Lithuania’s Minorities: Rights And Problems (II)

Part I


Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania provides that the state language (the language in public use) shall be Lithuanian.[i]

Nevertheless, the Law on Ethnic Minorities stipulates that in the regions densely populated by the minorities, other than Lithuanian language can be used in administration and different offices. The term “densely populated” is, however, vague since it is not defined in the law or by the state authorities what it means more precisely in the practice. The right to use the minority language in addition to the Lithuanian as the state language in offices in areas of compact minority settlement is granted by Article 4 of the Law on Ethnic Minorities. Article 5 of the same law provides that in these areas, signs may be designed both in Lithuanian and in the minority language.

Another important law concerning the language issue in Lithuania is the Law on the State Language. Article 1 of this law provides that “the Law shall not regulate unofficial communication of the population and the language of events of religious communities as well as persons belonging to ethnic communities” and that “other laws of the Republic of Lithuania and legal acts adopted by the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania shall guarantee the right of persons belonging to ethnic communities to foster their language, culture, and customs”.[ii]

The Polish minority

The issue of using both languages in “densely populated” areas is most important for the Polish ethnic minority in Lithuania. The native speakers of Polish are found all over Lithuania, but over 90 per cent of the Polish minority in Lithuania live in and around the Lithuanian capital Vilnius (in Polish Wilno): in the municipalities of the Vilnius City, the Vilnius District, the Šalčininkai District, the Trakai District, and the Švenčionys District. How much the Vilnius District and Lithuania, in general, are important for Poland and Poles can be seen from the fact that in Vilnius, the Polish state TV company TVP has the office – TVP Wilno.[iii]

As can be seen in the illustration on the map of the ethnic breakdown of Lithuania, the Poles in Lithuania are located mostly in a common area. In the Šalčininkai District and the Vilnius District, they are even clear arithmetic-statistical majority (79,5% of the population in the Šalčininkai District and 61,3% in the Vilnius District).[iv]

Poles in Lithuania
Poles in Lithuania

However, their legal right to use the Polish names of streets was limited for a very long time. It was even the case that the Administrative Court of Lithuania issued a decree according to which, the placement of tables with names of the streets in Polish next to Lithuanian ones was contrary to law and, therefore, the Lithuanian authorities demanded to remove it and the persons, who were responsible for putting such tables, have been punished with a fine. However, the local Polish population refused to remove the tables. The local authorities of the Vilnius District intended to approach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg with this case.

In essence, in the Lithuanian legal system exists a contradiction between the law on national language and the law on ethnic minorities, but in the practice, the law on national language is treated as a superior in the decision of the Administrative Court.[v]

The most vivid conflict in the relationship between the state authorities of Lithuania and Lithuania’s Polish minority as well as its Lithuanian counterpart in Poland is in regard to the spelling system to be used for both personal names and place-names in the respective minority languages and their local communities. According to the Lithuanian laws, personal names have to be written using the “Lithuanian alphabet”. It practically means that, for instance, Lithuania’s Poles, who are using the Latin alphabet as Lithuanians, still cannot use specific letters (graphemes) existing in the Polish alphabet but not in the Lithuanian one (for example, letter W/w). Earlier, moreover, even a Lithuanian nominative ending (suffix) had to be added to the personal names and family surnames, so the name could be inflected in Lithuanian. However, this practice of “Lithuanization” is no longer the case, but still, personal names in official documents are spelled differently from the original language: for example Lavrinovič but not Lawrinowicz.

Problems in this area might be solved by spelling names (and toponyms) in the languages using the Latin alphabet in their original form, i.e. in the form used by the local ethnic minority. Lithuania’s Poles are demanding exactly that from the Lithuanian authorities for over 15 years, but still without practical effect. It is worth pointing, that name of an international company can be written with the letters which do not exist in the Lithuanian alphabet (for instance, WesternUnion). However, when it comes to the personal names and the family surnames, in 1999 the Constitutional Court of Lithuania claimed that using a non-Lithuanian way of writing would be contrary not only to the official constitutional language principle but also would complicate the activities of state authorities and other institutions and organizations in the country.[vi]


Broadcasting in the minority language is not restricted by the Lithuanian legislation. However, the State Language Law demands (Article 13) that all the audiovisual programs must be shown in state language or with the Lithuanian language subtitles. According to the Law on National Radio and TV (LRT):

“A variety of topics and genres must be ensured in the programs of LRT and the broadcasts must be oriented towards the various strata of society and people of different ages, various nationalities, and convictions.”[vii]

The State Language Law (1995) gives national minorities the right to publish information and organize events in their native language alongside the official language (Lithuanian). The Lithuanian state television and radio programs (LRT) also broadcast programs in languages other than Lithuanian and books and newspapers are available in the languages of the national minorities. Article 2 of the Law on Minorities lies down the right to have newspapers, other publications, and information in one’s own language.

However, it has to be strictly noticed that from 2014 (the Ukrainian crisis) all “Putinist media propaganda” on TV and radio coming from Russia is strictly forbidden. Even the personal bank accounts by the law are checked for the reason to “prevent money laundering” but in fact to receive any financial support or donation from Russia. In other words, all taxpayers are legally obliged to declare all incomes coming from abroad to the bank account with the specification of the country. Even the banks are legally mandated to inform the State Taxation Inspection (VMI) about the private incomes from abroad. Those personalities which are getting any financial income from the Russian Federation by any means (for instance, PayPal) are going to be in certain troubles.

National minorities, for instance, published in the 2002 year some 41 periodicals in their language – 35 newspapers and 6 magazines. 31 of them were published in Russian, 7 in Polish, 1 in Belorussian, and 2 in German. The state radio broadcasts one hour daily in Russian and Polish (concerning political news it is pure Russophobic propaganda especially since 2014). There are weekly editions in Ukrainian and Belorussian.[viii] It was no and still, there are no Romani-owned or Romani (Gypsi) language newspapers, television, or radio programs in Lithuania at present, and to date, the Government has provided no financial support for the Romani (Roma/Gypsi) language media.[ix]

For example, the Polish minority in Lithuania makes active use of the rights provided by the law: witness the publication of one daily newspaper “Kurier Wileński” as well as the weekly “Nasz czas”, the Catholic weekly “Tygodnik Wileńszczyzny”, the quarterly “Znad Wilii”, the monthly magazine for Poles in Lithuania “Magazyn Wileński”: all published in Vilnius and providing a rather broad spectrum of information for the Polish-speaking population of Lithuania. There is one radio station, “Znad Wilii”, broadcasting in Polish from Vilnius/Wilno 24 hours a day. The national Lithuanian radio and TV (LRT) broadcasting company translates a TV program into Polish for 15 minutes once a week. The Polish-speaking population in and around Vilnius is also able to receive some TV stations from Poland (TV Polonia).[x]

lithuania-mapAlthough, according to the researches made by Arturas Tereskinas, and earlier researches are done by Inga Nausėdienė and Giedrius Kadziauskas, the Lithuanian mass media strengthen negative stereotypes of ethnic minorities and present ethnic minorities as a separate part of the Lithuanian society. Discourse analysis of the main Lithuanian dailies and a sample analysis of prime-time TV programs demonstrated that there is a lack of in-depth reporting on ethnic minorities in the Lithuanian mass media. Minority groups share relative invisibility and one-sided stereotypical representations:

„Close reading of the most popular daily and TV programs reveals undercurrent xenophobia in a large part of news reports and broadcasts. The ‚bad news‘ focus is overwhelming: Most newspaper reports and TV broadcasts focus on some minority members who committed a crime. Much less attention is paid to stories about minorities experiencing problems, prejudice, racism, or unemployment.“[xi]

In A. Tereskinas’s researches, portraits of different minority groups were examined. The Roma/Gypsi people merit the worst representations as to the least socially integrated, criminal, and exotic group. The mass media frequently refer to the Roma minority as criminal, deviant, socially insecure, inscrutable, and manipulative. In the police reports published in newspapers, the ethnicity of Roma is always emphasized. Paradoxically, there appeared quite recently a set of positive stereotypes attributable to the Roma: The Romani/Gypsies have been shown as passionate, romantic, and very musical.

The ethnic Russians receive mixed coverage in the Lithuanian mass media. On one hand, they are shown as active participants in Lithuanian political life. On other hand, their political behavior is described as threatening and serving the interests of foreign powers (Putin’s Russia). As in the case of the Roma, news reports about crimes stress the Russian nationality of criminals.

The representations of the Polish minority focus on the extremely politicized problem of education. From these representations, the Poles emerge as a self-conscious national minority that requires special status and rights.

A conclusion can be made that TV programs, unfortunately, indicate the minimal presence of ethnic stories and characters in mainstream programming. Ethnic minorities are still hardly ever mentioned in the major broadcast news programs. This fact demonstrates that television fails to mirror the „real“ proportion of Russians, Poles, or Roma in the population of Lithuania. The Lithuanian mass media usually describe ethnic minorities as problematic and not as a positive quality of a multicultural society. Stereotypical attitudes towards minorities threaten to develop social distances (segregation/stratification) between different ethnic groups.[xii]


According to the Lithuanian Law on Education, article 28, paragraph 7:

“In localities where a national minority traditionally constitutes a substantial part of the population, upon that community’s request, the municipality assures the possibility of learning in the language of the national minority”.

The Law on Education (1991, amended in 2003) states that educational institutions must incorporate information on ethnic cultures into their curricula and that national minorities should have access to pre-and post-grade schools funded by the state, including lessons on their own language. According to the data of the Ministry of Education and Science, for instance, in the 2003−2004 academic year, there were 1816 schools of general education in Lithuania, among them 1616 in the Lithuanian language, 142 in the Russian, Polish, and Belorussian educational languages and 59 mixed schools with classes of different educational languages.[xiii] 

After the re-establishment of the independence of the Lithuanian state in 1990, the network of Polish schools in South-East Lithuania was upheld. In the 1990s, as more and more the Russian-language schools were closed, the network was extended upon active lobbying of the Lithuanian Polish organizations. The result of such consolidation is the growing number of Polish-mother tongue children attending schools with the Polish as the language of instruction. The so-called Polish schools in the area around the capital of Lithuania, where the overwhelming majority of the Lithuanian Poles live, are usually monolingual, with only Lithuanian language as a compulsory subject taught in Lithuanian. It has to be stressed that the Law on Education allows the teaching of other subjects in the Lithuanian language if the parents of the pupils or the pupils themselves wish so.[xiv]

Etnic Polish party in Lithuania (LLRA) and its president W. Tomaszewski
Etnic Polish party in Lithuania (LLRA) and its president W. Tomaszewski

Outside of compact Polish settlement areas, Saturday or Sunday schools provide instruction in the Polish language and culture. In 2005, there were 11 such Saturday/Sunday schools for the Polish-speaking children in the Kaunas, Klaipėda, and Kėdainiai Districts as well as in other minor regions. These are maintained by local Polish organizations, mainly by the Association of Poles in Lithuania.

In general, In Lithuania, there are most Polish-language schools in Europe after Poland. Together with Poland, Lithuania is the only country in which Polish speakers can get an education in their own national language from the elementary school to the university (if studying the Polish language and philology at the university). To study the Polish language in Lithuania is possible at three universities in Vilnius. According to the official data, there is 51 school in which the language of instruction is the Polish (67 per cent); 12 schools of Lithuanian-Polish language (16 per cent); 7 schools of the Polish and the Russian language (9 per cent); and 6 schools of the Lithuanian, the Polish, and the Russian language (8 per cent).[xv]

The Law on Minorities guarantees minority groups the rights:

“to obtain aid from the state to develop culture and education; to have schooling in one’s native language, with provision for pre-school education, other classes, elementary and secondary school education, as well as provision for groups, faculties and departments at institutions of higher learning to train teachers and other specialists needed by ethnic minorities.”

The Law on Education also provides protection for “compact” minority communities. Although the requisite size and concentration for a “compact” community are not specified in the law, the state will either establish or support existing pre-schools and schools or classes of general education in minority languages and culture to communities it defines as such.

Smaller minority communities without the resources or numbers to establish their own schools may establish separate classes, optional classes, or Sunday school classes within the Lithuanian state schools to learn or improve their knowledge of their native language and culture. The Polish and Russian minorities both benefit from the existence of state-funded schools at which they can study in their mother tongues.[xvi] 

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[i] The official English language text of the Constitution can be found at the website of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania []. The Constitution was adopted by the citizens of the Republic of Lithuania in Referendum on October 25th, 1992. It has 154 articles. About the historical development of Lithuanian Constitutionalism, see in [Dainius Žalimas (Editor-in-Chief), Lithuanian Constitutionalism: The Past and the Present, Vilnius, 2017].

[ii] Mercator-Education, The Polish Language in Education in Lithuania.

[iii] Post address: Naugarduko g. 76, LT-03202 Vilnius, Lietuva.

[iv] Zbigniew Kurcz, Mniejszość polska na Wileńszczyźnie, Wrocław 2005.

[v] About the identity problems in Lithuania of three biggest ethnic minorities, see in [Monika Frėjutė-Rakauskienė, Kristina Šliavaitė, „Rusai, lenkai, baltarusai Lietuvoje: lokalaus, regioninio ir europinio identitetų sąsajos“, Etniškumo studijos, 1−2, Lietuvos socialinių tyrimų centro Etninių tyrimu institutas, Vilnius, 2012, 126−144].

[vi] Wikipedia. Autor: Robert Wielgórski; „Premier popiera pisownię nazwisk w języku mniejszości narodowych”, article from daily newspaper Kurier Wileński, 2009-04-23.

[vii] Marko Kallonen, Minority Protection and Linguistic Rights in Lithuania.

[viii] Arturas Tereskinas, “Minority Politics, Mass Media and Civil Society in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland“:

[ix] “Minority Protection in Lithuania”, Monitoring the EU Accession Process: Minority Protection, Budapest: Open Society Insitute, 2001; TV Programos Savaitė: 2020-09-19.

[x] Mercator-Education, The Polish Language in Education in Lithuania.

[xi] Arturas Tereskinas, “Minority Politics, Mass Media and Civil Society in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland“:

[xii] Ibid. For the matter of comparison, see [Invisible Visible Minority: Confronting Afrophobia and Advancing Equality for People of African Descent and Black Europeans in Europe, Brussels: European Network Against Racism, 2014].

[xiii]„Lithuania/4.2 Recent Policy Issues and Debates”:

[xiv] About ethnicity and identities in South-East Lithuania, see in [Monika Frėjutė-Rakauskienė et al, Etniškumas ir identitetai pietryčių Lietuvoje: Raiška, vieksnniai ir kontektai, Vilnius: Lietuvos socialinių tyrimų centras, 2016].

[xv] Tautinės bendruomenės Lietuvoje, Vilnius: Tautinių mažumų departamentas prie Lietuvos Respublikos vyriausybės, 2018, 54.

[xvi] About the importance of language for the preservation of national identity in Europe, see in [Stephen Barbour, Cathie Carmichael (eds.), Language and Nationalism in Europe, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2000].

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