The fear of Islam in Lithuania is growing


Islamophobia in Lithuania only helps the Kremlin

Lithuania’s former defence minister Rasa Juknevičienė has posted a photo of a praying Muslim she took in a Washington airport on Facebook with the comment:

“No doubt everything’s fine, but certain thoughts can’t be suppressed.”

The online portal of the Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT warns:

“The last thing we need right now is anti-Islam sentiment. Although there are very few Muslims in Lithuania, sociological studies show that the fear of them is growing. Very few Lithuanians have anything to do with Muslims in their daily lives, nevertheless they’re sure they should be afraid of them. … If we divide our society by fuelling religious, ethnic and other animosities, we shouldn’t be surprised if we can’t protect ourselves from external enemies like the Kremlin, which is rattling its sabre louder every day.”



[divider]Islam in Lithuania[/divider]


Islam in Lithuania, unlike many other northern and western European countries, has a long history. The medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, stretching from Baltic to Black seas, included several Muslim lands in the south inhabited by Crimean Tatars. A few Muslims migrated to ethnically Lithuanian lands, now the current Republic of Lithuania, mainly under rule of Grand Duke Vytautas. The Tatars, now referred to as Lithuanian Tatars, lost their language over time and now speak Lithuanian; however, they maintained Islam as their religion. Due to the long isolation from all the greater Islamic world, the practices of the Lithuanian Tatars differ somewhat from the rest of Sunni Muslims; they are not considered a separate sect, however, although some of the Lithuanian Tatars practice what could be called Folk Islam.

In Lithuania, unlike many other European societies at the time, there was religious freedom. Lithuanian Tatars settled in certain places, such as around Raižiai (in Alytus district municipality).

Muslim mosque in Kaunas

Muslim mosque in Kaunas

Much of the Lithuanian Tatar culture, mosques, graveyards and such were destroyed by the Soviet Union after it annexed Lithuania. After restoration of Lithuanian independence however the government supported the promotion of Lithuanian Tatar culture among those Lithuanian tatars who lost it. Three original wooden mosques remain now (in villages of Nemėžis, Keturiasdešimt Totorių (both in Vilnius district municipality) and Raižiai (Alytus district municipality), typically having relatively large Muslim populations), as well as a new brick mosque built in Kaunas during the period of interwar independence of Lithuania (in the 1930s) to commemorate the anniversary of Vytautas, the duke who brought Tatars and Islam to Lithuania. That mosque is called Vytautas Didysis Mosque after the Grand Duke Vytautas. In the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, however, no mosque remains, as Russians destroyed the Lukiškės Mosque which was there. The Lithuanian Tatar community is trying to rebuild the mosque, but faces various problems, including lack of funds as well as certain actions by the government of Vilnius city municipality.

Currently, only several thousand Lithuanian Tatars remain, making up an estimated 0.1% of the country’s population.; however, with the restoration of Lithuanian independence, they are experiencing a kind of national revival with evidence to suggest there are several hundred non-Tartar converts to Islam.

During the time of the Soviet Union, some people from other Muslim nationalities were moved in, however many of them were atheists; as well other Muslims came as immigrants after restoration of independence, but as for now this number is very small compared to similar numbers in western Europe; therefore Lithuanian Tatars remain the core of Islam in Lithuania, supported by some Lithuanians who converted. Overall, there are less than 3000 Muslims in Lithuania according to the last census held in 2001.

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Andrzej Vilenski
Andrzej Vilenski, the Baltic Review correspondent is a PhD student at the University of Vilnius, studying policy.

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