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Minority protection and linguistic rights in Lithuania, by Markko Kallonen


3. Linguistic rights and minority media

3.1 Linguistic rights

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 it’s 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.” (23)

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 don’t 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 Lithuania’s government is leading, country’s 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 hasn’t signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Identity – 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 Europe’s 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 state.”

3.2 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 convictions.” (30)

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.

Newspapers and publications

The Article 2 of the Law on Minorities lies down the right to have newspapers, other publications and information in one’s 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.

4. 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 law.

Preschool 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.

Secondary school

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.

Tertiary education

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.

5. Political representation of the minorities

5.1 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%).

5.2 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)

Department 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 office’s task is to monitor government’s 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. Council’s 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.” (36)

6. Conclusions

Lithuania’s 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 Lithuania’s 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. Lithuania’s 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.

It’s 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.

Lithuania’s 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, Lithuania’s 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 Roma.

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 government’s attention.

7. Bibliography

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.

Internet websites

Minority Rights Information System (MIRIS)

Markko Kallonen
EURAC research

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