Lithuanian justice minister changes to Polish spelling of name under new law

Lithuania’s justice minister, who hails from the country’s large ethnic Polish minority, has celebrated the fact that she is finally able to officially use the Polish spelling of her name after an amendment to the country’s law.

“Thirty-three years, 130 lawsuits [representing people fighting for the Polish spelling of their names], two years in politics: it took me that long to write my name in its original form,” wrote Ewelina Dobrowolska, 33, on Facebook alongside an image of the new spelling of her name in Lithuania’s official register.

Previously, the minister had been known officially as Evelina Dobrovolska, using the Lithuanian spelling of her name (which replaces the Polish “w” – a letter that does not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet – with “v”).

That was because, under a resolution from 1991, Lithuanian spelling had to be used in official documents. However, at the start of this month that rule was amended, allowing the use of non-Lithuanian spelling, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

That is a change long demanded by many in the country’s Polish community, which, with around 183,000 members (6.5% of the population) according to last year’s national census, is the country’s largest ethnic minority.

The new rules allows not only non-Lithuanian letters to be used, but also combinations of letters than do not exist in Lithuanian, such as “cz” and “rz” (which commonly appear in Polish names) and a double “n” (meaning that the Polish name “Anna” no longer has to be rendered as “Ana”).

In her post, Dobrowolska – who has served as justice minister since 2020 – emphasises that “my Polish first name and surname do not in any way deny my oath and loyalty to Lithuania”.

“I am a Lithuanian Pole,” she wrote. “A Lithuanian citizen who passed the state Lithuanian language exam with 100% despite her native Polish language. A Lithuanian Pole who swore [an oath] to Lithuania and works every day for the rule of law and human rights in our country.”

“Lithuania is created by people of different cultures and nationalities, and that is our strength,” she continued. “This allowed us to open our homes to the people of Ukraine without even hesitation.”

The change to Lithuania’s naming rules has, however, aroused controversy. The Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, a conservative opposition party, has referred the issue to the constitutional court, notes PAP.

“Huge damage has been done to the statehood and territorial integrity of Lithuania,” said one of its MPs, Eugenijus Jovaiša. “Linguistic integrity presupposes territorial integrity.”

Dobrowolska noted that one of her parliamentary colleagues recently told her “don’t change your name”. But “I didn’t change it, I recovered it”, she wrote.

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Main image credit: Lithuanian justice ministry

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