FCNM Advisory Committee 4th opinion on Lithuania (excerpts on integration), 2018

Summary

Lithuanian society is largely characterised by tolerance and respect with regard to persons belonging to national minorities. The authorities continue to maintain an inclusive approach towards the scope of application of the Framework Convention. A Department for National Minorities has been re-established, which has rendered national minority issues more visible in national politics and improved co-ordination of various policy areas affecting national minorities. The absence of a comprehensive legislative framework, however, continues to impede the implementation of a number of important language rights contained within the Framework Convention. [..]

Some progress has been made in the socio-economic inclusion of Roma. The government’s “Action plan for Roma integration into Lithuanian society 2015-2020” and Vilnius municipality’s “Programme for Social Integration of the Community of the Vilnius (Kirtimai) Roma Settlement” have started to yield results. The implementation of these plans will require careful monitoring, effective participation, the inclusion of Roma women and further investment in order to be sustainable. Societal attitudes against Roma are very negative and are at the root of discrimination against Roma in the labour and housing markets, as well as in the education system.

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Recommendations for immediate action:

  • Adopt, in close consultation with minority representatives, a comprehensive legal framework protecting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, while maintaining an open and inclusive approach to the personal scope of application of the Framework Convention.
  • Take resolute awareness raising measures to address negative stereotypes against Roma in the population at large [..]

I. Key findings

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General overview of the current situation

4. Lithuania continues to attach importance to the protection and promotion of human rights in general and the rights of persons belonging to minorities in particular. A Department for National Minorities reporting directly to the government (hereafter: the Department) was re-established in 2015. The Department, staffed with experienced personnel, enjoys trust among persons belonging to national minorities and aims at devising evidence-based policies based on consultation with minority representatives. However, the issue of minority rights has long been characterised by a high degree of politicisation, which continues and notably contrasts with the relatively small number of minorities and their small numerical size. Since the annulment in 2010 of the 1989 Law on National Minorities, all efforts to agree on new comprehensive legislation regarding minority protection have failed (see Article 4). The reestablishment of the Department can be assessed as a first step to de-politicise the overall discourse and search for pragmatic solutions, but the efforts have been insufficient to resolve the issues concerning the use of minority languages [..] Overall, the Advisory Committee considers that soon 30 years after Lithuania’s renewed independence, national minority policy is at a crossroads. Success in granting the above-mentioned language rights and in conducting education reform at a pace adapted to the needs of persons belonging to national minorities would constitute a decisive step towards a genuinely integrated society. A failure to do so bears certain risks which may be exacerbated by a number of geopolitical, economic and demographic factors.

5. As far as the geopolitical situation is concerned, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine have left their mark on Lithuania’s domestic discourse on national minorities (see Article 6). Representatives of the Russian minority told the Advisory Committee they sometimes felt unduly made responsible for the actions of the Russian authorities. Some representatives of the Polish community mentioned that the discourse amounted to portraying national minorities, including the Polish minority, as a “fifth column” and questioning their loyalty to Lithuania. This discussion appears to have calmed down recently, but the Advisory Committee regrets to note that some representatives of national minorities felt insufficiently involved in the celebrations marking the occasion of the centenary of Lithuania’s restored independence in 2018, which would indeed represent a missed opportunity. 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.

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8. The continuing population decrease notwithstanding, the Advisory Committee was impressed by the young people it met with during its visit, who generally were multilingual, well-educated and positive about their situation as citizens of Lithuania. Karaim young people, for example, often speak not only the Karaim and Lithuanian languages, but also Polish and/or Russian as well as English as a foreign language. Both young people affiliating with the Russian and with the Polish minorities gave the impression of being at ease with their multiple identities as Lithuanian citizens, members of a minority and Europeans. This impression contrasts with the political discourse around the performance of Polish minority students in the state language exam, portraying them as victims rather than empowering them to perform equally well in both Lithuanian and their minority language. The Advisory Committee considers it important to regard minority youth as an asset and to do everything possible to help them learn both the state language and their minority language well. The active involvement of minority youth in intra-Lithuanian as well as European and international exchange programmes is clearly beneficial to this effect.

Assessment of measures taken to implement the recommendations for immediate action

9. Despite a wide national debate and a total of five draft laws on national minorities registered and two of them considered by the Parliament (Seimas) since 2012, no comprehensive legislation governing the protection of persons belonging to minorities has been adopted so far (see Article 4). Moreover, only minimal progress has been made to bring the situation regarding the use of language rights in line with Articles 10 and 11 of the Framework Convention [..] These debates continually feed the perceived cleavages in society and thus create ever-new obstacles for finally agreeing on comprehensive legislation. The Advisory Committee finds that almost ten years after the suspension of the old Law on National Minorities, a concerted effort by both the authorities and minority communities is long overdue to end this vicious circle.

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11. [..] At national level, the Department for National Minorities oversees the implementation of the Action plan for Roma integration into Lithuanian society 2015-2020 and co-ordinates a number of projects funded by the government and, to a greater extent, the European Union (EU). The Advisory Committee appreciates in particular the efforts made by the Department for National Minorities, with the support of research institutions, in collecting, analysing and publishing data on the situation of Roma. At the level of Vilnius municipality, the “Programme for Social Integration of the Community of the Vilnius (Kirtimai) Roma Settlement” was adopted in 2015. After decades of struggling with the appalling situation in the Kirtimai settlement,8 concrete results have now been achieved. Social housing was secured for families with many children, and school attendance of children still living in the settlement is ensured through a wake-up service and bus shuttle. [..] While commending the measures taken by the Department for National Minorities and Vilnius municipality, the Advisory Committee is deeply concerned about the widespread anti-Roma sentiments in Lithuanian society (see Article 6). Without a fundamental shift in societal attitudes and decisive action to combat antiRoma sentiments, the Roma’s limited access to housing, employment and quality education is destined to continue despite all the above-mentioned efforts.

8 See Third Advisory Committee Opinion on Lithuania, adopted on 28 November 2013, paras 32 and 107. See also 5th ECRI report on Lithuania, adopted on 18 March 2016, CRI(2016)20, para 71.

12. The Advisory Committee regrets that Lithuania did not, as recommended in the third opinion, develop a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of full and effective equality of persons belonging to national minorities and there is no mechanism to regularly collect disaggregated data on access to rights of persons belonging to minorities. However, the authorities commissioned some 15 scientific studies on these issues during the reporting period. These include several studies on Roma such as on “the situation of the Roma national minority and evaluation of its integration” (2014), as well as on the situation of other national minorities such as a study on the “situation of Lithuanian residents belonging to national minorities” (2015) (see Article 4). 9

9 State report, pp. 20-27.

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II. Article-by-article findings

Article 3 of the Framework Convention

Personal scope of application of the Framework Convention

18. The Advisory Committee notes the continuation of the overall flexible and inclusive approach taken by the authorities towards the scope of application of the Framework Convention. The state report refers to the 2011 census, according to which residents of Lithuania affiliate with 154 different ethnic groups.11 At present, organisations of 20 ethnic groups are represented in the Council of National Minorities. 12

11 See the census results on the website of the Department for National Minorities, available at http://tmde.lrv.lt/en/national-minorities

12 The 28 members of the Council represent the Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belarusian (2 representatives), Chechen, Estonian, German, Georgian, Greek, Hungarian, Jewish, Karaim, Kazakh, Latvian, Lebanese, Polish (3 representatives), Roma, Romanian, Russian (3 representatives), Ukrainian (2 representatives), Uzbek, and Tatar (2 representatives) communities.

19. Lithuania has still not adopted a comprehensive legislative framework pertaining to national minorities (see Article 4). The Advisory Committee notes that the scope of application is one of the contentious issues in the discussions on a possible new law on national minorities. In this context, the Advisory Committee wishes to remind the authorities that it has consistently encouraged authorities to take an open and inclusive approach and consider on an article-by-article basis which rights should be made available to whom.13 It therefore draws the attention of the authorities to the fact that establishing a closed list of national minorities falling under the protection of the Framework Convention is not in line with the right to individual free self-identification. The Advisory Committee considers that such an approach best promotes a societal climate of dialogue and understanding.

13 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 7.

Recommendation

20. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to maintain an open and inclusive approach to the personal scope of application of the Framework Convention and ensure that it is maintained also in any future legislative framework pertaining to national minorities. Any criteria figuring in such legislation should be applied in a flexible and non-discriminatory manner

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Article 4 of the Framework Convention

Legal and institutional framework for the protection of national minorities

23. No comprehensive legislative framework pertaining to national minorities has been adopted since the 1989 Law on National Minorities was declared null and void with effect of January 2010, along with other laws from the pre-independence period. The drafting of a law on national minorities was part of the Government Programme of the Republic of Lithuania for 2012 – 2016. In total, five draft laws on national minorities have been registered and two of them considered by the Parliament since 2012.17 Draft Law No. XIP-1648 passed the first reading, but no second reading was held by the time of the elections to the Seimas (Parliament) in October 2016. Members of the Seimas for the 2016–2020 legislative period have registered draft Law No XIIIP-1696 on Ethnic Minorities.18 At the time of adoption of this opinion, none of the registered draft laws has been submitted to the Seimas. The Advisory Committee deeply regrets the failure to agree on a law on national minorities. It wishes to underline that a comprehensive legislative framework for the protection of national minorities is important, whether that be through the adoption of one single law or through a cohesive set of amendments to the existing sectorial legislation in the relevant areas.

17 Draft Laws No XIP-1648, No XIIP-1201, No XIIP-1204, No XIIP-2242, and No XIIIP-1696.

18 The text of the draft law is available at https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAP/ 4c2a4650125111e88a05839ea3846d8e?positionInSearchResults=3&searchModelUUID=fc54a81b-44f8-4d69-9f5d215803a93a9e (in Lithuanian).

24. The Advisory Committee welcomes the re-establishment of the Department for National Minorities, which had been discontinued at the end of 2009. From 2010 to 2015, responsibility for national minority issues was with a division of the Ministry of Culture. The Advisory Committee welcomes that some staff members have remained throughout these changes, which ensures continuity of expertise. The previous Department, which was also in charge of national minorities and of Lithuanians living abroad, had 35 staff. The current Department works only on national minorities and has 14 full-time equivalents. The Department operates under direct supervision of the government and co-ordinates minority policies with relevant ministries and other actors, including civil society. The annual budget of the Department has been growing since it was established in 2015 and amounted to 974 000 EUR in 2018. During the country visit, the Advisory Committee received the impression that representatives of national minorities were predominantly satisfied with the Department and have trust in its leadership and staff.

Recommendations

25. The Advisory Committee reiterates its call on the authorities to take the appropriate legislative measures to address without delay the absence of a comprehensive legal framework related to minority rights protection.

26. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to maintain the financial and human resources of the Department for National Minorities and to consolidate its long-term operation.

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Measures to promote full and effective equality

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33. According to the data available on the situation of the Roma community29 and the information the Advisory Committee could gather during the visit, access to rights is still very limited in many areas, in particular education (see Article 12), housing and employment (see Article 15). Action plans for Roma inclusion into Lithuanian society have been adopted for the periods 2012-2014 and 2015-2020.30 The current action plan has six objectives in the areas of education, health, employment, Roma women, housing and intercultural dialogue. The Advisory Committee welcomes that the second plan includes the objective of empowering Roma women, which did not figure in the first action plan. It notes that a research project on early marriages was conducted by the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, but no activities have been conducted so far to follow-up on the findings. In 2017, the Department for National Minorities allocated 76 000 EUR for the implementation of the plan, the Ministry of Education 10 000 EUR. The bulk of activities implemented under the action plan, however, are funded through EU projects.31 While welcoming the active use of available external funding, the Advisory Committee shares the concerns of its interlocutors about the sustainability of these projects, which usually run for two to three years.

29 2 115 persons identified as Roma in the 2011 census (state report, p. 16), but interlocutors of the Advisory Committee estimate that this number has decreased since, mainly due to emigration. For a detailed description of the history, language and culture of Roma in Lithuania, see Kristina Šukevičiūtė and Peter Bakker (2013), Roma and Romani in Lithuania in the 21st century, available at http://romani.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/virtuallibrary/librarydb/web/files/pdfs/375/Paper20.pdf

30 For English versions of the action plans and other data on Roma in Lithuania, see also the website of the European Commission, available at https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/justice-and-fundamentalrights/discrimination/roma-and-eu/roma-integration-eu-country/roma-integration-lithuania_en

31 For a list of the projects funded under the plan, see pp. 18-20 of the state report.

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 The Advisory Committee welcomes that Vilnius municipality has started to actively address the problems in the Kirtimai settlement, which have been criticised by the Advisory Committee and other international observers for many years.33 A number of important measures have been undertaken under the programme, in particular to improve school attendance and performance (see Article 12) and housing (see Article 15). On a conceptual level, though, the Advisory Committee considers that the general approach could benefit from an understanding that integration is an all-encompassing process requiring involvement of all segments of society, minorities and majorities alike.34

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

33 Third Advisory Committee Opinion on Lithuania, adopted on 28 November 2013, paras 32 and 107. See also 5th ECRI report on Lithuania, adopted on 18 March 2016, CRI(2016)20, para 71.

34 OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (2012), The Ljubljana Guidelines on Integration of Diverse Societies, p. 22-23.

Recommendations

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36. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to decisively continue the implementation of the “Action plan for Roma integration into Lithuanian society 2015-2020”, in consultation with Roma representatives, and support Vilnius municipality in the implementation of the Programme for Social Integration of the Community of the Vilnius (Kirtimai) Roma Settlement where required. Specific attention should be paid to improving the situation of Roma women.

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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.

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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 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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Recommendations for immediate action

  • Adopt, in close consultation with minority representatives, a comprehensive legal framework protecting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, while maintaining an open and inclusive approach to the personal scope of application of the Framework Convention.

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Further recommendations106

106 The recommendations below are listed in the order of the corresponding articles of the Framework Convention

  • Ensure that the 2021 population census provides a sound basis for policymaking on minority rights through guaranteeing the right to free and voluntary selfidentification, the possibility of declaring more than one ethnic affiliation and the collection of data on first and other languages.

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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. Undertake urgent action to ensure that teaching and learning materials as well as teacher training reflect objective information about Roma. Ensure sufficient and sustainable funding of structures and staff required to support Roma children’s equal access to education such as social assistants and mediators, starting from pre-school level.

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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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