Kovno (Jul. 3)
(By Our Kovno Correspondent)
The experience of the Jews of Lithuania in the past few years since the abolition of Jewish autonomy in the country has been one very painful and disheartening. There were times when the Jews of Lithuania sacrificed the most essential of their demands merely for the satisfaction of retaining the Ministry for Jewish Affairs. In retrospect, one is astonished at the amount of energy which the Jews of Lithuania expended on the Jewish Ministry, which after all was of very little use indeed to them. The awakening has come at last, too late, but not without certain gains. And now when the democratic elements of the country are again at the helm of State, the Jews have put forward no demand for a Ministry for Jewish Affairs. They have learned their lesson too well.
At one time the Jews of Lithuania were as proud as peacocks of their Jewish Ministry and they used to dream that they were destined to be a model of Jewish Autonomous Government for the whole world, by the creation of specially friendly and workable relations between the national majority and the national minority. The world they felt would see in their solution the final solution of the national minorities problem as a whole.
This narrowly parochial sense of self-importance has now gone, leaving in its place a very modest and common sense Jewish policy, which is free of all ambitions of creating a sensation in the political world. It is due entirely to this newer, more sober realization of the situation that the Jews of Lithuania have managed wihout difficulty to come to terms with the representatives of Lithuanian democracy, the present democratic Coalition Government.
The Jewish representatives put forward one demand–and one demand only–we want the rights accorded to us in the Lithuanian Constitution.
The new democratic Government of Lithuania did not think even of objecting to so reasonable and just a demand.
The Lithuanian Constitution contains two paragraphs guaranteeing full equality of rights to the Minorities in the matter of their cultural needs, charity institutions and mutual aid activity. It also recognizes the right of the Minorities to create their own national organs to deal with the national problems of the particular national Minority.
A Jewish Ministry is not one of the things recognized in the Constitution. And the insistence of the Jews previously on a Jewish Ministry only brought about the result that the Government deprived them, in addition, of those rights which the Constitution does recognize.
The new Government was returned to power to the cry of restoring the Constitution. The Jews were wise therefore in demanding only the restoring of those of their rights provided for in the Constitution. The Government could do nothing but agree.
This is the reason why the new President of the Republic, Dr. Grinius, in his statement of policy issued on his election, solemnly declared that those paragraphs of the Constitution which relate to the rights of the Minorities are regarded by the new Government as of precisely the same importance as all the other articles of the Constitution, and they would be carried into effect equally with all other articles. The previous Lithuanian Governments in their official declarations never said a word about the rights of the minorities. These were always passed over in complete silence.
The demands of the Lithuanian Jews in the national cultural sphere are as follows:
(1) The restoration of a unified Jewish community.
(2) The passing of a bill legalizing a Jewish National Council (these two demands have already been granted to the Jews of Esthonia).
(3) The setting up at the Ministry of Education of a special department for the Jewish school system, with a Jew at its head. (A department of this character already exists in Latvia)
The first two demands evoked no opposition at all among the Lithuanian Government parties. The third demand, however, called up a certain amount of opposition on the part of one of the Government parties, the Social Democrats, the party which more than any other had obtained a big block of Jewish votes at the election. One Jew, Dr. Epstein, was returned to Parliament as a member of the party and a whole Jewish party, the Zionist Socialists, gave it its official support. The Social Democrats, therefore, claim to represent a certain proportion of the Jewish voters and it says that it cannot consent to full autonomy in Jewish education, because that would mean that the Jewish majority would coerce that part of the Jewish population which the Social Democrats claim to represent.