FCNM Advisory Committee 4th opinion on Lithuania (excerpts on culture and religion), 2018

I. Key findings

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General overview of the current situation

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5. [..] The Advisory Committee learned that, similarly, some minority representatives in Kaunas felt insufficiently involved in the preparations of the city’s celebrations as European Capital of Culture in 2022. The Advisory Committee considers that it would make sense to actively grasp any opportunity to demonstrate that national minorities are valued in their diversity and at the same time considered a constituent element of Lithuanian society as a whole.

6. In economic terms, the Advisory Committee notes the persistent regional disparities affecting the situation of persons belonging to minorities (see Article 4). This concerns in particular the rural areas in the south-east of the country with a sizeable Polish minority and the municipality of Visaginas with its relatively large Russian-speaking population from former Soviet Union republics. The Advisory Committee notes that the authorities, supported by the EU structural funds, invest considerably in the development of both regions.1 Supplementary funding from the state budget is also provided for schools situated in these regions, including minority languages schools, as well as for the development of minority cultures. The Advisory Committee considers it crucial to maintain a focus on these regions in order to ensure that persons belonging to minorities can enjoy equal access to their rights throughout the country.

1 State report, pp. 14-16.

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Assessment of measures taken to implement the further recommendations

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13. Support for the preservation and development of minority cultures has remained rather stable, but with notable regional differences. In their conversations with the Advisory Committee, minority representatives painted a mixed picture as regards their involvement in the development, implementation and evaluation of projects and the allocation of funding. At both national and local levels, national minority organisations suffer from the almost exclusively project-based funding for minority cultures. This also applies to the House of National Communities in Vilnius and the Cultural Centre of Various Nations in Kaunas, which impedes long term planning and the sustainability of these important institutions. Funding for minority media increased, but only slightly. The Advisory Committee regrets that the Press, Radio and Television Support Fund does not have a separate funding line for minority media.

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II. Article-by-article findings

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Article 4 of the Framework Convention

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Measures to promote full and effective equality

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34. In 2015, the city of Vilnius adopted its own “Programme for Social Integration of the Community of the Vilnius (Kirtimai) Roma Settlement” (see Articles 12 and 15). The programme is being implemented during 2016–2019 and funded with 722 000 EUR. Its objectives are to “curb the spread of drug addictions; to promote Roma integration into the education system; to provide Roma people with better access to health care services; to increase the openness of the unique Roma culture; to seek reduction of social exclusion” and to improve living standards for Roma people.32 [..]

32 UN Human Rights Council (17 August 2016), National report of, Lithuania, A/HRC/WG.6/26/LTU/1, para. 9.

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Article 5 of the Framework Convention

Support for the preservation and development of national minority cultures

37. Overall, financial support for cultural activities of national minority organisations at national level has increased from 127 000 EUR at the beginning of the reporting period in 2013 to 191 000 EUR in 2017. A decrease to 175 000 is forecast for 2018.35 In addition, 70 000 EUR per year are available for national minority cultures and cultural co-operation in the southeastern region of Lithuania. Sources of that funding are the Department for National Minorities, the Ministry of Culture, the Culture Support Foundation and the Lithuanian Council for Culture. The Advisory Committee welcomes that the latter has a specific budget line for projects on national minority cultures and that one out of the eleven members of the Council for Culture is nominated by the Council of National Minorities.

35 For amounts until 2016, see state report, p. 39. Figures for 2017 and 2018 are based on written information provided by the authorities.

38. Funding for projects on national minority culture is also available at local level. While Vilnius has a separate budget line with funding earmarked for projects on national minority cultures, the Advisory Committee notes that minority organisations in Kaunas compete for funding with all other cultural projects. The local authorities explain that projects submitted by national minority organisations are treated with priority, but representatives of these organisations say the system in place does not give them enough certainty to plan for the year ahead or even for a longer period. Kaunas municipality usually funds three to four projects on minority cultures. The overall amount allocated since 2014 varied between 1 700 and 4 100 EUR.36 In Vilnius, funding for minority cultures over the past three years varied between approx. 36 500 and 42 800 EUR.37 The Advisory Committee regrets that minority representatives are not involved in decision-making about the allocation of funding in either of the municipalities.

36 Information submitted by Kaunas municipality.

37 Information submitted by Vilnius municipality.

39. The Advisory Committee notes with satisfaction an increased interest in and a number of activities on the Roma Holocaust. The Ministry of Culture published a leaflet and a children’s book on this topic. In 2015, the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre organised an exhibition commemorating Roma victims of the Nazi occupation. 38

38 State report, p. 44.

40. At both national and local levels, national minority organisations suffer from the fact that funding for minority culture is almost exclusively project-based. Funding is often granted for one-off activities and for a maximum of one year. It appears that this annual procedure does not ensure regular funding and thus limits the possibilities for national minority organisations to develop more sustainable long-term projects.

41. The Advisory Committee welcomes the work of the House of National Communities in Vilnius and the Cultural Centre of Various Nations in Kaunas. Both centres host and organise activities on both traditional and contemporary expressions of minority culture. Furthermore, they provide practical assistance for minority organisations such as courses in accounting and financial reporting. The Advisory Committee notes with interest that the centres also reach out beyond established minority organisations and successfully raise EU funds for projects. 39 The centre in Kaunas, for example, works with youth from diverse cultural backgrounds through an Erasmus+ programme, is accredited for the European Voluntary Service (EVS) and is the only Lithuanian member of Roots & Routes, an international network promoting social and cultural diversity in arts and media.40 The centre in Vilnius collects and digitalises documents about the participation of persons belonging to national minorities in the restoration of Lithuania’s independence.

39 For a detailed list of activities and funding up to 2016, see state report, pp. 28-35. The state report also describes the wide range of activities carried out by the Centre of Folklore and Ethnography of Ethnic Minorities in Lithuania.

40 Website of the Roots & Routes International Network, available at www.rootsnroutes.eu

42. Against this background, the Advisory Committee regrets to note that the funding for those centres, including for staff, is almost exclusively project-based. It is of the opinion that this approach adversely affects the sustainability of the important work done by those centres and the many minority organisations whose activities are based there. For 2018, for instance, the centre in Kaunas applied for funding amounting to 32 410 EUR and eventually received 4 800 EUR. Furthermore, the Advisory Committee is concerned about indications that the continued support for these centres may not be secured for the years to come. Minority representatives in both centres, but particularly in the centre in Kaunas, where the municipality and the Department for National Minorities seem to disagree about the respective responsibilities towards the centre, expressed uncertainty about the possibility of continuing their work. The small Armenian community in Kaunas, for example, relies on the opportunity to hold their Sunday schools in the centre for free and would not be in a position to pay rent, which apparently is one of the options discussed.

Recommendations

43. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to revisit the support scheme for minority cultures in a way that minority organisations can apply for multi-year projects and, where necessary, have access to long-term baseline funding. Local authorities should be encouraged to do the same.

44. The Advisory Committee strongly calls on the authorities to secure the legal and budgetary situation of the House of National Communities in Vilnius and the Cultural Centre of Various Nations in Kaunas and ensure continuous baseline funding for staff and utilities.

Article 6 of the Framework Convention

Tolerance and intercultural dialogue

45. The Advisory Committee welcomes the prevailing climate of tolerance and respect in Lithuanian society. The national authorities and in particular the Department for National Minorities promote intercultural understanding through a variety of programmes, events and campaigns. Awareness raising activities and training on equal opportunities, non-discrimination and tolerance are conducted by the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson and the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office. 41 Furthermore, the Advisory Committee was under the impression that Vilnius municipality places particular emphasis on intercultural understanding and positively embraces its traditional diversity.42

41 State report, p. 46.

42 Persons belonging to 128 nationalities other than Lithuanian account to 34% of all residents of Vilnius. See website of Vilnius municipality, available at www.vilnius.lt/kalbos/?p=6111&lang=en

46. The Institute for Ethnic Studies conducts regular monitoring of “social distance” between ethnic groups. According to the 2017 results of this survey, 6% of respondents would not like to live in the same neighbourhood as Poles. For Russians, the percentage is 7%. 15% of respondents would not like to live in the same neighbourhood as Jews. For Muslims, the figure is at 45% and for Roma 64%. Approximately 2 000 persons belonging to Lithuania’s Roma community are indeed confronted with widespread negative stereotypes in society. More than 40% of respondents in a 2014 survey quoted in the state report43 said they would not like to work with a Roma person. These attitudes systematically inhibit the access of Roma to their rights to effective equality (see Article 4), education (see Article 12) and participation in socioeconomic life (see Article 15) and has become visible in a number of cases of discrimination, hate speech and police misconduct (see below).

43 State report, p. 51.

47. Societal attitudes towards the even smaller group of refugees are also ambivalent. 44 The Advisory Committee regrets that underlying fears and stereotypes in parts of society against refugees and other migrants from outside Europe, in particular Muslims, are being reinforced and exploited by some politicians to populist ends. 45 This risks damaging the overall climate of tolerance and respect and can have spill-over effects for national minorities. Some of the Advisory Committee’s interlocutors belonging to the traditionally present Tatar community, for example, felt affected by anti-Muslim discourse despite their community’s centuries-old history in Lithuania.

44 Gediminas Kirkilas (25 September 2015), Lithuania’s approach to refugees: History, compassion and solidarity Lithuania, available at www.euractiv.com/section/justice-home-affairs/opinion/lithuania-s-approach-to-refugeeshistory-compassion-and-solidarity.

45 The Economist (14 September 2015), The mosques of Lithuania. A Baltic state worried about the arrival of Muslims overlooks those who have lived there for centuries, available at www.economist.com/news/europe/21664279-baltic-state-worried-about-arrival-muslims-overlooks-those-whohave-lived-there

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Recommendations

50. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to take measures to combat stereotypes and prejudice against persons belonging to national minorities in political discourse and to promote respect and intercultural dialogue throughout society as a whole

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Article 8 of the Framework Convention

Restitution of property

56. The Advisory Committee notes that under a law on property restitution adopted in 2011, the Lithuanian government will transfer a total of 37 million EUR in compensation to the Goodwill Foundation by 2023. The money is to be used for financing Lithuanian Jewish religious, cultural, health-care, athletics, educational and scholarly projects in Lithuania. From 2013 to 2016 the Government has paid 14.4 million EUR in total to the Goodwill Foundation. According to information provided by the Jewish community, 14 synagogues have been returned to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Several dozen more synagogues listed on the registry of cultural treasures currently belong to the municipalities and private owners. Some of these, such as the one in Pakruojis, have already been renovated, others such as the one in Kalvarija, are still in need of funding. 57

57 Website of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, available at www.lzb.lt/en/2017/09/27/inter-institutionalcooperation-for-the-preservation-of-lithuanian-jewish-heritage, www.lzb.lt/en/2018/03/07/pakruojis-woodensynagogue-featured-on-lithuanian-public-tv-culture-channel, and www.lzb.lt/en/2018/04/06/kalvarijamunicipality-to-renovate-synagogue-complex

57. Lithuania has four mosques, which are used by both persons belonging to the Lithuanian Tatar national minority and immigrants from Muslim countries. The biggest mosque is situated in Kaunas. Other, traditional wooden, mosques are located in the Vilnius region (Nemėžis village and Keturiasdešimt totorių kaimas, the so-called Forty Tatars village) and in the Alytus region in Raižiai village. As the mosque in Vilnius was demolished in 1968, the Lithuanian Muslim community has for several years been asking that a plot of land be allocated for the construction of a new mosque at a central location in Vilnius. According to the interlocutors of the Advisory Committee, Vilnius municipality offered a number of locations, but a solution is yet to be found.

Recommendation

58. The Advisory Committee encourages the authorities to continue a constructive dialogue with religious communities on restitution of property and support the renovation of religious buildings. In particular, support should be provided to the Muslim community in its efforts to build a mosque at a central location in Vilnius.

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Article 12 of the Framework Convention

Cultural diversity in education and teaching and learning materials

76. The Advisory Committee notes with interest a number of programmes and activities implemented to foster intercultural understanding and contacts between children belonging to minorities and those belonging to the majority. In the framework of the 2016 government priority on economic and social development of regions with substantial numbers of persons belonging to minorities, for example, education projects in 50 schools comprising 1 000 students were implemented with a view to “integrating schools with national minority languages as languages of instruction in the life of the country through non-formal education (cultural, explorative, etc.) activities.81 While recalling that the integration of society is a twoway process in which both minorities and majorities should be involved, 82 the Advisory Committee learned from minority representatives that extracurricular activities exposing children in minority language schools to a Lithuanian language environment are indeed very welcome. Some interlocutors, in particular from a Polish school the Advisory Committee visited in Šalčininkai district, said that they would need more resources to organise such activities given that many children come from predominantly Polish-speaking environment and hence learn Lithuanian almost as a foreign language.

81 State report, p. 15.

82 ACFC Thematic Commentary No. 4 “The Framework Convention: a key tool to managing diversity through minority rights. The Scope of Application of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities” (May 2016), para. 54.

77. The Advisory Committee notes with interest that the Education Development Centre under the Ministry of Education has developed teaching modules on national minorities and intercultural understanding, but regrets that these topics, according to interlocutors, are not included in the general curriculum for teacher education. Education activities on the Holocaust, including the Holocaust against the Roma, such as regular seminars for teachers, are conducted by the “International commission for the evaluation of the crimes of the Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes in Lithuania”.83 Furthermore, the Advisory Committee welcomes that the Ministry of Education is reviewing teaching and learning materials as regards the portrayal of persons belonging to national minorities. It was informed that one of the findings so far is that they do not contain enough information on Roma and that the Ministry of Education plans to remedy this situation. Given the widespread prejudice about the Roma community in society (see Article 6), the Advisory Committee recalls that measures to amend teaching and learning materials are very important.

83 State report, p. 44.

Recommendations

78. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to increase their investment in programmes to foster intercultural understanding and contacts between children belonging to minorities and those belonging to the majority.

79. The Advisory Committee reiterates its call on the authorities to ensure that the education system strengthens the knowledge of persons belonging to the majority on the cultures, histories, languages and religions of national minorities. Particular urgent action should be undertaken, in consultation with Roma representatives, to ensure that teaching and learning materials as well as teacher training reflect objective information about Roma.

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III. Conclusions

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Further recommendations

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  • Revisit the support scheme for minority cultures in a way that minority organisations can apply for multi-year projects and, where necessary, have access to long-term baseline funding. Secure the legal and budgetary situation of the House of National Communities in Vilnius and the Cultural Centre of Various Nations in Kaunas and ensure continuous baseline funding for staff and utilities.

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  • Ensure that the education system strengthens the knowledge of persons belonging to the majority on the cultures, histories, languages and religions of national minorities.

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Document data: ACFC/OP/IV(2018)004 ; adopted 30.05.2018, published 08.01.2019 Link: https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97 Also available in French

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