There are thirteen national and ethnic minorities recognised by Polish law. They constitute between 3 and 4% of the Polish population. The representatives of national minorities are: Germans, Ukrainians, Armenians, Belarusians, Russians, Latvians, Slovaks, Jews and Czechs. There are also representatives of four ethnic minorities: Karaims, Łemkowie, Roma and Tatars. In addition, some areas of Pomorskie voivoideship are inhabited by the Kashubian community, speaking the regional language. Polish law defines in detail the rights of national and ethnic minorities.
Article 35 of the Polish Constitution ensures that national and ethnic minorities retain freedom to practice their own traditions and customs, and to use their national language.
The National and Ethnic Minorities and Regional Languages Act was adopted by the Polish Parliament on 6th January 2005. This is the first legal document that gives a precise definition of national and ethnic minorities in Poland. This Act describes “national minorities” as those groups who identify themselves with an established country/nation i.e., Germans, Ukrainians, Jews etc. It also defines “ethnic minorities” as those who do not have their own country – those who are state-less such as the Roma people. Other points of the legal definition are common for both types of minorities.
This Act is perceived as controversial by many experts, politicians and social activists. Some of its items provoked a discussion about the situation of new minorities e.g. the Vietnamese. The National and Ethnic Minorities and Regional Languages Act emphasises that a foreign community can only be recognised as a national and ethnic minority if its ancestors had lived in Poland for at least a hundred years. Currently, the Vietnamese are a significant and continually increasing community in major Polish cities. They do not, however, enjoy equal rights with other, officially acknowledged minorities. The law has been criticised for not including such communities.
The only minority group with parliamentary representation are the Germans (two deputies in the Lower Chamber). Other communities have their representatives in local governments. In a few communes in various regions of the country, German and Lithuanian obtained a status of “auxiliary languages” and public information is published both in Polish and German or Lithuanian.
Although cultural policies of local governments are quite diversified in different cities and regions, while discussing social inclusion it is difficult to ignore that recently some local authorities adopted resolutions against so-called ‘LGBT ideology’. These resolutions serve more as political declarations than actual acts of legislature. Nevertheless, they are widely criticised as unconstitutional and openly discriminatory.