Linguistic rights and minority media
Article 14 of the constitution provides that
the state language shall be Lithuanian. Nevertheless, the law on national minorities
stipulates that on the regions densely populated by the minorities, other than Lithuanian
language can be used in administration and different offices. The term densely
populated is vague since its not defined in the law or by the state
authorities. The Advisory Committee on FCNM commented the term in its report on February
2003. Consequently, in Lithuanian reply to the Council of Europe, the Lithuanian
government announced that a draft was already prepared to amend the current law
stipulating that the public signs and of office and street names may be written in
Lithuanian and in minority language in the administrative territory where the minority
account no less than 70% of the permanent residents. (21)
There are no provisions in the language law
regarding specific minority languages. The Law on the State Language spells out (Article
1) that the Law shall not regulate unofficial communication of the
population and the language of events of religious communities as well as persons,
belonging to ethnic communities. (22) Furthermore,
the text continues that other laws of the Republic of
Lithuania and legal acts adopted by the parliament of
the Republic of Lithuania shall guarantee the right of persons,
belonging to ethnic communities, to foster their language, culture and customs.
The Law on Ethnic minorities spells out that
Lithuania shall guarantee to all ethnic minorities residing in Lithuania the right
to freely develop, and shall respect every ethnic minority and language. (24)
Even though Lithuanian language law
stipulates that members of the minority have the right to use their mother tongue when
dealing with the public administration, members of the Roma minority are not able to enjoy
this right effectively: the functionaries in general dont speak Roma language and
consequently Roma, who cannot speak Russian or Lithuanian, are not able to use public
translation services. (25)
Person names, names of companies and
organisations as well as names of goods and services provided in Lithuania, must be
in the state language. (26)
The knowledge of Lithuanian language,
following the established categories, is according the Article 6 of the Language Law
prerequisite for a post on public domain restricting practically possibilities of several
members of the minorities to obtain vacant posts.
In the light of
comparatively tolerant minority policy Lithuanias government is leading,
countrys linguistic regulations appear rather incoherent and strict. Why? The change
in the demography during the Soviet occupation posed a problem (thus to a far lesser
extent than in other Baltic states) to the principle of historical continuity of the state
after the restoration of the independence. The language policy was an instrument to strengthen the national
identity protecting Lithuanian language, and on a symbolic level to expunge the Soviet,
Slavic domination over Lithuania. (27)
To date, Lithuania hasnt signed the
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
names and signs
Lithuanian citizens used to identify their
ethnicity in the passport based on both or one of the parents affiliation. (28) As the result of the Council of Europes critical
comments, Lithuanian authorities decided to amend the respective laws. (29)
The Law on Minorities stipulates that the
street signs in minority languages can be placed in areas where numerous
members of the minority reside.
According the Law on Ethnic Minorities
(Article 6), historical and cultural monuments of ethnic minorities shall be
considered part of the cultural heritage of Lithuania and shall be protected by the
Radio, television and print media
Broadcasting in minority language is not
restricted in Lithuanian legislation. Thus, the Language Law demands (Article 13) that all
the audiovisual programmes must be shown in state language or with Lithuanian subtitles.
According to the Law on National radio and TV, A variety of topics and genres must
be ensured in the programmes of LRT and the broadcasts must be oriented towards the
various strata of society and people of different ages, various nationalities and
Both Lithuanian radio and television send
programmes on daily bases in Russian, Polish and less frequently in Ukrainian and
Belarusian language. As a consequence of moderate critics from the side of the Council of
Europe, Lithuanian government has planned to start to broadcast minority programmes as
well during the prime time. Moreover, government authorities have proclaimed to improve
the quality of the programmes in general.
Some private local radio and television
transmit programmes in minority language in urban areas. Besides, an access to the cable
television guarantees for some minorities depending on the language in question - a
vast number of programmes from abroad.
The Article 2 of the Law on Minorities lies
down the right to have newspapers, other publications and information in ones own
language. There are several newspapers and publications published in major minority
languages as the scope of minority literature is modest. In spite of the existing
regulations, the Roma media is practically non-existing.
Education and minorities
According the Constitution (Article 45)
national minorities in Lithuania have right to education in their own language. The state
is obliged to provide the financial means for the minority education (i.e. by providing
the textbooks in minority language). The parents can decide to which pre-school and
elementary school they send their children based on the language of instruction. However,
in non-Lithuanian school-institutions Lithuanian-language and literature must be taught in
Lithuanian. Before the new Law on Education was adopted on June 2003, the Lithuanian
government heard the opinions of the representatives of the minority groups on the draft
and elementary school
Law on Education stipulates that
populous and compact communities of ethnic minorities in Lithuania have the
right to state financed preschool and elementary school facilities. (31) Additionally, some private and Sunday schools have been
established for the minorities.
There are both public and private schools
providing secondary education. The high school graduates from minority schools have an
option to sit their matriculation exam in the language of the instruction.
The Article 10 of Law on Higher Education
(adopted on March 2000) stipulates that the language of the higher education is basically
Lithuanian. (32) Nevertheless, the amended Law on Ethnic minorities
(Article 2) contains provision for groups, faculties and departments at institutions
of higher learning to train teachers and other specialists needed by ethnic minorities.
Political representation of the minorities
Parliament and local councils
Lithuania has three political parties based
on ethnicity. (33) There are no legal regulations guaranteeing
representation of the minorities in the national parliament or in the local councils. The
political parties representing minorities have lost some of their mandates in the last
local elections (the current amount of the seats is around 4%).
Institutions dealing with minority protection
The office for
the Ombudsman in Lithuania consists of three ombudsmen. None of the three ombudsmen is
being precisely vested with the task of monitoring complains regarding the rights of the minorities. (34) The Lithuanian government announced in its reply to the
advisory board on the FCNM in September 2003 that it will enhance the minorities
possibilities to issue a claim by extending the powers of the Equal Opportunities
Ombudsman to investigate complaints regarding discrimination on the grounds of
ethnicity or belonging to national minority. (35)
of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad
The special department for the minorities was
established on the grounds of the Law on National minorities in 1989. The offices
task is to monitor governments policy over the minorities and support minorities by
implementing programmes aimed at improving the conditions of the minorities. Department of
National Minorities is as well responsible for allocating
granted funds to minority organisations.
All the Lithuanian minorities are represented
in the Council of National Communities.
Councils most important tasks are to analyze acts of law regulating the
condition of national communities and minorities, make proposals on minority issues, as
well as to strengthen relations with Lithuanian communities in foreign countries.
Lithuanias approach towards its
minorities and their linguistic rights is by and large considered to be tolerant and
respectful -especially when compared with other Baltic countries approach towards
the Russian minority. The fact that Lithuanias Russian minority is substantially
smaller than in the other Baltic countries makes the issue of the minority protection in
Lithuania less acute than it is in today in Estonia or Latvia. Lithuanias decision
to grant citizenship to all the residents of its territory in 1989 defused the potential
tensions and provided for the political stability of the country.
Its interesting to note that the
Lithuanian parliament passed bill aimed at protecting the national minorities as early as
1989, before fundamental European instruments (like the FCNM) existed.
Lithuanias accessions to the EU meant,
however, an evident and considerable shift in minority protection providing minorities
with solid legal instruments to safe-guard and enjoy their rights. (37) The international treaties which have been ratified by
the Lithuanian parliament provide the minorities with means, when necessary, to challenge
domestic rulings and seek for a remedy beyond the state borders.
Not only the implementation of the acquis communautaire had an impact on the
Lithuanian policy, but as well other international or intergovernmental organisations
obliged Lithuanian government to tackle the issue of minority protection. For instance,
Lithuanias annual national integration plan to NATO contained provisions dealing
with good neighbourly relations and protection of national minorities and
their integration into Lithuanian society. (38)
As in many other new (and old) EU member
states, the question of the Roma minority needs to be tackled fast. As a part of the
accession preparations, Lithuania drafted and implemented a special Roma programme. The
assessing of the programme revealed several problems and shortcomings, nevertheless, steps
have been taken in order to improve and develop the rights and living condition of the
Lithuania shares mutual problems with other
new member countries in implementing various EU regulations. Limited financial funds force
country to prioritize its allocations: matters like public health care, universal
education and current poor infrastructure make sure that the question of minority
protection is not going to be the only issue which demands governments attention.
Kymlicka, W., and Patten,A. (2003): Language Rights and Political Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pentassuglia, G. (2002): Minorities in International Law, Council of Europe.
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