Amendments for the Bill of National Minorities accepted
There is no act on national minorities in Lithuania since 2010. Discussion of the bill’s premise was listed for deliberations and cancelled at the last moment numerous times. On 17th July 2014 important decisions were taken on that matter, however, the decisions differed from the previous arrangements.
In the last sitting in the spring session, the Lithuanian Parliament [Seimas] accepted the Bill of National Minorities and crossed out the previous premise concerning establishing bilingual street signs in towns and cities where a great number of people belong to minority groups.
82 deputies were in favour of introducing the amendments, 7 against and 11 abstained. The idea was not supported by the representatives of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania and a significant number of deputies from the Labour Party. The amendments introduce the possibility of using the original names of minority organizations and communities along with their Lithuanian-language versions. There is also possibility to write to those institutions in non-Lithuanian language. The institutions will be obliged to provide documentation in their mother tongue. However, the idea of having bilingual street signs was crossed out from the bill.
As we pointed out numerous times, according to the Lithuanian law it is illegal to place bilingual street signs. Invoking the Act on the Official Language (Valstybinės kalbos įstatymas), article 17 states explicitly that the public writings in the Republic of Lithuania have to be written in the official language. Therefore, individuals who hang the above mentioned signs are often punished with very high financial fines. Such behaviour is contrary to the international agreements that Lithuania accepted when it ratified the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. Article 11§3 of the Convention states that „in the regions traditionally ihabited by a significant number of people belonging to national minorities both Parties will try to do everything they can, and according to law, including (where it is necessary) agreements with other countries with concern to their specific needs, the traditional local names, street names and other topographic signs of public nature in the minority language if there is the need for such doing”.
The accepted amendments once again confirm that Lithuania does not wish to fully implement the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities into the National Minorities Act. The Act will be only a facade, behind which there still be matters unregulated but important for the minorities (i.a. bilingual street signs).
Planned acceptance of National Minorities Act will be held during the autumn sitting of the Parliament. However, accepting the current bill on national minorities will not properly protect minority rights. EFHR hopes that until this time the bill will include certain changes, which will accomodate the rights and interests of national minorities, not only the state of Lithuania that aims at maintaining its identity seemingly endangered by minority rights.