Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz has called on Lithuania to amend its legislation so that ethnic minority parties do not have to reach the threshold of votes needed to enter the Seimas.
Jacek Czaputowicz
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According to Czaputowicz, the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA) would not need to pander to local Russian voters and partner with ethnic Russian parties if they did not have to pass that threshold.

"I think it would be good, because the Polish minority would be safer. Sometimes they use an argument when they discuss it with us that they are forced to make coalitions with the Russian minority. It is not good. I think it is a bad situation because we know that Russia is perceived as a threat to both countries," the Polish minister said in an interview with BNS during his visit to Vilnius on Thursday.

"But when we speak with the Polish minority, we understand them, because sometimes it is a guarantee for them to be in the parliament. But if they go on their own, it would be better," Czaputowicz said.

"I think it would be good if there were no such threshold," he added.

Czaputowicz said he discussed the issue with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.

Currently, any political party that runs in elections must receive at least 5 percent of the national vote in the multi-member constituency to be allocated seats in the Seimas and a coalition must pass a 7 percent threshold.

The foreign minister also called on Lithuania to improve the education situation for its Polish minority.

"If there is good education in Polish, Polish kids will not go to Russian schools. So we have to strengthen it, because it is important for Lithuania that its citizens are loyal to the country and its foreign policy," he said.

Did you hear a promise from Lithuanian politicians to veto EU sanctions against Poland over rule of law violations?

What I heard is that Lithuania's policy is consistent. We do not see the possibility of a vote on sanctions taking place at all. We have discussed (the situation) in the council and there has been a hearing in the council. But not only Lithuania. Many other countries are against pursuing that way.

The European Commission decided to take legal steps (and turn) to the European Court of Justice. We accept that. (...) We say that our reforms are in accordance with European values. We have the sovereign right to reform our judiciary system. The aim of this reform is to strengthen it, to make it more independent, and we will defend it.

I expressed that position in talks with the Lithuanian president and the foreign minister, and what I hear was the voice of solidarity. (I heard) that Lithuania will do all it can to avoid voting at all and is standing for discussion and dialogue.

You said in the joint press conference with the Lithuanian foreign minister that Poland will veto any EU measures against Hungary. Why do you oppose sanctions against Budapest?

We think that countries from our region are sometimes under pressure from European institutions that we have to observe treaties. But it is up for countries to reform their systems and if there was a legitimate election and the government was created to reform the systems, these governments have the right.

I think that other countries will also be very reluctant to use Article 7. Article 7 is used to blame some countries, which want to pursue their sovereign policy and it is being used as a political instrument. We know it, because it was used against Poland. So, we would like to demonstrate solidarity with Hungary.

Definitely, we would veto any sanctions, but I don't think it will come to the decision. There will be other countries from that region that will argue that it is not justified and there are no serious threats to the rule of law.

If the commission has a doubt or the parliament has a doubt, they should go with the case to the European Court of Justice. This is the institutions to decide, (...) because this institution was created to make decisions about the law.

Regarding other topics. You said today what you expect Lithuania to improve the situation of the Polish minority here. But can you assure us that Lithuanians in Poland will get a kindergarten in Suwalki? That's what they are asking for right now.

But it is not that we want kindergartens being financed by the Lithuanian government for Polish kids. We rather ask to implement our bilateral treaty concerning minorities and also international commitments, which means using their names in the way they would use them originally. If you look at that issue, Lithuanians in Poland can use their letters, their original names. Another issue is using the topographic names in two languages. If you visit regions in Poland inhabited by a minority, either Lithuanians or Germans, you can find names in their languages.

Another issue is returning back property which was nationalized here. We do not have such problems with the Lithuanian minority in Poland.

Also, we do not have a threshold in elections for minorities. So there are always representatives of the German minority in the Polish parliament. Here in Lithuania the minority has to face the situation with a threshold, like other parties. It is not a good standard.

Do you want Lithuania to change this standard?

I think it would be good, because the Polish minority would be safer. Sometimes they use an argument when they discuss it with us that they are forced to make coalitions with the Russian minority. It is not good. I think it is a bad situation because we know that Russia is perceived as a threat to both countries.

But when we speak with the Polish minority, we understand them, because sometimes it is a guarantee for them to be in the parliament. But if they go on their own, it would be better.

So do you want Lithuania to discard this threshold at all or to just lower it?

It is what we discussed with the prime minister and I raised this issue that the Polish minority sometimes are closer to Russia, which we do not support.

So do you want Lithuania to remove this threshold? Yes or no?

I think it would be good if there were no such threshold. (...)

In any case, the problems you are speaking about have not disappeared, have they? The Lithuanian polish minority still can't write their original names in the passports and the problem of bilingual topographic names still remains. So what has changed in the past years to lead to the noticeable improvement in the bilateral situation between Lithuania and Poland that we have seen?

We see some positive steps; some promises will be discussed. There were some signals of a window to improve situation.

First, five Polish TV programs are broadcast here, which allows Poles to follow Polish culture, the Polish language. It is much better than watching Russian TV.

Second, during the visit of the Polish minister of education, they decided to create a commission of experts to look at certain issues, which I discussed today with both the prime minister and the foreign minister.

There is also in a law registered in the parliament on using the original names. We just treat it as good gestures and we believe in the continuation of that. At the same time, we have common interests in developing energy security, air policing -- we will be involved in this starting January once again. We are cooperating in the EU. That is a good place for cooperation.

How much impact the improvement of business conditions for Orlen Lietuva has had on bilateral relations?

We appreciate that the Lithuania government follows the decision to rebuild a railway. Of course, it is very important for the effectiveness and profitability of Orlen Lietuva investments here, because it is not understood in Poland why Lithuania is inviting other investors at the same time, when you have Polish companies in much worse conditions than others. So it was an important gesture. (...).

Polish Ambassador Urszula Doroszewska said in 2017 that it was no appropriate to celebrate May 9, but Valdemar Tomasevski, the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA) does so. Polish prosecutors investigated the Association of Poles in Lithuania, which is headed by Michal Mackevic of (EAPL-CFA). Do you trust the party?

When answering the previous questions, I told you what they say about this cooperation with Russians. It is your law concerning electoral systems that forces them and they have to defend their rights together with other minority. (...) But, of course, we are aware of this dispute and we fully support our ambassador, and she represents our position.

If there is something that needs an investigation, it will be done. But generally, the argument is that they have to defend the rights of Poles, because they are being limited here in names, education and so on. (...). There is a problem with accountability to Polish institutions providing some support.

But it has nothing to do with political activity. Political activity is on their own account and I, as I have said, their opinion is that their alliance partly may be caused by them being forced (...) to unite with the Russian minority because of the electoral system which is not in accordance with European standards.

So, we have to end this argument if there is a possibility to do that. If the law is changed, at least they would not be able to use it as an argument.

Maybe there will be some elder people who will remain close to them (Russians), because they get used. If there is good education in Polish, Polish kids will not go to Russian schools. So we have to strengthen it, because it is important for Lithuania that its citizens are loyal to the country and its foreign policy.

Thank you for the interview.

BNS
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