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” (www.nr2.ru/kiev/269625.html).
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.
By Paul Goble