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Autumn 2004

Minority protection and linguistic rights in Lithuania, by Markko Kallonen

This paper presents the Lithuanian legislative framework with regard to linguistic rights and minority protection. First the article gives a general overview on minorities in Lithuania, then the focus is moved to the legal framework of the country as it stands today and finally, the article seeks to illustrate the impact which Lithuania’s accession to the European Union had on the status of its minorities and on the linguistic policy its government leads. In the end of the article I will shortly sum up and analyse the current situation.

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1. Introduction
1.1 General information
1.2 National minorities

2. Legislative framework
2.1 Constitutional Provisions regarding minorities
2.2 Major national laws regulating the status of the minorities

3. Linguistic rights and minority media
3.1 Linguistic rights
3.2 Radio, television and print media

4. Education and minorities

5. Political representation of the minorities
5.1 Parliament and local councils
5.2 Institutions dealing with the minority protection

6. Conclusions

7. Bibliography


1. Introduction

1.1 General information

Lithuania joined the European Union with nine other new member states on 1st May 2004. It’s the largest (territory: 65301 km2, population: 3.496.000) among the three Baltic countries which (re)gained their independence in 1991 as a consequence of the events which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lithuania had a significant role in the region’s history in the Middle Ages and later on in union with Poland. After the third division of Poland (in 1795) major part of the modern Lithuania fell under the rule of the Russian empire. The independent state was established after the First World War in 1918. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on August 1939 earmarked Lithuania to the USSR. Consequently, the Soviet troops occupied Lithuania in 1940. During WWII Lithuania experienced as well the German occupation. In 1989 the Parliament declared Lithuania sovereign and later in 1990 independent. After violent incidents in Vilnius and failed coup d'état in Russia, Soviet Union recognized Lithuania’s independency in September 1991. The last Soviet occupation troops left Lithuania in 1993. Lithuania became member of UN and OSCE in 1991 and in 1995 the formal accession negotiations with EU were underway. Lithuania joined NATO on March 2004.

Lithuania shares border with Russia (Kaliningrad) and Poland in the west, Belarus in the south and Latvia in the north. Its economy has been developing rapidly GDP being higher than the average with in the new EU member states.

In terms of demography, Lithuania is relatively homogeneous country. According the last census in April 2001, more than 83.4% of the populations are Lithuanians, 6.7% Poles, 6.3% Russians. Other minorities in the country are marginal (Byelorussians 1.7%, Ukrainians 1.2%, Jews 0.2%, Germans 0.3%, Roma 0.1%, Tartars 0.1%). (1)

1.2 National minorities

Lithuanian legislation doesn’t contain definition of minority and hence the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities which Lithuania ratified on March 2000 (FCNM) applies to all different ethnic groups on its territory. Lithuania has few minorities that it considers autochthons. The most important evolution regarding the size and character of the minorities can be traced to the contemporary history. During the period of Soviet rule Lithuania attracted interstate immigration due to its higher standard of living compared with several other Soviet states.


After the Second World War   number of Russians (2) - as well as other nationalities from the Soviet Union- arrived and settled to Lithuania. Today, the number of the Russian minority dwelling in Lithuania is considerably smaller than in Latvia or Estonia. (3) Russian minority is on the state level not concentrated into a specific area even though 90% of the members of the Russian community in Lithuania are living in the urban areas. (4)


Due to historical reasons, most of the members of the Polish minority live in the capital Vilnius or in the surrounding regions. During the Soviet occupation the number of the Polish minority diminished.

The reason for this was the fact that Poland within the Soviet block enjoyed more rights than Lithuania appealing therefore ethnic Poles to immigrate. (5)


The Jews have lived in Lithuania since the 14th century forming once a significant group in the country. The capital Vilnius was known as a “Lithuania’s Jerusalem” due to its large Jewish community. In course of WWII, the majority of the Lithuanian Jews fell victims to the Holocaust. The remaining community shrank considerably after the restoration of the independence as a result of Jewish immigration to Israel and to the US. (6)


The number of German minority living in Lithuania has been relatively modest. After WWII the size of the German minority shrank considerably. Today, there are between 5000-8000 ethnic Germans living in Lithuania –less than 0.3% of the total population of the country. There are some 23 officially registered German minority associations.


Belarusians form one of the largest and oldest minority groups in Lithuania. The number of Belarusians increased after Lithuanians incorporation to the USSR as the Belarusian workers immigrated to Lithuania. Belarusian minority is actively promoting and developing its cultural identity in Lithuania.


The Roma minority in Lithuania composes of some 3000 persons. The negative stereotype of Roma is persisting and the members of the group are often objects to discrimination. The problem regarding integration of the Roma to the Lithuanian society is evident. Several members of the minority are not registered nor do they have permanent job or housing. The level of education is poor and school drop outs common.

Other marginal historical minorities residing Lithuania are the Tartars and Karaite minorities. (7)

The report regarding Lithuania’s progress towards accession from the year 2001 states that “the overall situation with regard to the protection of minorities has continued to be satisfactory, and some further progress has been made in implementing integration programmes”. (8) However, the conditions of the Roma minority have remained unsatisfactory. In the Joint Memorandum on social inclusion between Lithuania and the European Commission in December 2003, the social and occupational integration of the Roma was indicated as a key challenge for Lithuanian society. (9)

The Lithuanian government has tried to improve the situation by drafting and implementing special Roma integration programme for the period of 2000-2004. (10) Clearly, there have been problems in meeting the goals. Local Roma organisations have criticized the plan saying that government didn’t consult representatives of the Roma community during the programme preparations. Government of Lithuania is supposed to set up a new plan regarding the integration of the Roma minority where special emphasize is given to social issues and access to education.

Lithuania has concluded a number of bilateral treaties with neighboring countries containing provisions on minorities. It’s important to note that the treaties do not contain provision regarding the Roma (typical for a dispersed minority without a kin state).

2. Legislative framework

2.1 Constitutional Provisions regarding minorities

The Constitution guarantees equal human rights and fundamental freedoms to all people. (11) Moreover, there are some articles within the Constitution touching the status of the minorities.

Article 37 of the Constitution spells out that “Citizens who belong to ethnic communities shall have the right to foster their language, culture and customs.” The term “ethnic communities” used by the Lithuanian authorities has been criticized being too vague by the advisory committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) in February 2003. (12)

According the Article 117, persons who don’t speak Lithuanian have the right to participate in investigation and court proceedings through provided interpreter.

Lithuania has ratified nearly all the major European and international agreements in the field of human rights and minority protection. According the Article 138 of the Lithuanian Constitution, all the international agreements which are ratified by the parliament will be incorporated to the Lithuanian legal system. In case national law collides with an international treaty after its ratification, the latter will be prevailing.

2.2 Major national laws regulating the status of the minorities

Law on national minorities

The rights of the minorities were taken into consideration already within the independence movement before Lithuania regained its sovereignty. (13) Lithuania adopted a law on national minorities prior to its declaration of independence in 1989 and established Department of Nationalities with a task to assist the country’s minorities in several walks of life. The Law on National Minorities guarantees the rights of all minorities prohibiting all kind of discrimination on the grounds on race, ethnicity nationality or language. (14)  The law contains provision regarding the right to equal protection, to obtain aid from the state to develop their culture and education, to establish own media, to freedom of religion, to right to establish ethnic cultural organizations and to contact person with same ethnical background abroad, to equal political representation and to right to hold any post in institutions, organizations and enterprises. (15)

The status of the members of the Lithuanian minorities who, for various reasons, haven’t met the requirements set for obtaining the citizenship is vague. The law stipulates (article 2) that “The state shall provide equal protection for all the citizens of Lithuania, regardless of ethnicity.” (16) It’s not quite clear if the persons without citizenship enjoy the same protection.

Citizen Law

Unlike two other Baltic states, Lithuania chose clear-cut approach towards the issue of the citizenship granting the citizenship to all persons residing in its territory soon after regaining its sovereignty in 1989. (17) The citizen law was amended in 1991 introducing less liberal regulations. (18) Consequently, it has been argued that some members of the Roma minority, for instance, haven’t been able to meet the more demanding preconditions in order to obtain the citizenship. (19)

Lithuania has taken measures to restore real property which was nationalized during the communist regime (Law on Restitution of the Citizen’s Right to Ownership to the Existing Real Property). The government stresses that the restoration is applied everywhere on the state territory according the same stipulations regardless of the persons’ ethnicity. (20)

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