Seimas panel okays ‘W’ in passports for foreign spouses, but not for Poles

Letters on the stones

The Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs this week approved a draft law that would allow using letters of the Polish alphabet for ancestral surnames only on an additional page of one’s passport.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, who was present at the committee’s meeting, voted in favor of the draft.

The authors of the bill say that the position is supported by President Dalia Grybauskaitė. However, it is not in keeping with Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis‘ promise to his Polish counterpart.

The committee’s proposal allows using the letters “x”, “w” and “q”, which do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet, on the main page of an identity document for Lithuanian citizens who take the surnames of their foreign spouses, for children born in mixed families and for foreigners granted Lithuanian citizenship.

Members of the committee underline that the Lithuanian language watchdog has said that exceptions to the general rule could be possible in these three cases.

Under the proposal, ethic Poles could have their first and last names spelt with all diacritical marks under “other entries” or on the other side of their ID cards.

Critics note that, in that case, a Lithuanian married to a Pole could have her name spelt “Mickiewicz”, while the surname of a local Pole whose grandmother was Mickiewicz would continue to be spelt “Mickevič”.

When asked by BNS if it would be a normal situation, MP Mindaugas Puidokas, one of the authors of the bill, said, “It is always better to make a step forward than make no step or made a step back. It is legislators’ duty to adhere to the Constitution. Based on the current interpretations, we could not adopt other decisions.”

Puidokas described the committee’s decision as a compromise that is supported by President Grybauskaitė and most of the lawmakers of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU).

“Obviously, the president backs this solution, because it is based on laws. Likewise, I think that there will be broad support for the compromise option in our political group,” he told BNS.

However, the proposal is not line with Skvernelis’ promise to Beata Szydlo that the same rules would apply both to members of mixed families and to ethnic Poles in Lithuania.

“As to documents, I just mentioned that we had a decision concerning not only the Polish ethnic minority. We are, first and foremost, talking about our citizens who have mixed marriages and have the right to take their spouse’s surname in its original form. There can be no discrimination. The same principles will apply to the Polish ethnic minority,” the Lithuanian prime minister told BNS after meeting with his Polish counterpart last month.

Daiva Vaišnienė, chairwoman of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language, has said that the language watchdog does not have sufficient information to give its opinion on whether Latin-based non-Lithuanian characters could be used for Polish names on the main page of a Lithuanian passport.

Some also question the proposal to allow using Polish diacritics, such as Ł, on the second page of one’s passport. Critics say that this might hamper the work of registry offices.

The rules in place since 1991 allow using only the letters of the Lithuanian alphabet for citizens’ first and last names in documents.

The Constitutional Court had long held a stance that the main entry on a passport had to be in Lithuanian characters and the original form could be added as an additional entry. The court somewhat expanded the scope of regulation by saying that the name-spelling rules could be changed if the language commission proposed to so do.

Ordinary courts also began to change the situation several years ago when they ordered on several occasions to use “x”, “w” and “q” in documents of Lithuanian citizens from mixed families.

The parliament’s committees are currently discussing several alternative bills on the spelling of names in documents. The Committee on Human Rights has taken a different position and proposes to allow ethnic Poles to have their names spelt in Polish on the main page of their passports.

The committees on foreign affairs and human rights have an advisory role on the name-spelling issue. The Committee on Legal Affairs, the lead committee on this matter, has not yet announced its position.

Around 200,000 ethnic Poles live in Lithuania, mostly in the districts of Šalčininkai and Vilnius.

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