5. Language-related legislation
Constitution of the Republic of Poland was adopted on April 2, 1997, and entered into
force on October 1, 1997. Article 27 addressed the question of the states official
language: "Polish shall be the official language in the Republic of Poland. This
provision shall not infringe upon national minority rights resulting from ratified
international agreements". Article 35 of the Constitution guarantees all "Polish
citizens belonging to national or ethnic minorities the freedom to maintain and develop
their own language, to maintain customs and traditions, and to develop their own
culture" (paragraph 1), and particularly recognises the right "to establish
educational, cultural and religious institutions designed to protect their identity",
as well as "to participate in the resolution of matters connected with their cultural
identity" (paragraph 2).
Constitution, several secondary acts encourage basic protection of national and ethnic
minorities by means of national legislation: The issue of teaching minority languages is
regulated by the 7th September of 1991 Educational System Act. which obliges
public schools to provide facilities for pupils to maintain their sense of national,
ethnic, linguistic and religious identity and above all to provide language instruction.
This instruction may take place in "separate groups, departments, schools",
"groups, departments, schools with optional instruction in language, history and
culture", "in inter-school groups of instruction". The decree of the
Ministry of National Education dated the 3rd of December 2002 stipulates the minimum
number of pupils needed when creating classes (at least 7 for primary school and at least
14 for secondary school), and the number of hours of lessons (3 per week).
using foreign languages in the courts while testifying or during interrogation of
witnesses is possible, as well as communication between the defendant and the court. A
precondition though is lack of knowledge of the Polish language and not being a member of
a national or ethnic minority. (5)
multilateral agreements or international treaties, the Republic of Poland is a signatory
of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and of the European
Charter of Regional or Minority Languages, although only the first has been ratified.
Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was signed by Poland on the 1st
of February of 1995. It was ratified on the 20th of December of 2000, after a
long debate and numerous obstacles all too readily perceived by the parties of the right
wing. Fundamental and beneficial changes in the policy on minorities as well as in the
legal system had been brought about already in the first half of the 90s. Currently the
Polish legal system, both on the national level and on the level of international
commitments, establishes protection of people belonging to ethnic and national minorities,
generally equivalent to the regulations put forward by the Convention. There are, however,
rules included in the Convention which are not reflected in the Polish law. The most
language of a minority in private and in public (art. 10.1)
language of a minority in dealings with public authorities (art. 10.2)
right to put
up private inscriptions in the language of a minority (art. 11.2)
rights which concern spreading knowledge about minority cultures, training teachers for
schools of national minorities, access to textbooks in the language of national minorities
are regulated in the Parliaments projected Law on National and Ethnic Minorities,
which is now on the agenda in Parliament.
currently work being carried out on the Polish legal regulations concerning linguistic
liberties of national minorities. The law contains for example the right to register a
name and a surname according to the spelling conventions of ones mother tongue and
suggestions concerning the issue of putting names of towns and streets in the foreign
language as well as inscriptions on public offices.
for several years Parliament seems unable to make up its mind to pass the law. This
perception of minority problems as a party political tool as a result of bilateral state
policy, has been all too characteristic of many bodies dealing more or less competently
with the minority issues.
One of the two
most important European documents concerning the protection of (national or linguistic)
minorities, is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The European
Charter was signed by the Republic of Poland on May 12, 2003, but still has not been
ratified, since, on the basis of the present Polish legal regulations, the Republic of
Poland is not able to comply to the full extent with the obligations resulting from making
the Charter legally binding.
Poland has also signed bilateral treaties with the neighbouring states (the Federal
Republic of Germany, the former Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, the Ukraine, Republic
of Belarus, Republic of Lithuania) which further guarantee the protection of the rights of
6. Use of languages in other public spheres
regulations have only partial influence on policy towards ethnic minorities. The practice
of public life and the amount of financial resources is decisive here. In Poland,
political actions directed at minorities are performed by the government administration
and concern mainly the cultures. One of the tools of Polish cultural policy towards these
circles is support for the teaching of minority languages, support for the press published
in these languages (a rule has been adopted that every minority should have the financing
of one newspaper guaranteed) and cultural events. An important element of the states
policy is guaranteed access to the public radio and television, (6) which is aimed at strengthening
these communities. There is however no linguistic or cultural policy at a provincial
6.1 Use of languages in education
minorities have schools providing lessons "of" and "in" their mother
tongues: Germans, Jews, Lithuanians, Russians, Slovaks, and Ukrainians. Belarussian,
Lemkish and Kashubian are taught in state schools as an additional language. The lack of
schooling in Romany schools is complicated by the problem of the lower achievement level
of Gypsy Children, connected with the nature of social functioning of this community.
development of the educational system shows signs of sufficient protection existing there,
however in the face of meagre financing and allocation of teachers this education cannot
satisfy all needs.
Use of Languages in the media
minority languages are used in state-subsidized periodicals (in brackets the number of
periodicals is given): German (9), Belarussian (6), Ukrainian (6), Kashubian (5),
Ruthenian (4), Lithuanian (2), Romany (2), Yiddish and Hebrew (2), Slovak (1), and Czech
stations broadcast programs in native languages (in brackets the number of programmes is
given) for Belarussians (from Bialystok - 4), Ukrainian (from Bialystok, Koszalin,
Rzeszˇw, Olsztyn - 4), Germans (from Opole and Katowice - 3), Kashubian (from Gdansk and
Koszalin - 2) and finally Lithuanians (Bialystok -1).
regional TV regularly shows programmes for Germans (from Opole, Katowice, Bialystok - 3),
Belarussians (from Bialystok - 2), Ukrainian (from Bialystok and one country-wide service
from Warsaw - 2), Kashubs (Gdansk - 1), Lithuanians (Bialystok - 1) and Russians and
Gypsies (both from Bialystok - 1).
Conditions of existence of minority and regional languages
minority languages in the territory of Poland differ according to their level of
development, which is determined by numerous linguistic and extra-linguistic factors. To
the first group of factors belong in the first place the numerical force and
organisational state of the minority itself. The first is low in the case of Tartar,
Karaim, Wilamowicean, the Jews and Old Believers. Tartar and Wilamowicean are nearly
extinct in Poland because of the assimilation process in these groups. Yiddish and Hebrew
are disappearing in our country because of the continually diminishing number of their
users. The Old Believers dialect will probably last, considering the well-known
attachment of this group to their religious traditions.
In the case of
less numerous minorities a factor decisive for the development or absence is whether there
exists a state which may act as a support for the minority and assist in the maintenance
and development of the language. Minorities having such a background are Germans in the
first place, who receive substantial support, and Lithuanians, Slovaks, Ukrainians.
Exceptional is the situation of the Byelorussians (White Russians), whose state shows
scant interest in the development of the Byelorussian language. Therefore Polish
Byelorussians must take care of their linguistic interests themselves, as do the Lemkos,
who do not have their own country. The latter must furthermore overcome the resistance of
Ukrainians towards their emancipation.
importance for the maintenance and development of a language can be the Church. For a long
time it has promoted cultivation of the Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Lemkish languages. A
model example is the situation of the Old Believers dialect, the Karaim language and the
language of Polish Armenians and Tartars. However neither Byelorussian nor German has
found church support in the first case the language is as a result endangered, and
in the second the situation has changed only recently. For a longer period of time Slovaks
had problems using their mother tongue in church.
The second group
of factors are socio-linguistic conditions. First should be considered the situation of
nationalities, which while having a particular national identity may not use
their mother tongue in everyday communication (Polish Germans and Slovaks), because they
have lost the ability to use it. They have either for a long time or always used dialects
of other languages in everyday life (for instance Silesian or Spis-Oravian dialects).
Therefore they learn it. Another, more frequent situation is when members of a minority
learn a given language in its standard variant and use its dialect in everyday
communication (Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Byelorussians). The third is a situation when a
dialect which has been used hitherto is gaining or has gained the status of standard
language (Lemkos) or remains the primary language of a group without taking the form of a
codified language (Romany). It depends though on the inherent qualities of a given
language, namely the third condition.
There is then the
case of the Romany language, which consists of widely divergent idioms, whose speakers
live in small communities scattered amongst larger groups. Romany has only just started to
exist in Poland in the written form and is therefore far from codification and plays
exclusively the role of a language of everyday communication (however it is not itself
threatened in its functioning). On the other hand the first possibilities of codification
come into being only when a language becomes a written language and begins to serve as a
platform of communication for various separate groups of a given community (introducing
mass media on a larger scale). Even preliminary codification furthers the introduction a
language in schools (which increases the number of its users and promotes survival)
for example what the Lemkos have been fighting for.
development of a language (in respect of development of all levels of vocabulary) can
bring in its unlimited usage in scientific, economic and administrative institutions.
Those Polish minorities whose languages are official languages of neighbouring countries
can use in an unlimited way its forms created elsewhere, although they may be deprived of
proper opportunities to contribute to this development. The situation is worse for those
minorities which do not have their own state (Lemkos) or whose states take little interest
in the national language (Byelorussians).
Perhaps as a
compensation Byelorussian and Lemkish minorities in Poland are more active in the field of
Poland, as well as
other countries in Central-Eastern Europe, is a different country than it was 15 years
ago. After the restoration of democracy in 1989 new opportunities for groups constituting
national, ethnic, linguistic, confessional (religious) and regional minorities appeared.
Most of them had not only been deprived of any protection or assistance from the state,
but also often overtly persecuted (cf. Majewicz & Wichierkiewicz 1990). Along with the
enlargement, the East European Union is enriched with over 40 new minority languages (16
of them are present on the territory of Poland). The enlargement of the EU on May, 1 2004
can be seen as a new challenge and a new chance for these linguistic minorities.
Since the European
Union is based on democracy and the ideology of cultural and linguistic diversity, all
acceding countries must meet a certain EU standard of non-discrimination. This commitment
is good, but it is not known whether protection of all of new minorities will be possible.
On the other hand, Poland like some other new EU countries is already way ahead of some of
the western nation states in terms of minority protection and linguistic rights. However
the existence of certain legal standards is not sufficient. It needs to be emphasized here
that linguistic rights of minorities are guaranteed in a somewhat different way in each
country. Similarly, no uniform linguistic policy may be identified in the European Union.
Therefore, models for conducting ethnic and linguistic policy for the old and the new
states of the Union are necessary.