Since the adoption of ECRI’s fourth report on Lithuania on 22 June 2011, progress has been made in a number of fields.
The authorities also developed the new Action Plan for Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society 2015 – 2020 which includes, inter alia, measures in the areas of housing, education, employment and health.
ECRI welcomes these positive developments in Lithuania. However, despite the progress achieved, some issues give rise to concern.
The situation of many members of the Roma community remains extremely difficult. The housing situation in the Kirtimai settlement has not improved since ECRI’s last report and social marginalisation of Roma is still evident, for example in the areas of education and employment. The urgent measures needed to address these problems have not been taken by the Lithuanian authorities in recent years.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
I. Common topics
2. Hate speech6
6 This section covers racist and homo/transphobic speech. For a definition of “hate speech” see Recommendation No. R (97) 20 of the Committee of Ministers to the member States on “hate speech”, adopted on 30.10.1997.
Racist hate speech
18. Public expressions of racism in Lithuania are often linked to nationalistic and antisemitic extremists. In 2014, the Lithuanian Jewish Community warned that antisemitic attitudes were still widespread in the country and that more needed to be done, in particular in the field of education, to promote respect for cultural diversity.9
9 Baltic Times 2014.
20. On 6 May 2014, a demonstration took place against a legislative initiative that would allow Polish to be used in official Lithuanian identity documents. It was organised by the Vilnija society, the Lithuanian Union of Freedom Fighters and the Lithuanian Sąjūdis. During the demonstration the leader of the Nationalist Union, Julius Panka, carried a banner with the words “You could write a W on your tombstones” – referring to the Polish spelling of the city’s name Wilno.11 Polish minority human rights activists informed ECRI about 200 incidents of anti-Polish hate speech in 2012, some 70 such cases in 2013, and three in 2014. Not all of these cases, however, were reported to the law enforcement authorities.
11 Sodonis / Urbonaitė 2014: 7.
– Measures taken by the authorities
– Activities to promote tolerance
44. Concerning antisemitism, the Jewish community, while acknowledging the government’s commitment to tackling this issue, points to a lack of clear guidelines and coordination between relevant ministries to promote respect for diversity through activities in the field of education.29 [..]
29 Baltic Times 2014. The Lithuanian authorities informed ECRI that in autumn 2014, the government and representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, as well as the American Jewish Committee, decided to set up a commission for Lithuanian Jewish culture and history.
4. Integration policies
65. In the field of education, the Action Plan contains several measures concerning pre-school, school and adult education, including community outreach work, training of teachers and provisions of further support in education settings, such as assistant teachers.63 The main focus of the previous Action Plan was already on reducing social exclusion and increasing participation of Roma in Lithuanian society through improved education of Roma children and adults. In this context, a review of the level of integration of Roma children in the education sector was carried out and specific education support activities for pre-school Roma children and adults were provided. Furthermore, teaching materials on Roma history and culture were prepared to combat stigmatisation.64 These activities were good, but limited, starting points for a better integration of Roma in the field of education. ECRI welcomes the new measures which build on and expand the activities carried out under the previous Action Plan.
63 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015, Annex 1: 3.
64 Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania 2012. – See also: European Commission 2014: 37
66. With regard to pre-school education, ECRI notes, however, that in 2013, 66.1% of Lithuanian children aged one to six years attended pre-school education institutions and 89.5% of children at the age of six years attended pre-primary education. The corresponding enrolment rates for Roma children in both categories were approximately 20%, of which some two thirds attended a facility which was only attended by Roma children.65 The new Action Plan contains three measures to address this problem: outreach to Roma families; promoting the exercise of the right to pre-school education; and organising pre-school education in the Roma community centre in Vilnius.66 The envisaged result of these activities, however, is to increase the pre-school enrolment rate among the Roma community to 50%, which would still be considerably lower than it is among the general population. Furthermore, although the first two measures cover important areas, they remain too vague and do not demonstrate any solutions. The third measure, on the other hand, builds on an established Roma community institution that has been very active in this field, but here it should be noted that it only provides services to Roma children, as it is located in Kirtimai. The need to increase possibilities for Roma children to attend non-segregated pre-school facilities is not part of the Action Plan.
65 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015: 3-4.
66 Lithuanian Ministry of Culture 2015, Annex 1: 1-2.
67. In the field of adult education, which is also an important element for promoting the integration of Roma into the labour market, the Action Plan contains useful measures, such as Lithuanian language classes and IT- courses. However, these courses will only be offered in Vilnius and ECRI would like to draw the authorities’ attention to its recommendation made in § 97 of its 20112 report on Lithuania, in which it recalled that the Action Plan should cover the whole Roma population in Lithuania. Furthermore, the important area of attaining primary and secondary education, and qualifications, is included, but left without specific actions geared to the mobilisation of Roma adults in particular.67 [..]
67 Ibid.: 5.
72. ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities take the shortcomings indicated in the preceding paragraphs into consideration when implementing and, if necessary, adjusting the Action Plan for Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society 2015 – 2020. The authorities should, inter alia, commission an independent assessment of the level of discrimination of Roma in the health care sector as a basis for future action, and reduce the number of Roma without health insurance coverage. They should also scale up the support for Roma education activities and aim at raising the level of enrolment of Roma children in pre-school education to that of the general population with a view of promoting non-segregated pre-school facilities. Furthermore, the authorities should take more specific measures to support the integration of Roma into the labour market (see § 123 of ECRI’s 2011 report), such as the expansion of vocational training activities geared towards the Roma community and the facilitation and promotion of their registration with the Labour Exchange, but also the expansion of adult education courses for Roma beyond Vilnius. In addition, the authorities should ensure that the Action Plan is fully funded.
– Refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection
76. An important element of successful integration is education. ECRI notes that the children of refugees and of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, or unaccompanied minors who have themselves been granted such a status, can access primary and secondary schooling free of charge along the same lines as Lithuanian children. They are also entitled to Lithuanian language courses, although there have been complaints from non-governmental organisations working with refugees that such classes are not always, or not sufficiently provided. Children of 16 years of age or above, however, no longer receive financial support to continue their schooling. Furthermore, when it comes to university studies, refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are not entitled to education grants available to Lithuanian students, while at the same time being charged the higher tuition and accommodation fees applicable to non-Lithuanian/non-EU students. These factors constitute serious obstacles for this group of persons to obtaining adequate levels of education, especially given their difficult socio-economic circumstances and the absence of extended support networks. Addressing these problems can not only facilitate better integration, but also enhance the contribution that this group can make to Lithuanian society.
79. ECRI recommends that the Lithuanian authorities take steps to increase the support for children of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, as well as unaccompanied minors, in the field of education by (i) providing sufficient Lithuanian language classes; (ii) extending the financial support for children to enable them to finish their secondary schooling; and (iii) aligning university-related fees and access to grants with those available to Lithuanian students. Furthermore, ECRI recommends that beneficiaries of subsidiary protection be entitled to the same range of social services and allowances, especially disability benefits, as recognised refugees.
– Polish and Russian minorities
80. Poles and Russians are the two largest historical ethnic minorities in the country, accounting for approximately 6.6% (some 200 000) and 5.8% (some 175 000) of the population respectively.83 84 According to the Lithuanian authorities, these minorities’ main obstacle to social integration is the insufficient knowledge of the Lithuanian language. ECRI would like to recall that teaching of the national language and knowledge of the minority language are both legitimate goals that can be pursued as part of a minority education strategy.85 However, there are doubts as to whether the steps taken by the Lithuanian authorities in this regard are facilitating the integration of these minorities.
83 According to the 2011 census. Source: Statistics Lithuania 2013.
84 There is currently no law on national minorities. The previous law was only valid until 2010 and the Seimas has not yet enacted a new law.
85 In this regard, see also the work of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, in particular its Third Opinion on Lithuania 2014.
81. In 2011, a unified language examination for leaving certificates in secondary schools was introduced, which abolished previously existing special provisions86 for pupils with a mother tongue other than Lithuanian, particularly relevant to the Polish and Russian minorities. Concerns were raised about the very short time frame of the transition period towards introducing Lithuanian as the only examination language.87 Instead of the originally envisaged seven to eight years, required to ensure fully adequate teaching of Lithuanian for children from a minority background throughout all secondary school years, the transition period was shortened to two years. The difference in the number of hours of Lithuanian language tuition that minority pupils, who so far were taught largely in Polish or Russian, benefited from compared to their Lithuanian mothertongue peers is estimated to be up to 700. Concessions, in the form of different tasks in some parts of the exam papers of minority pupils (for example shorter essays), had been provided for the interim period, but were deemed to be in violation of the principle of equal treatment, and therefore unconstitutional, by the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania on 18 June 2013.88
86 §§ 150 – 153 of ECRI’s 4th report on Lithuania.
87 ECRI considers that issues related to the right to education in a minority language can best be addressed in the context of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM). See: Council of Europe, Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 2014.
88 Cf. Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 2014: 7. – See also: Lithuania Tribune online 2014a. ECRI was informed by the authorities that, although the examination tasks are the same, at least a different marking scale with regard to literacy and linguistic expression will be applied to the exams of minority pupils until 2020.
82. ECRI recommends that the Lithuanian authorities take urgent measures, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, to ensure that the lower number of accumulated Lithuanian language classes that non-Lithuanian mother tongue pupils benefited from during their schooling is fully taken into account when applying the unified language examination.
Document data: CRI(2016)20 Adopted on 18 March 2016 Published on 7 June 2016 Link: https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-lithuania/16808b587b Also available in French and Lithuanian