In May 2019, the court sentenced the deputy of Klaipeda City Council Vyacheslav Titov representing the interests of Russian-speaking voters to pay a fine of 12,000 euros for statements in 2018 against glorification of one of the leaders of Forest Brothers Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, considering them “insult to his memory”, “incitement of discord” and “denial of Soviet occupation”.
In the beginning of 2019, Lithuanian writer Marius Ivaškevičius was publicly harassed as the organization of political prisoners and exiles of Lithuania publicly accused him of slandering Lithuanian Forest Brothers in his novel The Greens for mentioning their involvement in the massacres of Jews. Although the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė publicly defended the author and the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Lithuania did not find any elements of a crime in his acts, he received death threats via the Internet.
Attempts continued to limit the right to freedom of expression of the Russian and Lithuanian Russian-speaking media. The Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the annual assessment of threats to national security of the Department of State Security includes publications of names of associations, news agencies, journalists, human rights defenders and others, without any criteria for such publication or its motivation. 284
284 Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee following the consideration of Lithuania’s 4th periodic report. July 2018. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fLTU%2fCO%2f4&Lang=ru
The resolution of issues related to the protection and promotion of the rights of national minorities in the country has long been characterized by a high degree of politicization.
Since the abolition of the 1989 Law on National Minorities in 2010, efforts to develop new comprehensive legislation to protect minorities (five draft laws were prepared) have unfortunately not been successful.
Problems have remained in the area of respect for the rights of Lithuania’s national minorities as a result of the official authorities’ policy aimed at their assimilation. That was clearly manifested in the school education reform. The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities noted that the authorities’ efforts to mitigate its negative effects on students learning minority languages were insufficient.
The 2011 Law on Education introduced Lithuanian as the only language of instruction in all schools and unified the state language examination in grades 10 and 12. That created significant difficulties for children belonging to national minorities, and the eight-year transition period started in 2012. Lithuanian language teaching was 818 hours less for students from national minorities’ schools who passed the exam for the first time in 2013 than for their Lithuanian peers. At present, the gap in results is narrowing. However, there are still concerns in minority schools due to the end of the eight-year transition period.
According to the AC-FCNM, minority language schools report that they are not ready to adequately prepare their students to pass the unified state examination and make attempts to adapt the unified curriculum to the needs of children for whom Lithuanian is the second language. Consequently, the results of minority language school students in the final examinations were lower than average, which placed them at a clear disadvantage when obtaining budget places in higher education institutions.
The number of teaching hours of the Lithuanian language, as well as methodological guidelines and teaching materials, were not sufficiently adapted to the needs of children from families mainly speaking minority languages and coming to school with very little knowledge of Lithuanian. Many children entering primary school start learning Lithuanian almost as a foreign language and are overloaded by the requirements of the unified Lithuanian language curriculum.
In the current education system, students’ knowledge of minority languages is not taken into account in the final examinations. Only the results of Lithuanian, mathematics and one foreign language examinations (usually English) are taken into account in this final grade, while Polish or Russian can be taken only as an optional examination.
The situation with Lithuanian language teaching and taking the state language exam remains difficult in the areas with a significant number of persons belonging to national minorities – Šalčininki, Trakai, Vilnius (Polish), Švenčionys (Russian and Polish), Klaipėda and Visaginas (Russian). Serious problems persist in rural areas, such as Šalčininki district. The number of schools with teaching in the Russian language is decreasing in the country, while the number of subjects taught in the Lithuanian language is increasing, and the requirements for taking the Lithuanian language matriculation examination for national minorities and Lithuanian school leavers are being fully equalized. Thus, Russian compatriots residing in Lithuania are deprived of the possibility to receive full higher education in their native language. 285
285 Fourth opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on Lithuania, adopted on May 30, 2018. https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97
The negative political and information background around the problem of education in the languages of national minorities in Lithuania has led to constant musing over the theme of ideological influence on the population of Lithuania coming from Russia, interrogations of teachers of Russian schools by employees of the State Security Department in connection with trips of students to Russian summer camps, and also proposals of certain officials of the Lithuanian Republic about closing of these educational institutions.
The need to protect the rights of Lithuanian citizens arises with regard to the authentic spelling of names in documents, as well as geographical names in minority languages in places of their compact residence. The Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania provides that names, surnames and region names in documents are written in accordance with the Lithuanian language rules. This contradicts Article 11 of the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. As a result, persons with foreign names (mainly Russian) face legal problems and have to defend their rights in court.
The decision of the Constitutional Court of February 27, 2014 gives a broad interpretation of the possibility of writing personal names in identity documents in non-Lithuanian characters, using not only letters of the Lithuanian alphabet, but also other letters of the Latin alphabet. Despite a number of draft laws regulating this issue, there has been no visible progress in resolving the problem of spelling personal names of persons belonging to minorities in official documents.
As a consequence, the daily decisions of local government representatives on the use of languages in relations with administrative bodies, the spelling of names in minority languages in identity documents and the use of minority languages in topographic signs are in the legal grey zone. 286
286 Fourth opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on Lithuania, adopted on May 30, 2018. https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97
At present, public debate on the issue of spelling of personal names is focused on persons who have acquired Lithuanian citizenship by marriage and children born in “mixed” marriages. In accordance with the Decree of the Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court of 2016, the surname and name of a child born in a Polish-Lithuanian marriage may be written in both Polish and Lithuanian transcriptions. Unfortunately, draft laws before the Parliament do not take into account the needs of third-country nationals or persons belonging to other national minorities.
According to the AC-FCNM, the right to use a personal name in the language of a national minority and its official recognition is a central language right closely linked to personal identity and dignity.
There is still absolutely no progress in the use of minority languages in topographical indications and private signs. According to Articles 17 and 18 of the National Language Act, the Lithuanian language should be used in all public signs, only except for the names of organizations of general national minorities.
In the Šalčininki district, the head of administration was fined 43,000 litas for allowing the use of street signs in the Polish language. A similar situation occurred in Vilnius, where the municipality started to install street signs in foreign languages (English and Icelandic), as well as in national minority languages (Polish and Ukrainian). The AC-FCNM indicated that the refusal to install topographic signs in areas traditionally inhabited by national minorities in the languages of national minorities violates the obligations of the States Parties to the FCNM under its Article 11 (3). 287
287 Fourth opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on Lithuania, adopted on May 30, 2018. https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97
The authorities of some municipalities provide opportunities to use a language of national minorities by accepting written applications in minority languages. The administration of the Šalčininki district accepts applications in Polish and Russian, Vilnius district – in English, Russian and Polish. Applications to the Visaginas district administration can be made in any language spoken by a civil servant. 288
288 Fourth opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on Lithuania, adopted on May 30, 2018. https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97
Among other human rights concerns, the HR Committee noted with concern the use of “hate speech” against vulnerable minorities, including Roma, Jews, migrants and refugees. There is still a clear lack of information on combating gender inequality, domestic violence against women and children, as well as unreasonably long detention periods for migrants (up to 18 months) and unsatisfactory conditions at the Foreigners Registration Centre and in prisons. 292
292 Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee following the consideration of Lithuania’s 4th periodic report. July 2018. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2fC%2fLTU%2fCO%2f4&Lang=ru
The HR Committee is particularly concerned about the initiatives by the Lithuanian authorities aimed at restricting the freedom of expression, including with regard to persons pointing to the involvement of Lithuanians (Forest Brothers) in Nazi crimes against Jews. In particular, reference is made to the practice in the previous years of including the names of such persons in the annual reports of the State Security Department of Lithuania and the Second Department of Operational Services under the Ministry of Defence of Lithuania (“military intelligence”) and the lack of information about the criteria for such publication and its justification.
The report of the Needs Assessment Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on the monitoring of the March 2019 presidential elections in Lithuania (two rounds were held on May 12 and 26 respectively) stressed that official Vilnius had not taken into account many of ODIHR’s previous recommendations, including those related to human rights. [..] Concern has also been expressed about the lack of information on elections in the minority languages.
On May 10, 2019, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued an opinion on the review of Lithuania’s combined ninth-tenth periodic reports. The Committee expressed concern that the concepts of “colour” and “origin” are not included among the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Law on Equal Treatment and the Lithuanian Criminal Code. It also noted the prevalence in Lithuania of deep-rooted prejudices against vulnerable and minority groups, especially migrants, Muslims and Roma, the use of “hate speech” and insults against them, including anti-Semitic statements in the media and the Internet. Furthermore, the CERD indicated that there is no comprehensive legislation in place to protect the rights of national minorities, and that the conditions of refugees should be improved.
In turn, the AC-FCNM noted the presence of anti-Semitic statements in the media, including Internet media. In particular, an anti-Semitic statement was made by the Ombudsman for Academic Ethics and Procedures. The Speaker of the Seimas and the Prime Minister immediately issued a public condemnation of this act. In March 2018, the Parliament voted by a qualified majority to remove this person from office. Representatives of the Jewish community in Vilnius also expressed concern to the AC-FCNM about the safety of their buildings and would like to have more public support in that matter.
The Roma continue to be the most vulnerable group. The HR Committee, the CERD and the AC-FCNM noted with concern the persistence of discrimination against the Roma, particularly in the exercise of their rights to housing, health care, employment and education. 293
293 Fourth opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on Lithuania, adopted on May 30, 2018. https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97
Action plans aimed at integrating Roma into the Lithuanian society were adopted for the periods of 2012–2014 and 2015–2020. The current Action Plan is aimed at improving the access of Roma to education, health care, employment, housing construction, as well as at improving the status of Roma women and promoting intercultural dialogue. The implementation of the mentioned Action Plan is supervised by the Department of National Minorities.
According to the report of the Department of National Minorities of 2016, the percentage of Roma not having completed primary school decreased from 11 per cent in 2011 to 8 per cent in 2015. The percentage of Roma children having completed primary school increased slightly (to 63 per cent). As regards the access of Roma children to education, moderate results were achieved in the period from 2011 to 2015. The Ministry of Education created a network of teachers in schools attended by Roma children. However, the number of teaching assistants, social assistants or mediators hired to support Roma children in schools did not increase, despite the need clearly expressed by the Roma community.
In the opinion of the AC-FCNM, the rooted prejudicial and negative attitude towards Roma in the Lithuanian society has been reflected in a number of incidents that have occurred in recent years.
Following the murder of a girl in early 2017, the media widely reported that the suspected perpetrators belonged to the Roma community, which provoked an anti-Roma public debate. Another example is a tour of the Kirtimai settlement organized by the Vaiduokliai agency, entitled Extreme Walk in a Roma Settlement. The tour advertisement included recommendations for customers not to carry any jewellery or money because it could be stolen. The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman considered the case and found a violation of the Law on Equal Treatment and instructed the agency to change the information about the tour in order to prevent negative stereotypes about the Roma community from being rooted in the public mind. In 2017, an anti-Roma advertisement was placed in a shop, which could be interpreted to mean that Roma would not be served in the shop. Once again, the intervention of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman was required. At the end of 2016, police raided the Roma settlement of Kirtimai, which was accompanied by damage to homes and violence against persons under 18 years of age. The legality of the police actions is under question. 294
294 Fourth opinion of the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on Lithuania, adopted on May 30, 2018. https://rm.coe.int/4th-advisory-commitee-opinion-on-lithuania-english-language-version/1680906d97
The Lithuanian authorities regularly inform the OSCE/ODIHR of the number of reported hate crimes. According to that data, in 2013 the police initiated three cases on the grounds of crimes committed due to hatred, in 2014 – 24 cases and in 2015 – 20 cases. Of the nine such cases, five were initiated on the grounds of “racism and xenophobia” in 2016.
The AC-FCNM noted with concern that the media often refer to the ethnicity of alleged perpetrators who are not Lithuanians, which often provokes a public debate leading to increased negative attitudes towards the minority group concerned. According to the AC–FCNM, the police should not disclose information to the media or the public about the ethnic origin of alleged offenders/perpetrators.
Document data: 07.02.2020 report by Russia’s MFA. Link: https://www.mid.ru/publikacii/-/asset_publisher/nTzOQTrrCFd0/content/id/4025481?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_nTzOQTrrCFd0&_101_INSTANCE_nTzOQTrrCFd0_languageId=en_GB Also available in Russian: https://www.mid.ru/publikacii/-/asset_publisher/nTzOQTrrCFd0/content/id/4025481