Polish Union’s Vilnius region branch. J. Narkiewicz heads the Trakai region branch.
A member of Seimas Michal Mackevič represents the whole union.
It is necessary to note that it wasn’t the entire Polish Union’s declaration. It was a declaration by individual members, and it saddened me a little. The people did not look into thoroughly, what is happening and received a signal, likely from the party leader, that this statement must be made and so the statement emerged. Had they looked at those matters in-depth, the declaration would not have happened.
Certain people, branch chairmen, to my knowledge only found out about this declaration at the last moment and signed it without much thought. One is left worried, the actions were reckless, without basis and brought in even more confusion into this matter.
Do such Lithuanian Polish Union, Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania declarations, talks about discrimination not place a wedge between Lithuanians and Lithuanian Poles? Perhaps a part of ethnic Poles living in our country truly could come to believe this and think that there is an anti-Polish hysteria ongoing?
I believe it does not place a wedge. Today, the news media functioning across the country understands that Poles persist in Lithuania, they are a part of the political system, participate in the ruling coalition, understands that certain questions related to the Polish minority need to be resolved. That we need good relations with Poland because Poland always raised problematic questions for Lithuanian politicians.
In this, everyone, both Lithuanian and Polish politicians, understands it well. I do not think that a temporary hysteria will have any influence on Lithuanians’ views of Poles or vice versa or our excellent bilateral relations.
You probably interact with Lithuanian Poles – not politicians or those holding high office, but regular people. How do they react to and perceive this scandal?
On the one hand, it is a little disconcerting for them that there is such total criticism. But everything converged – questions about nepotism in the corner of Vilnius region and those things related to the minister of transport and communications. But look, we have a representative of ethnic Poles as the minister of interior affairs.
She arrived at a challenging moment when the Alytus events occurred. It was hard there to predict how who should act, and there were particular real concerns over the minister’s actions, but I believe that she handled it and is suitably managing processes in the ministry. And no one is mentioning her ethnicity or criticising her on that basis.
Just as with the minister of transport and communications – he must, first of all, be more careful, think about what he is doing, what decisions he is making so that he would not bring about negative consequences for the entire system.
So that he would be pure, clean and useful as a person, the news media has its eyes on every minister. If we are to look at our minister of healthcare – just how much criticism he has faced. But it is important to consistently implement the government programme, coordinate one’s actions with the prime minister.
Then, the media, which must criticise and check politicians’ hands, let it look. But they will see there only specific, positive actions for the country. This must be ensured, rather than looking for excuses on an ethnic basis.
You mentioned the Special Investigation Service report. It was investigated, how many individuals were employed in the Ministry of Transport and Communications and its subordinate institutions, who are associated with the Electoral Action of Poles. The coalition claims that this is proof that there is ethnicity-based persecution, discrimination. How do you view it?
First of all, the president made no mention of ethnicity.
He spoke of individuals associated with a party.
Yes. The party doesn’t even present itself as solely representing Poles but as a party representing all ethnic minorities. The party also features a significant number of Lithuanians. Thus, it is difficult to at all to link the criticism in any way to the question of ethnicity. I believe the president definitely did not say anything like that and didn’t even consider it. The appearance of such a report, I think, is also a none strong shadow.
I do not believe that all the people appeared there namely because today the minister is of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. If those were jobs related to competitions, longer, more complex processes, then one could wonder. I believe that individual new employees appear in various ministries alongside new ministers, but it is hard to link it to namely party or ethnicity.
If we were to look at what happens in various ministries following the appointment of a new minister, such small changes related to parties could be found and no less interesting ones as well.
What is your overall view of the coalition and president’s dispute?
I believe that the Presidential Palace must work more with the Seimas. I do not know If there is an exclusive advisor for relations with Seimas – I think that one should be appointed, who would communicate with Seimas.
There is an advisor for domestic policy.
This is a general category. Since our country is not presidential, but parliamentary, the parliament is crucial in making the main decisions of the country. We see that the president has numerous good initiatives, but these initiatives must be transferred into Seimas.
This requires voting, the support of 71 members of Seimas. I believe that there must be closer cooperation with it.
Is it possible, given such moral and ethical disputes?
These moral, ethical matters must be brought forward. It must be seen by voters, by the nation, it’s natural. It is the president’s prerogative because he received a vast amount of faith from the voters. On the other hand, cooperation with Seimas is necessary no matter the circumstances, it is required to seek consensus and opportunities to present individual decisions, legal projects, explanations regarding vetoes to Seimas.
An advisor for relations with Seimas must be able to count to 71. Then the Presidential Palace will not find it so hard to function and cooperate with the current political majority. It is what it is, elected by the voters, and it should be respected and worked with.
Speaking of advisors, quite recently the president’s advisor Jaroslav Neverovič, commenting on the prime minister’s statements on the discriminatory background, said that this is nonsense and the prime minister has sunk low. This is now more acute rhetoric, which has emerged in the dispute with the temperature rising. Could you compare the level of political culture, which is prevalent now and before, when independence was being restored?
Without a doubt, the rhetoric is now more acute. I believe that all politicians should avoid such rhetoric because all politicians, regardless of their party, definitely try in their own way to care for the country’s development and its future and they must understand that there are other viewpoints, thought processes. There is no single way of thinking as we had in the Soviet era when everyone was told, what to believe, and what to think about.
I believe there is a definite lack of political culture, and I find high-level opponents interaction through arguments and not adjectives and negative descriptions. This needs to be worked on, but it also demands good examples. In news media, television broadcasts there should be more meetings with university professors, people, who could present excellent examples of communication and overall theory of cultural communication.
This is sorely needed, especially when things are continuing to get better in the country, increasingly many people emerge, who want to make a statement, but their overall education and culture is dubious. These matters must be looked into already today.