News

2017.01.31 14:27

Court opens case of bilingual street plaques in Vilnius

Algirdas Acus 2017.01.31 14:27

On Monday, Lithuanian Government brought case against the Vilnius Municipality for introducing duplicate non-Lithuanian  plaques, which are ‘merely decorative friendly elements’, in Vilnius Mayor’s opinion.

A Vilnius court, on Monday, opened hearings into the bilingual street signs in the Lithuanian capital.
The Government's representative in the Vilnius County, Vilda Vaičiūnienė, who took the case to the court, says that non-Lithuanian signs violate the law and may instigate hatred.
 

‘I observe ethnic hatred in public press, in commentaries there, in commentaries by residents, to say noting that so many people addressed us with their complaints. Therefore, the example of putting up these plaques probably instigates rifts in the society and does not create a friendly city,’ says Vaičiūnienė.
 

Vilnius introduced the nine duplicate plaques in foreign languages to honour ethnic minorities that lived here in the past or to honour friendship with other states, such as Iceland which had been the first to recognize independent Lithuania, after it broke away from the Soviet Union.
 

Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius insists that plaques are merely a decorative element.
 

‘We did discuss the implementation of this project with the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language and it recommended that the signs should be with traditional national ornaments and every sign should look like a separate object of art. And we did follow that requirement,’ says Šimašius maintaining that the administration did not violate the law on the state language, which is Lithuanian.
 

Last year, administration altogether put up nine plaques that alongside official signs in Lithuanian language duplicate street names in the original language. These signs are: Iceland Street, Russian street, Warsaw Street, Latvian street, German street, Jewish street, Tartar street, Karaites’ street and Washington Square.
‘It makes me wonder what kind of strife it could possibly instigate if the sign of Washington Square in Emglish marks the Washington Square? Unless it would be with Russia, only then I could understand the logic…’ says Mayor Šimašius.
 

Some columnists believe the dispute is mirroring tension over Lithuanian identity, as some still view neighbouring Russia and Poland with suspicion. Before the war Vilnius was called Wilno (in Polish) as it was a part of the northeast Poland.

Lithuania has long experienced tensions, including the issue of bilingual signs, with its vocal and politically-united Polish minority, which makes up to around 7 percent of the country’s population. There are fewer tensions over ethnic Russians, mostly Soviet-period immigrants who make up about 6 percent of the population.

Shots of bilingual plaques on Vilnius streets
Sound bite (Lithuanian)

REMIGIJUS ŠIMAŠIUS, Mayor of Vilnius:

By the way, we did discuss the implementation of this with State Commission of the Lithuanian Language, and it recommended that the signs should be with traditional national ornaments and every sign should look like a separate object of art. And we did follow that requirement. It is a pity that Commission has changed its opinion.
 

Shots of the court
 

Sound bite (Lithuanian)

VILDA VAIČIŪNIENĖ, Government's representative in the Vilnius County:

Look, the municipality can say many things, but in this case it was stressed that exterior elements like those do not have neither necessary visualization nor it was included in construction‘s technical regulations, which is necessary for those items if they pretend to be referred to as elements of the exterior.
 

More shots of bilingual signs
 

Sound bite (Lithuanian)

VILDA VAIČIŪNIENĖ, Government's representative in the Vilnius County:

I observe ethnic hatred in public press, in commentaries there, in commentaries by residents, to say nothing that so many people addressed us with their complaints. Therefore, the example of putting up these signs probably instigates rifts in the society and does not create a friendly city.
 

Sign of Washington square
 

Sound bite (Lithuanian)

REMIGIJUS ŠIMAŠIUS, Mayor of Vilnius:

These signs were put up in honour of our friendship. It makes me wonder what kind of strife it could possibly instigate if the sign of Washington Square in English marks the Washington Square? Unless it would be with Russia, only then I could understand the logic…