Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
In the 2001 census Belarusians and Ukrainians numbered 42,866 and 22,488 (1.2 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively). This compares with 1.5 per cent and 1.0 per cent shares of the population in 1989 respectively. Decline in numbers may be attributed to the closure of large industrial plants in which especially Ukrainians were employed, encouraging emigration back to their homeland.
Most Belarusians are Belarusian-Russian bilinguals.
Ukrainians, many of whom came to Lithuania as a part of labour migration in the Soviet period, live mainly in urban areas.
Contemporary Belarus formed part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the thirteenth century and Belarusians resided in the Grand Duchy from the Middle Ages. Belarusian identity in Lithuania remained an amalgam of East Slavic, Polish and Lithuanian elements, later somewhat solidified by immigration after the Second World War. Today, Belarusians are concentrated in rural areas to the south and north of Vilnius and along the Belarusian border.
In 2003-4 there was one secondary school in Vilnius with Belarusian as the language of instruction; some tuition in Belarusian is also available at another two everyday schools and one Sunday school. There have been initiatives in the 1990s to foster the training of teachers of Belarusian, although clear data on their impact is not available. There are reportedly some 22 socio-cultural Belarusian associations in Lithuania.
There are daily programmes in the Belarusian language on Lithuanian national radio, and one broadcast on national television. A small number of monthly and quarterly publications are published in Belarusian.
There are reportedly five Sunday schools offering Ukrainian medium tuition and classes on Ukrainian history and geography. In 1997 two Ukrainian cultural centres were established in Vilnius and Visaginas. There are currently a reported 19 Ukrainian civic associations in Lithuania. In the media, Ukrainian is represented by a church newspaper, a twice-monthly radio broadcast lasting 20 minutes and a once-weekly 10-minute television programme.
Updated June 2015
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