Lt

On printing referendum ballot-papers in the state language

Case No 25/03

 

 

THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA

 

RULING

ON THE COMPLIANCE OF PARAGRAPH 6 (WORDING OF 10 APRIL 2003) OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA’S LAW ON THE CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION WITH THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA

 

10 May 2006

Vilnius

 

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, composed of the Justices of the Constitutional Court: Armanas Abramavičius, Toma Birmontienė, Egidijus Kūris, Kęstutis Lapinskas, Zenonas Namavičius, Ramutė Ruškytė, Vytautas Sinkevičius, Stasys Stačiokas, and Romualdas Kęstutis Urbaitis

The court reporter—Daiva Pitrėnaitė

Seimas members Jurgis Razma and Stanislovas Buškevičius, acting as the representatives of a group of members of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the petitioner

Audronė Ožiūnienė, advisor of the Legal Department of the Office of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, acting as the representative of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the party concerned

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, pursuant to Articles 102 and 105 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Article 1 of the Law on the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, in its public hearing, on 9 May 2006, considered case No. 25/03 subsequent to the petition of a group of members of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the petitioner, requesting an investigation into whether the Republic of Lithuania’s Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on Central Electoral Commission is not in conflict with Articles 14 and 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

The Constitutional Court

has established:

I

A group of members of the Seimas, the petitioner, applied to the Constitutional Court with the petition requesting an investigation into whether the Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on Central Electoral Commission (Official Gazette Valstybės žinios, 2003, No. 38-1737) is not in conflict with Articles 14 and 29 of the Constitution.

II

The petition of the petitioner is based on the argument that, even though the referendum ballot-paper is an official document, which must be written in the state language only, but, according to the Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission, the Central Electoral Commission must organise an additional printing of referendum ballot-papers, which, along with the text of the referendum ballot-paper in the state language, contain the translation of the said text into the language of a corresponding national minority which has been traditionally largely residing on the municipal territory. In the opinion of the petitioner, this violates both Article 14 of the Constitution, which obliges the use of the state language in public life, and the principle of equal rights of persons, which is established in Article 29, because respective exceptional rights are granted only to the national minority groups using the Polish and Russian languages, the only groups that have a lot of representatives and they live concentrated.

III

In the course of the preparation of the case for the hearing of the Constitutional Court, written explanations were received from A. Ožiūnienė, the representative of the Seimas, the party concerned, in which it is stated that the impugned law is not in conflict with the Constitution. The position of the representative of the party concerned is based on the following arguments.

1. The said law is designated for implementation of the provisions of Article 33 of the Constitution and for provision to the citizens with as many possibilities as possible to express their political will and choice in the referendum on the participation of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations.

2. The possibility of using translation into one or other language together with the text in the state language is established in other laws as well. The impugned law does not deny the principle of the Lithuanian language, as the state language, because the text of the referendum ballot-paper is provided in the state language; along with that there is a text in the language of a corresponding national minority which has been traditionally largely residing on the municipal territory—it is merely a translation of the referendum ballot-paper text. When the voting is carried out by referendum ballot-papers, in all of which together with the text in the state language there is its translation into the language of a respective national minority, the rights of no people are either limited or extended, none of the voters gain privileges in regard of other voters.

IV

In the course of the preparation of the case for the hearing of the Constitutional Court, written explanations were received from G. Švedas, the Vice-minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania, S. Vidtmann, Deputy Director General of the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, D. Smalinskas, Head of the State Language Inspectorate, and V. Valeckaitė, Deputy Director of the Law Institute.

V

1. At the hearing of the Constitutional Court, the representatives of a group of members of the Seimas, the petitioner, who were Seimas members J. Razma and S. Buškevičius, virtually repeated the arguments stated in the petition of the petitioner.

2. At the hearing of the Constitutional Court, A. Ožiūnienė, the representative of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the party concerned, virtually repeated the arguments stated in her written explanations.

The Constitutional Court

holds that:

1. On 20 June 2002, the Seimas adopted the Republic of Lithuania’s Law on the Central Electoral Commission (hereinafter also referred to as the Law), which came into force on 1 August 2002. The Law was supplemented by the Republic of Lithuania’s Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission, which was adopted by the Seimas on 28 January 2003.

2. On 10 April 2003, the Seimas adopted the Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission, which came into force on 24 April 2003. By Article 1 of this law, Paragraph 6 of Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission was supplemented with Item 5, in which it is prescribed that, while conducting referendums, the Central Electoral Commission shall organise an additional printing of ballot-papers of a referendum on the participation of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations, which shall, along with the text of a referendum ballot-paper in the state language, contain the translation of the said text into the language of a national minority which has been traditionally largely residing on the municipal territory and that these ballot-papers shall be used when voting in those referendum districts which are traditionally largely inhabited by a national minority, as well as when voting at post offices of cities and districts.

Later on the Law on the Central Electoral Commission was amended and supplemented by the Law on Amending Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission adopted by the Seimas on 15 May 2003 and the Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission adopted by the Seimas on 11 May 2004, but Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003) of Article 3 of the Law was not amended and/or supplemented.

3. The petitioner requests an investigation into whether the Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission adopted by the Seimas on 10 April 2003 is not in conflict with Articles 14 and 29 of the Constitution. Since by Article 1 of the Law on Supplementing Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission adopted by the Seimas on 10 April 2003 Paragraph 6 of Article 3 (wording of 28 January 2003) of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission was supplemented with Item 5, it should be held that the petitioner faced a doubt, whether the provisions “When conducting referendums <...> the Central Electoral Commission <...> 5) shall organise an additional printing of ballot-papers of a referendum on the participation of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations. Such ballot-papers shall, along with the text of a referendum ballot-paper in the state language, contain the translation of the said text into the language of a national minority which has been traditionally largely residing on the municipal territory. These ballot-papers shall be used when voting in those referendum districts which are traditionally largely inhabited by a national minority, as well as voting at post offices of cities and districts” of Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003) of Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission are not conflict with Articles 14 and 29 of the Constitution.

4. When deciding whether the impugned provisions are not in conflict with Article 14 of the Constitution, which prescribes that Lithuanian shall be the state language, it should be noted that, as held by the Constitutional Court in its ruling of 21 October 1999, The establishment of the status of the state language in the Constitution means that Lithuanian is a constitutional value. The state language preserves the identity of the nation, it integrates a civil nation, it ensures the expression of national sovereignty, the integrity and indivisibility of the state, and the smooth functioning of the state and municipal establishments. The state language is an important guarantee for the equality of rights of citizens as it enables all the citizens to associate with state and municipal establishments under the same conditions and to implement their rights and legitimate interests. The constitutional establishment of the status of state language also means that the legislature must establish by law that the use of this language is ensured in public life, and, in addition, it must provide for the means of the protection of the state language. Lithuanian, after it has acquired the status of the state language in the Constitution, must be used in all state and municipal institutions and in all establishments, enterprises and organisation which are on the territory of Lithuania; laws and other legal acts must be published in the state language; office-work, accounting, accountabilities and financial papers must be in Lithuanian; state and municipal institutions, establishments, enterprises and organisations correspond with each other in the state language”.

Therefore, according to the Constitution, the Lithuanian language, as the state language, is a means of public expression and internal communication of state and municipal institutions as well as communication with members of the community. It is an important element of the statehood, a factor uniting all citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, integrating the state community—the civil Nation—because it ensures equal opportunities for all citizens of the state to participate in the governance of their country, to make decisions of national importance, also the right to enter on equal terms in the state service. The knowledge of the state language is a prerequisite and a necessary condition for the fully-fledged participation of the citizens in the governance of the state.

On the other hand, the constitutional status of the state language also means that the state language must be used only in public life of Lithuania; in other spheres of life persons can freely use any other language acceptable for them. In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue it should be stated that writing official documents in the state language does not deny the rights of the persons regarding themselves as belonging to national minorities to write, read and communicate in any other language, if this is not related with the sphere of use of the state language determined in the Constitution.

In this context, it should be mentioned that it is established in Paragraph 2 of Article 117 of the Constitution that in the Republic of Lithuania court proceedings shall be conducted in the state language, and Paragraph 3 of this articles provides that persons who have no command of Lithuanian shall be guaranteed the right to participate in the investigation and court acts through a translator.

5. It should also be noted that “only citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, i.e. the state community—the civil Nation—have the right to create the State of Lithuania, i.e. only citizens have the right to decide as to what State of Lithuania there must be, to establish the constitutional order of the State of Lithuania, the organisation of institutions implementing state power, the basics of relations between the person and the state, the system of the country’s economy, etc. While implementing the rights and freedoms of citizens, citizens participate in executing the sovereignty of the Nation” (the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 30 December 2003). The Lithuanian civil Nation includes all citizens of the Republic of Lithuania, regardless of the fact whether they belong to the nominal Nation (they are Lithuanians), or to national minorities.

The institute of citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania, the rights and responsibilities of citizens should be construed in the context of the concept of public spirit, as a constitutional value. Public spirit is a constitutional principle, closely related, inter alia, to the constitutional principle of a state under the rule of law (the Constitutional Court’s rulings of 25 May 2004 and 13 December 2004). The Constitutional Court, while construing the constitutional institute of the citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania (inter alia, the acquisition of citizenship according to the Constitution), has stated that “permanent residence in the state during a certain time period established in the law and knowledge of the state language are necessary pre-conditions for a foreigner or a stateless person to integrate himself into the society, to perceive the mentality of the Nation and its strivings, the constitutional order of the state, to get acquainted with the history, culture, customs and traditions of the Nation and the state, to be prepared to take responsibility for the present and the future of the state” and that “it is due to this that it is not sufficient for a citizen of a foreign state or a stateless person who wishes to acquire citizenship merely to settle in this country—for this reason one has to reside permanently in the state for a longer time period, which is established in the law, and to know the state language” (the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 30 December 2003). It is obvious that knowledge and use of the state language in public life of Lithuania for the citizens of the Republic of Lithuania is (no less important than for the foreigners, willing to acquire the citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania) a constitutional imperative, even if one takes into consideration the fact that (as described in the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 30 December 2003) “an absolute majority of persons are citizens not because they have expressed their wish to be citizens of the state but because they are linked with the state by means of a certain objective relation: their parents (one of parents) were citizens of that state”. It is impossible to deny the fact that a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania who does not know the state language has not fully integrated into the society of Lithuania. Integration into the society of Lithuania, becoming a fully-fledged member of the state community—the civil Nation—is related to respective efforts, including learning the state language (if the person does not know it). If a citizen, who does not know the state language, does not try to learn it (even though there are no objective reasons why he would not be able to do that), this certifies that he lacks public spirit. The Constitution implies such concept of public spirit and such relation between the public spirit and the state language as constitutional values, so that the person’s striving to participate in the governance of his country, in making decisions of national significance, also the right to enter on equal terms in the state service, the striving for being a fully-fledged member of state community—the civil Nation—are a stimulus as a matter of course for a person to know the state language well and not vice versa, i.e. that the person is artificially prompted to participate in the governance of his country, to make decisions of national significance, even though he, especially due to the fact that he does know the state language, is not sufficiently integrated into the Lithuanian society, therefore, is not a fully-fledged member of the state community—the civil Nation.

6. Making decisions of national significance, inter alia, by means of voting by citizens of the Republic of Lithuania in referendums, during which, as it is established in Paragraph 1 of Article 9 of the Constitution, the most significant issues concerning the life of the state and the Nation are decided, is an exceptional sphere of use of the state language. The knowledge of the state language is also a precondition for the implementation of the constitutional right of every citizen of the Republic of Lithuania to vote in the referendums. The Constitution does not imply that citizens, who do not know the state language, must be provided with or can be provided with any special and facilitated conditions for participating in the governance of their country, inter alia, that such citizens must be in any way more and artificially prompted to participate in the referendums or other voting, in which decisions of state importance are made.

Due to that referendum ballot-papers must be printed only in the state language. Otherwise, the constitutional concept of the state language would be ignored, which presupposes namely the use of the state language when making decisions of national significance, also deviation would be made from the imperative of public spirit arising from the Constitution, and from the concept of the state community—the civil Nation—established in the Constitution.

7. Moreover, it is commonly recognised that in the referendum ballot-papers, no matter on what issue the referendum is conducted, the questions must be formulated so that they would be understandable to every voter. In the context of the constitutional justice case at issue, it should be stated that, as regards the linguistic expression, these questions are not complicated, confusing and do not require the voter to possess any special language knowledge. During the referendums the voters are presented a certain question, which, from the linguistic point of view, is neither complicated nor confusingly formulated, to which it is necessary to answer only “yes” or “no”. If there is more than one question, each question in the referendum ballot-paper has to be formulated separately and a separate answer should be provided to every question. It is very doubtful whether a person, who does not understand a question (questions) that is formulated in such a simple way namely because he does not know the state language, has enough information about the public life in the Republic of Lithuania, so that he could make a rational decision, how to answer the referendum question; in fact, most probably it would not be possible to reason that such a citizen (maybe except certain exceptions) is capable of understanding the goals of the Nation and is ready to undertake the responsibility for the presence and future of the State of Lithuania. Artificial additional prompting for such citizens to participate in the referendums or other voting, during which decisions of national importance are made (also creating possibilities for them to express their will during the referendum not in the state language, which they do not know), would equal to entrusting making decisions on respective issues of national significance to a certain extent to the people who, as mentioned above, are not sufficiently integrated into the society of Lithuania, and who are not fully-fledged members of the state community—the civil Nation—(and who do not try to become such members) and who lack public spirit.

8. The construction (based on, inter alia, the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, formulated in the previous cases of constitutional jurisdiction) of Article 14 of the Constitution provided in this ruling of the Constitutional Court and the requirement arising from such construction (and from the constitutional concept of public spirit and the state community—the civil Nation) to print the referendum ballot-papers only in the state language are completely compatible with the provision of Article 37 of the Constitution that citizens belonging to ethnic communities shall have the right to foster their language, culture, and customs, also with the provisions of Article 45 of the Constitution, stating that ethnic communities of citizens shall independently manage the affairs of their ethnic culture, education, charity, and mutual assistance and that ethnic communities shall be provided support by the state, because these provisions, establishing the right of the ethnic communities to foster their culture, customs and language, to be provided support by the state, do not mean that their interests can be opposed to the common interests of the State of Lithuania in the territory of which the respective ethnic communities reside, nor those of the whole society and the civil Nation. The constitutional consolidation of the state language, the requirement to pay heed to the constitutional imperative of the state language, inter alia, when decisions of national importance are made, cannot be construed as purportedly violating the rights of the national minorities. On the contrary, as mentioned above, knowing the state language ensures equal rights of all citizens of the state. As it was stated in the Constitutional Court’s ruling of 13 December 2004, “the nationality of an individual (including the relations with the officials and state servants of the state or municipal institution) may not serve as the basis for him to demand that the rules arising from the status of the state language be not applied as far as he is concerned; otherwise, the constitutional principle of equality of all persons before the law, the court, state institutions and officials would be violated”.

9. It should be stated that the provided construction of Article 14 of the Constitution and the requirement to print referendum ballot-papers only in the state language are also compatible with the international commitments of the Republic of Lithuania, therefore, they do not compete with the imperative arising from the Constitution to follow international commitments undertaken voluntarily, to respect universally recognised principles of international law (including also the principle pacta sunt servanda), which, as the Constitutional Court stated in its ruling of 14 March 2006, is a legal tradition and a constitutional principle of the independent State of Lithuania.

10. By the impugned provisions of Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003) of Article 3 of the Law, the Central Electoral Commission is assigned, when it conducts the referendum on the participation of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations, to organise the printing of referendum ballot-papers, i.e. official documents, not only in the state, but also in another language (other languages). This means that, as the citizens in a referendum decide upon the membership of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations, i.e. upon an undoubtedly significant issue of national importance, according to the Law in certain parts of the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, along with the state language another language (other languages) should be used as well. In this way one ignores the constitutional concept of the state language, which namely implies the use of the state language while making decisions of national importance and writing the official documents namely in the state language, also deviation is made from the imperative of public spirit arising from the Constitution and from the concept of the national community—the civil Nation—which is consolidated in the Constitution.

11. Taking into consideration the arguments set forth, the conclusion should be drawn that the provisions “When conducting referendums <...> the Central Electoral Commission <...> 5) shall organise an additional printing of ballot-papers of a referendum on the participation of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations. Such ballot-papers shall, along with the text of a referendum ballot-paper in the state language, contain the translation of the said text into the language of a national minority which has been traditionally largely residing on the municipal territory. These ballot-papers shall be used when voting in those referendum districts which are traditionally largely inhabited by a national minority, as well as voting at post offices of cities and districts” of Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003) of Article 3 of the Law on the Central Electoral Commission are in conflict with Article 14 of the Constitution.

12. Having held this, in the constitutional justice case at issue the Constitutional Court will not further investigate whether the said provisions of Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003) of Article 3 of the Law are not in conflict with Article 29 of the Constitution.

13. It should be stated that the impugned provisions of the Law were applied on 10–11 May 2003 when the mandatory referendum on the Membership of the Republic of Lithuania in the European Union was carried out. Its results were officially published on 15 May 2003 in the official gazette “Valstybės žinios” and created legal consequences.

In itself, the fact that the impugned provisions of Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003) of Article 3 of the Law on Central Electoral Commission are recognised to be in conflict with the Constitution by this ruling of the Constitutional Court shall not be the grounds to question the results of the above-mentioned referendum nor the legal consequences created by them.

Conforming to Articles 102 and 105 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and Articles 1, 53, 54, 55 and 56 of the Law on the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania gives the following

ruling:

To recognise that the provisions “When conducting referendums <...> the Central Electoral Commission <...> 5) shall organise an additional printing of ballot-papers of a referendum on the participation of the Republic of Lithuania in international organisations. Such ballot-papers shall, along with the text of a referendum ballot-paper in the state language, contain the translation of the said text into the language of a national minority which has been traditionally largely residing on the municipal territory. These ballot-papers shall be used when voting in those referendum districts which are traditionally largely inhabited by a national minority, as well as voting at post offices of cities and districts” of Paragraph 6 (wording of 10 April 2003; Official Gazette Valstybės žinios, 2003, No. 38-1737) of Article 3 of the Republic of Lithuania’s Law on the Central Electoral Commission are in conflict with Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania.

This ruling of the Constitutional Court is final and not subject to appeal.

The ruling is pronounced in the name of the Republic of Lithuania.

Justices of the Constitutional Court:               Armanas Abramavičius

                                                                                    Toma Birmontienė

                                                                                    Egidijus Kūris

                                                                                    Kęstutis Lapinskas

                                                                                    Zenonas Namavičius

                                                                                    Ramutė Ruškytė

                                                                                    Vytautas Sinkevičius

                                                                                    Stasys Stačiokas

                                                                                    Romualdas Kęstutis Urbaitis