In September 8th, The European Foundation for Human Rights (EFHR) participated in the discussion festival “Būtent!” in Birštonas, where made a debate on topic “Lithuanian language – is an idol or a alive instrument?”. Mark Adam Harold, Member of the Vilnius City Municipal Council, Audrys Antanaitis, Chairman of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language, political scientist Vytautas Sinica and journalist Rajmund Klonowski shared their opinion at the event. The debate was moderated by a lawyer’s assistant, EFHR lawyer, Evelina Dobrovolska. The participants of the discussion tried to find out, how important is Lithuanian language for our society and how its protection interacts with the rights of people, in particular, the rights of minorities.
During the discussion, various questions were discussed – from the renewal of the law on the state language to the hate speech and the question regarding writing personal names in identity documents. A. Antanaitis noted that the current law on the state language was adopted several decades ago, when the Internet was not widely spread in Lithuania, and therefore it is considerably outdated. According to the chairman of the State Comission of the Lithuanian Language, this law needs to be updated and modernized, since it is the duty of the state. A. Antanaitis also reminded that it is important to control the language spoken in public government level , the state language is regulated in all countries of the world in one way or another. The myth should be abandoned that regulators of the language regulate public or cultural life. Not at all, language regulations are valid just about the public life of the state and the information that must be presented to the citizens of Lithuania. The chairman also encouraged not to create myths where they are not needed. “The Lithuanian language is a living instrument, therefore, we do not want to regulate it, but to develop it. Hundreds of new terms are created each day, the Lithuanian language is one of the official languages of the European Union. If we do not succeed developing it, it will remain the language of the yard as it once remained in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Later we lost the Lithuanian language and we see that without the language, which is one of the state column, the state of Lithuania was no longer able to cope with the challenges of that period and results of this process are visible now. “Asked why the Lithuanian language is now restricted to developed, chairman answered that nobody has been restraining it lately, but opposingly is trying to create the best possible conditions for it to be contemporary language. „ The Lithuanian language has been functioning for many centuries, but the state language was only for 50 years, which led to the fading away of the language. Because of this, it’s natural that the state must think about fostering the state language, but of course not about exaggerating regulation. ” In response to the question, Vytautas Sinica also mentioned that different phase of regulating language is a search for a common sense. On one hand, the linguistic commission’s response to the naturally occurring processes in the speech can be regarded as regulation, that might lead to language underdevelopment, but it have to be understood that this is a necessary tool, since otherwise even curse words will be used normally. Another extreme is to “tune in” the language and ban everything. “Language needs to evolve, but it needs to do it from itself.”
Mark Adam Harold said during the debate that it’s impossible to be creative if you can not play with the language – “it’s impossible to create something new”. He also drew attention to sometimes exaggerated need of Lithuanians to correct people who make the mistakes, but at the same time he noticed that he did not learn Lithuanian in spite of beauty or a structure. The desire to learn the language appeared because he liked to be in Lithuania and communicate with people. Mrs A. Harold has indicated that there are people who want to learn how to speak Lithuanian due to the attractiveness of the culture, and therefore he raises the question of whether culture should be fostered, rather than protect the language, which in itself is not effective.
According to Vytautas Sinica, the Lithuanian language will not disappear merely because it will not be protected or careless, its prestige will not be the object of state concern. The more important question is what the Lithuanian language will be like, its status and the relationship between ours as citizens and their users, whether it is actually used wherever we can, or whether we are not ashamed of it. “The more the public cares and takes pride in its language, tends to use it, because it is the subject of the pride, the less regulation is required. The ambition is to use the language, to learn and to take pride on it. ”
Speaking about the use of alienations in daily speech, Rajmund Klonowski noted that this should not be feared, because usage of it is a normal process. In response to the main question of the discussion, R. Klonowski noticed that language is a living organism, therefore, it is appealing to times, circumstances, other factors, it lives as long as it has the freedom to live. “The line of defense for every language is conscious users.”
The opinions of the participants while discussing the linguistic minorities rights did not coincide. Taking into account the historical context, part of people was in favour to accept bilingual street name plates and original spelling o the surnames; others favoured the dominance of the state language, and gave more symbolic significance to the demands of national minorities. The question of the spelling of personal names was the most popular one and among the audience – the chairman of the Commission and other participants of the discussion tried to answer the audience questions about why the state regulates parts of private life, such as the writing of surnames and why it is the Language Commission that decides whether the name is suitable for registration or not.
Summing up the discussion and answering the question, how do you imagine the Lithuanian language after 30 years and whether there is a place for migrants, ethnic minorities and Lithuanians together with the protection of the state language, the participants of the discussion were optimistic. A. Antanaitis confidently indicated that Lithuanian will flourish and will integrate Lithuanian citizens. Vytautas Sinica contributed to these words, adding that the Lithuanian language would be prospering, which would be desirable for all the inhabitants of Lithuania, who will not decrease but only increase their number. Rajmund Klonowski noted that language certainly will develop well and hopes that it will be recognized that the protection of the state language does not contradict the legalization of the language rights of national minorities.
EFHR thanks the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Vilnius, which supported the filming and broadcasting of the debate. The European Human Rights Foundation has prepared subtitles for discussions in Lithuanian and Polish, so we hope that the discussion will reach even more audience.