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Thursday, 05.12.2013, 09:08
Edward Lucas: lambs and lions in Poland and Lithuania
A glimmer of light is visible in the unhappiest bilateral relationship in the European Union – that between Poland and Lithuania. It comes after Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, talking to a diaspora audience in Chicago, claimed that her country was one of the "sacrificial lambs" that Poland was offering up in its new friendship with Russia. Given that Polish warplanes are right now defending Lithuanian airspace as part of NATO's air policing rota, that seemed spectacularly ungrateful, europeanvoice.com quotes Lucas.
The man in the middle is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's commissioner for national minorities, Knut Vollebaek. To his credit, he has won the confidence of both sides. Protagonists in the dispute demand total agreement from outsiders; any suggestion that the other side has a case prompts grumpy allegations of bias, says Lucas.
Vollebaek has produced a series of detailed recommendations about the treatment of Lithuanians in Poland and Poles in Lithuania, writes LETA/ELTA.
The recommendations are private. But Poland is already making three unilateral concessions. One is to publicise the scope under existing law for the Lithuanians living in Poland to write their names in official documents using Lithuanian letters. That sounds trivial, but the dispute about orthography has proved poisonous. Lithuania (citing the constitutional protection enjoyed by the Lithuanian language) is unwilling to give its ethnic-Polish citizens full rights to use Polish letters in official documents.
According to Lucas, A second is to lower the cut-off point at which a minority gets special legal status, from 20 percent to below 18 percent (this would allow the Lithuanians in the region of north-eastern Poland, where they mostly live, to qualify). A third is to re-jig the rules for the Karta Polaka (Pole's Card). This is a document that gives ethnic Poles living in the former Soviet Union some privileges, chiefly travel rights to Poland. Worried that its Polish minority, which makes up around 8 percent of the population, might be a fifth column, Lithuania finds that offensive and even sinister, Lucas says in his article.
For its part, Lithuania has backed down a bit too. It has postponed some proposed changes to the education system. These aimed to teach subjects such as history and geography in Lithuanian in the schools that so far have taught almost all subjects in Polish.
Plenty of other positive steps are possible too, says Lucas. He hints that Poland could make it clear that it is not trying to influence the result of Lithuania's parliamentary elections this autumn. And Lithuania's government could adopt the European convention on regional and minority languages, europeanvoice.com said.