• 2012/09/24

Polish names of streets are an eyesore again

The government established a special working group that developed a new plan aimed at removing the plates with Polish street names. It is planned to place these plates on special poles instead of on the buildings.

Such motives of the government will inevitably affect ethnic minorities in Lithuania, who have spent 20 years now to have street names written in two languages (i.e. Lithuanian and Polish, Belarusian or Russian) in towns densely populated by national minorities (e.g. in Vilnius). However, the Lithuanian government apparently is not interested in solving the problem. After all, signs with Polish street names are still placed, and the administrations of the Vilnius and Šalčininkai regions are constantly punished with high fines.

We’d like to remind that on 8 July 2011 the Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Lithuania introduced new rules to deal with street sings that do not meet the requirements of the Act on the State Language. According to Article 642 of the Code of Civil Procedure, the court’s decision should be executed by those who are mentioned in the writ of execution, namely people covered by the judgment. In this case, according to the Foundation, the addressee of the Supreme Administrative Court’s judgment of 8 July 2011 on illegally placed bilingual topographical names in villages of the Vilnius region is the administration of the Vilnius Region itself. Therefore, the European Foundation of Human Rights believes that the judgments against the local government do not refer to the individual owners of private buildings.

After giving an interview to Kurier Wileński, Radio M1 Plius contacted the Foundation and asked it to issue its opinion on this problem.

During the debate, which was broadcasted on the radio on September 11 this year, the lawyer of the European Foundation of Human Rights, Paweł Nowikiewicz, informed Radio M1 Plius that the international treaties, ratified by the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania, are an integral part of the legal system of Lithuania (Article 138 part 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania). Article 11, part 3 of the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, ratified by Lithuania without reservations, says that countries in areas that are traditionally populated by people who declare their adherence to national minorities should provide signs with topographical names in both state language and minority languages, if there’s a sufficient demand for such indications. The doctrine of International Law is clear, saying that international laws take precedence over national law, if the individual state (being a member of the Convention) ratified specific international legal regulation. ‘Otherwise, another question arises – why should they ratify international instruments at all, if they don’t intend to respected those regulations?’, says the lawyer.

The process of implementation of the Law on National Minorities is still being prolonged. According to the Foundation’s lawyer, adoption of this law would help to solve the problems of national minorities in Lithuania.

The lawyer points out that in 2003 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe submitted comments to Lithuania on the failure of national legislation on the subject. Moreover, in 2008 the Advisory Committee of the Council of Europe appealed to the Lithuanian authorities to take the appropriate measures to protect minorities, including implementation of rules according to which street names could be written in the minority language in line with the Convention. However, the aforementioned observation was not taken into account.

In every country, the way in which it respects and protects minorities in their areas is a factor that determines the level of democracy. The Foundation will pay all efforts to lead to a situation in which human rights in Lithuania, including cases of violation of minority rights, would be actually defended and respected.

Translated by Ewelina Zarembska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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