Friday, February 12, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Speakers in Lithuania Face Similar Problems to Those in Ukraine, Klaipeda Activist Says

Paul Goble

Gulfport, February 12 – Russian commentators have devoted enormous attention to the Russian-speaking communities in Estonia and Latvia, but they have largely ignored the Russian-speaking community in Lithuania not only because it is significantly smaller but also because Vilnius did not require Russians living there to do anything but ask for citizenship to obtain it.
Now, however, it appears that at least some in Moscow may have decided to pay more attention to the Russian speakers of Lithuania because they believe either that the new Lithuanian government may be prepared to make concessions to this community that its predecessors were not or that they think Russians there could promote Moscow’s interests.
Yesterday, the Novy region news agency posted an article by Anatoly Lavritov, a representative off the Klaipeda Association of Russian Citizens, under the intriguing title, “The Status of Russians in Lithuania: Their Problems Are Similar to Those Russians Face in Ukraine” (
Lavritov says that it is time to stop talking about the well-being of Russian speakers in Lithuania because of the “zero variant” citizenship law and to start focusing on the way that the decisions of the Lithuanian government and the actions of the market are putting at risk the survival of a Russian-speaking community.
Two decades ago, he continues, the Russian speakers of Lithuania “supported the national development of the Lithuanian people,” up to and including backing the recovery of independence of that Baltic country. But in the years since, Lavritov says, they have not received the kind of reciprocal assistance they had every right to expect.
Instead, he writes, “Lithuanian radio, television and press receive all the priorities of development and Russian-language means of mass information and publishing in the final analysis have ceased to be a factor of influence and educational impact,” the result “not only of political but also economic decisions.”
Lithuania’s turn to the West “is leading step by step to the degradation” of the position of Russian “in education and instruction of children of the national minorities.” It has “practically disappeared” from post-secondary education, not only depriving young people of the chance to be trained in their own language but cutting them off from their parents.
Of course, Lavritov says, “it is a good thing” for Russian speakers in Lithuania to learn Lithuanian so that they can deal with the society around them, but it is far from a good thing, he insists, when Russian speakers see their own language described as “a foreign language” and taught only in those terms.
“In the Lithuanian Republic at present,” he continues, “there are no government radio and television channels with continuing transmissions in Russian or any other language of the country’s national minorities.” The law governing minorities adopted prior to 1991 in fact does not call for the use of minority languages in public life.
Even where these minorities form majorities in certain districts as the Poles do in certain parts of the Vilnius region, Lavritov says, they have not been able to get the Lithuanian authorities to live according to international legal norms and to provide for schools and other institutions in these minority languages.
As far as the Russian-speaking minorities are concerned, their small size means that they have “no chance of achieving” what the Poles have not. The Russian language print media at the national level consists of only three weeklies and a Russian version of the Lithuanian daily “Respublika.”
In Klaipeda, Lavritov’s home city, Russian-speakers form a third of its 180,000 residents. But since October 2007, they have not had the Russian-language paper that sustained them all the years after World War II. It ceased to make a profit for its owners, and consequently, they closed it down.
The Klaipeda Association of Russian Citizens has tried to start a new paper, but it lacks the resources to do so because “no one wants to risk his capital” on a venture that could fail. One Russian businessman, Lavritov notes, ”said directly that as long as Russia was not displaying concern about its compatriots, he would in no way support this project.”
Nonetheless, his group was able to scrape enough money together to publish a weekly for the second six months of 2008, but since then, Russian speakers in Lithuania’s largest port have not had their own media outlet. What they have done instead is to rely on materials from journalists in Kaliningrad oblast, Moscow, and Riga.
Given Moscow’s failure to help, Lavritov says, the group is placing its hopes in Tadeus Tomasevsky, an ethnic Pole from Lithuania who was elected to the European Parliament and who has been pressing for the linguistic rights of minorities in Lithuania despite pressure from Warsaw against his doing that.
While Lavritov’s article appears to be little more than a call for Moscow to spend money on his group, the appearance of his words on a Moscow portal and especially the provocative title that the Russian news agency gave it suggest that this article is almost certainly intended by those who ran it as a reminder to Vilnius of one more tool Moscow might use against it.

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