− State authorities should highlight their strong political will and commitment to fight all forms of racism and discrimination as well as their vigilance and sensitivity to the dynamics of multiculturalism and identity changes faced by its society;
− The Government should promote a profound process of multiculturalism based on the recognition and respect for the cultural and religious diversity of its different communities, old and recent, and the strengthening of the unity of the nation. Education, in particular the writing and teaching of history based on this logic, should play a key role
− The Government should extend and reinforce its National Programme for the Integration of Roma in the Lithuanian Society, aiming at both promoting and respecting their cultural identity and at eradicating their social and economic marginalization, in particular poor housing conditions, the high number of dropouts and poor achievement of Roma children at school, and the difficulties that the Roma have in accessing employment. The programme should also have a strong component that focuses on non-Roma citizens, sensitizing Lithuanian society at large to Roma history and
traditions, in order to eliminate the stigma and negative stereotypes with which the Roma are recurrently associated;
I. GENERAL BACKGROUND
B. Demographic, ethnic and religious composition
11. Lithuania has historically been a multicultural society with a core national identity. According to the 2001 census, Lithuania has a population of around 3.5 million, 83.5 per cent of which is of Lithuanian origin. Other large ethnic groups are Poles (6.7 per cent), Russians (6.3 per cent) and Belarusians (1.2 per cent) and Ukrainians (0.7 per cent). A number of smaller communities are also present, including Jews, Latvians, Tatars, Germans and Roma.1
1 National Census, 2001.
13. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in Lithuania, as 2.7 million Lithuanians (79 per cent of the population) identify themselves with this religious denomination. During communist rule, Catholicism was severely persecuted and became a symbol of national identity. Other sizeable religious groups are Russian Orthodox (4.1 per cent) and Protestants (1.9 per cent). Atheists amount to 9.5 per cent of the population. The Jewish and Muslim communities are numbered in the low thousands. A small but active community of Karaïtes, a group of ethnic Turkic adherents of Karaïte Judaism, is located in the city of Trakai.2
II. LEGAL FRAMEWORK, PUBLIC POLICIES AND VIEWS OF STATE OFFICIALS
A. The legal and institutional framework to combat racism and racial discrimination
Law on National Minorities and the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad
30. The general provisions of the Constitution are also complemented by the Law on National Minorities, which recognizes notably that “the cultural heritage connected with a national (ethnic) minority is an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Republic of Lithuania”. This Law, similarly to the Law on Equal Treatment, establishes a general prohibition on discrimination based on national or ethnic origin whilst defining positive actions to advance minority cultures. In particular, it ascertains the State obligation to promote the national consciousness and self-expression of minorities “to foster and develop the culture, language, customs and traditions of their nation or ethnic group and to preserve their national/ethnic identity” (art. 3.2).
31. The Law on National Minorities establishes a particular set of rights for persons belonging to national minorities, which includes the right to the State’s support in developing their national culture and education; the right to use the language of their national minority; the right to be taught the minority language or to receive instruction in this language; the right to receive and impart information and ideas in the minority language; the right to manifest one’s religion or belief and to establish religious communities and associations; the right to use minority symbols
and celebrate minority holidays. Furthermore, the Law also establishes the principle that in areas inhabited by a large number of persons belonging to a national minority, these persons may request to address State institutions in their minority language. Implementation of the Law is entrusted to the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad.
32. The Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad is responsible for the protection of rights of persons belonging to national minorities, safeguarding of their interests, attending to their needs and care for the preservation of national identity and heritage.5 The Department is directly supported by an advisory Council of National Minorities, gathering
representatives of some 20 communities, who make recommendations to the Department, the Seimas and the Government as a whole. The Department is also responsible for promoting Lithuanian culture abroad, particularly by supporting activities developed by the Lithuanian diaspora, which has some 1.5 to 2 million members worldwide.
5 See the State party report, CERD/C/461/Add.2, para. 7.
33. Apart from policy consultation, one of the roles of the Department is to provide support, including funding, to initiatives developed by minority communities in Lithuania. A number of cultural centres that promote minority cultures are being supported by the Department around the
country. In particular, the Special Rapporteur visited the Roma community centre in the outskirts of Vilnius, the Jewish Tolerance Centre in Vilnius, the Karaïte Society in Trakai and a multicultural centre in Visaginas. In this regard, the Department is designed to promote a predominantly cultural strategy to promote integration and multiculturalism and foster minority
cultures, thus complementing the legal measures that have been established to fight racism and discrimination.
B. Policies and measures to combat racism and racial discrimination
34. The Government’s approach to national minorities was summarized by the Director of the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad as an attempt “to build a new Lithuanian State with the minorities that live in Lithuania”. In particular, this Department ruled
out any possibility of fostering integration by assimilation, emphasizing the importance of national minorities maintaining and promoting their cultural traditions within a multicultural State.
37. As concerns the promotion of tolerance and intercultural dialogue, the Special Rapporteur was also informed that Lithuania, through its Ministry of Culture, has put in place a strategy that focuses on four main principles: the promotion of minority cultures; the implementation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Convention on Cultural Diversity; the coordination of the European programme on dialogue among cultures; and the preparation of activities for 2009, when Vilnius will be the European capital of culture. For this particular celebration, the Ministry of Culture has planned a number of activities that emphasize the role of multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue as cornerstones of Lithuanian culture. Three broad principles are followed while implementing cultural policy: every member of society has the right to participate; Lithuanians and national communities have the right to preserve and foster their national culture; conditions are created to spread Lithuanian culture internationally and to familiarize Lithuanians with other nations’ cultures.6
6 Ibid., para. 347.
C. Perceptions and reactions of State officials and government agencies
43. Officials at the Ministry of Interior also expressed the view that an important policy that contributed to creating peaceful relations and tolerance between ethnic communities in Lithuania was the zero-option citizenship law after the restoration of independence. According to this law,
every individual who was living in Lithuania before the restoration of independence in 1990 (except former members of the Soviet military forces) was granted the option to become a Lithuanian citizen. This policy has virtually eliminated the problem of statelessness and managed
to grant national minorities the full set of rights that stems from citizenship.
III. VIEWS OF CIVIL SOCIETY AND COMMUNITIES CONCERNED
B. Views of the Roma community
58. The Special Rapporteur asked Roma representatives for their views concerning the Programme for the Integration of Roma into Lithuanian Society, implemented by the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad. The general perception was that the
programme was a positive step, particularly due to the formal recognition by State institutions of the difficult situation faced by the Roma community. Local leaders described the actions and projects designed by the department on a positive note and as important means to redress the
situation. However, two major criticisms regarding the programme were raised. First, the programme was seen as insufficient to tackle the structural problems that the community faces, particularly regarding access to jobs. In particular, Roma leaders pointed out that the actions developed by the Department can only be successful if complemented by an engagement of the Vilnius municipal authorities, which are directly responsible for a number of practical issues concerning the Kirtimai settlement (e.g. land, access to basic services, schooling, etc). Second, Roma representatives felt that the community was not satisfactorily consulted or involved in the
design and implementation of the programme and hence could not voice its major concerns and suggestions, which would have an impact on the effectiveness of State actions.
59. One of the reasons why the Programme for the Integration of Roma into Lithuanian Society was criticized was its virtually exclusive focus on actions within the Roma community and a lack of attention to broader initiatives that need to take place at the heart of Lithuanian society to combat prejudice and further tolerance and respect. Ultimately, the issue that was constantly highlighted by Roma leaders in their discussions with the Special Rapporteur was the broad question of cultural mentality and acceptance by the Lithuanian society of the Roma as a distinct community that is the bearer of social and cultural traditions that need to be preserved.
Their main demand, therefore, is that actions to improve the conditions of living of Roma citizens be linked to the promotion of tolerance and acceptance of cultural diversity within Lithuanian society.
60. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur welcomes the new Roma Integration Programme for the period 2008-2010, which aims to focus on some of the problems outlined by the community, with a special emphasis on issues of employment, professional training, social exclusion and the
building of tolerance towards the Roma community
61. The Special Rapporteur noted with interest that one of the most popular singers in Lithuania today is a Roma. Although Roma communities in Europe have historically found in music one of the few avenues for expression and broad participation in society, which has not
had a meaningful impact on the reversal of their marginalization and exclusion, the Special Rapporteur expressed his conviction that the success of a Roma musician as a national symbol in mainstream popular music in Lithuania could be an opportunity for authorities, society at large
and the Roma community to deepen this expression of acceptance of diversity and engage in a profound discussion aimed at fostering new opportunities for educational, cultural and professional inclusion of Roma within Lithuanian society.
E. The multicultural experience of Visaginas
69. The Special Rapporteur also visited the city of Visaginas, in the northeast of the country, which is considered as a successful experiment of multicultural integration. Although a small city, Visaginas has 47 different nationalities represented and only 14 per cent of its population is
ethnically Lithuanian. Around half of the population is of Russian origin, many of whom moved to Visaginas to work in the construction and maintenance of a nuclear power plant that operates close to the city.
70. Due to the multicultural character of the city, language issues come to fore. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur was informed by the Vice-Mayor of ongoing efforts to improve access by persons of non-Lithuanian origin to the full range of State services. This includes, for example, the possibility of addressing municipal institutions in Russian, including the Municipal Council. Ethnic minorities are also represented in the local political system – only a quarter of the members of the Municipal Council are ethnic Lithuanians. According to local authorities, despite the potential problems that would arise due to linguistic diversity, the actual experience is quite
positive and encouraged most of the Visaginas population to become proficient in several foreign languages.
71. In Visaginas, the Special Rapporteur also visited the local community centre where national minorities develop an array of cultural activities, particularly involving children. In the community centre, the Special Rapporteur met representatives of the Russian, Ukrainian, Tatar and Jewish communities. They explained that the centre focuses on three main strategies. First, Sunday schools are made available for children belonging to minorities. Whereas the Russian community, due to its larger size, is able to have Russian-language education in regular schools, smaller minorities organize after-school lessons for their children. So far, classes for seven
different minorities are available, not only for linguistic proficiency but also focusing on social studies, history and traditions of each minority. The second strategy is to go further than classes and also to meet the cultural needs of minorities through the creation of national associations that
organize year-long activities and events, such as special celebrations organized by the Muslim community during Ramadan and music lessons for traditional folkloric music. Finally, the centre also serves as a means to enhance communications and consultation between the minorities and
the national Government, particularly through the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad.
72. The underlying message expressed both by local authorities and community leaders in Visaginas was that the different ethnic communities managed to become well integrated in the fabric of the local society whilst not only preserving but also strengthening their own particular identities. In this sense, Visaginas is an important test of the strength of Lithuania’s
multiculturalism and the way it will meet its future challenges. Some Sri Lankan migrants had recently moved to the city for work, which points to the tendency of non-European migration in the future. Furthermore, the nuclear power plant, which is one of the main sources of income in the city, is scheduled to be deactivated in 2009, which has created some uncertainty and fears regarding the city’s future welfare. Although the existing network of intercultural relations in Visaginas offers a solid basis to tackle these challenges, constant vigilance by authorities and civil society will be required in the future. In this regard, Visaginas’ successful experience in
overcoming the challenges of globalization in times of more difficult economic conditions could serve as an example for other parts of the country as well as the region itself.
IV. ANALYSIS AND ASSESSMENT OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR
76. Apart from institutions operating on the legal realm, the Special Rapporteur was also encouraged by the work of other government bodies that focus on social and cultural policies towards vulnerable groups. In particular, he wants to highlight the central role played by the Department of National Minorities and its director to protect and promote the cultural traditions of national minorities. Despite the limited amount of funding, it has managed to develop creative and innovative policies to address the needs of minorities and promote multiculturalism, being clearly recognized by minority communities as a legitimate interlocutor. The Ministries of
Education and Culture, in the Special Rapporteur’s view, also show a positive and creative contribution to the promotion of multiculturalism. It is especially relevant to highlight the Ministry of Culture’s activities in the realm of Vilnius’s selection as the European “Capital of Culture” in 2009, when a number of events to illustrate Lithuania’s diversity will be organized.
79. The Roma community in Lithuania, as in many European countries, is a particularly vulnerable group, and subject to profound discrimination – not sanctioned by laws, but deeply rooted in the minds of many citizens – and thus requires concerted efforts by authorities at the national and local level. Apart from the provision of basic rights, especially good housing conditions, education and health, Lithuanian authorities should focus on broader actions that target not only the community itself, but society as a whole. One of the central causes of the marginalization of Roma citizens is intolerance and a lack of acceptance by society at large, which can only be redressed through a national strategy to promote cultural diversity and
acceptance of multiculturalism. This strategy would also include activities that promote Roma culture as an enriching component of the national culture and deepen social and economic interactions between the Roma community and the population at large.
80. Lithuania, like several Eastern European and in particular Baltic countries, is currently at a turning point in history. Its society is profoundly marked by the historic legacy of Soviet domination and occupation, which affected, albeit to different degrees, all Baltic countries. The central challenge it faces is to build a democratic, egalitarian and interactive society, taking into account both the necessity to reassert the continuity of its national identity – shaken and eroded by occupation but deeply rooted in past history – and the recognition and respect for the rights of its minorities, comprising not only historically discriminated-against communities such as the Roma, but also the Russians and other minorities that arrived during the occupation. This new identity tension, with its political and cultural expressions, requires political vision, legal vigilance and cultural creativity to foster among communities a long-lasting sense of belonging and living together. Two principles should guide this process: respect for the historical truth and non-discrimination against minorities. History and geography are both central in this context. National and regional factors are particularly relevant as far as the Russian communities are concerned. The full respect of their rights – in terms of citizenship, language, culture and the eradication of any form of discrimination – is closely linked to their involvement and participation in the process of construction of a new multicultural nation that is fully respected by all countries in the region. As Lithuania’s economy becomes more exposed to the world, a steady influx of new waves of migrants, mostly non-European, will start. A mounting challenge that Lithuania faces is therefore to prepare its society for the arrival of different peoples bearing their own ethnicity, traditions, cultures and customs. The promotion of multiculturalism is therefore the most appropriate way to transform this challenge into an opportunity of enriching the Lithuanian society with more diversity and intercultural dialogue.
V. RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR
81. State authorities in the executive, legislative and judiciary powers should highlight their strong political will and commitment to fight all forms of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia in Lithuanian society and their vigilance about new challenges that arise from growing migration, multiculturalism and identity changes. It is especially important to firmly condemn any racist or xenophobic action or discourse, including by political parties and the media.
82. Lithuania has a strong heritage of multiculturalism that stems from the multi-ethnic Grand Duchy of Lithuania and continues to exist today. State authorities and civil society alike should build on these plural traditions to strengthen all actions against racism and discrimination and to promote a democratic multiculturalism that includes new minorities into Lithuanian society.
87. The Government should also develop comprehensive programmes of multicultural training and qualification in public institutions, particularly for law enforcement officials.
88. The role of the Department of National Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad should be strengthened, both in terms of mandate and resources. The Department should expand its activities to promote cultural expressions of minority communities and rely on its distinctive vision of multicultural integration. In particular, besides working with traditional minorities, the department should be given the capacity to have a more specific focus on new religious and ethnic communities and their integration into Lithuanian society.
89. As an integral part of the focus on new minorities, the Government should engage in efforts to prevent the emergence of Islamophobia as well as discrimination and prejudice against other religions, particularly those that were not historically present in Lithuania.
90. The Government should extend and reinforce its National Programme for the Integration of Roma in the Lithuanian Society, aiming at both promoting and respecting their cultural identity and at eradicating their social and economic marginalization, in particular poor housing conditions, the high level of dropouts and poor attainment of Roma children at school and the difficulties of Roma to access employment. The Programme should also have a strong component that focuses on non-Roma citizens, sensitizing Lithuanian society at large to Roma history and traditions, in order to eliminate the negative stigma and stereotypes with which Roma are recurrently associated. Furthermore, as many of the actions that are required to improve the living conditions in Roma settlements need to take place at the municipal level, Vilnius authorities should work in close collaboration with the national Government to follow its overarching priorities and legal obligations to grant the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights to the Roma community.
91. In parallel with a political and legal strategy, the Government and civil society should adopt an intellectual, ethical and cultural strategy that addresses the deepest roots of racism, xenophobia and intolerance and is built around the promotion of reciprocal knowledge of cultures and values, the interaction among the different communities and the link between the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination and the long-term construction of a democratic, equalitarian and interactive multicultural society.
92. The process of building a multicultural society in Lithuania should be based on two principles: respect for the historical truth and non-discrimination against minorities. Due to historical and geographical factors, a focus on national and regional dynamics is also central. The success of this initiative will also depend on the active involvement and
participation of minorities in the construction of a new multicultural nation that is fully respected by all countries in the region.
Document data: A/HRC/7/19/Add.4 07.02.2008 Link: http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/HRC/7/19/Add.4&Lang=E