Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Russian minority, numbering some 219,789, according to the 2001 census, can be divided into three main groups: (1) those whose ancestors settled in Lithuania between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries; (2) those who settled in Lithuania between the two world wars as immigrants from the Soviet Union; and (3) those who moved to Lithuania after the Second World War as civilians or members of the Soviet military and/or police apparatus. Ethnic Russians live mainly in the urban areas and provide the main labour force in the industrial sector, especially in energy, transport, and heavy industry.
Initially tense relations between the Lithuanian authorities and the Russian minority improved considerably after 1991 when the Seimas suspended the county council in Ignalina (formerly Snieckus) on the grounds of its support for Soviet rule during Lithuania’s independence struggle and the August 1991 coup attempt.
Due to the emigration of some of Lithuania’s Russians following independence, the number of Russian-language schools and educational institutes in the country has decreased. This is also reportedly because increasing numbers of Russian families are sending their children to Lithuanian-medium schools. Some 30,465 pupils reportedly attended one of 58 Russian schools or the 43 mixed schools combining Russian with Lithuanian and/or Polish as media of instruction in the year 2003-4.
There are numerous weekly and monthly periodicals published in Russian and one regional daily newspaper. A number of daily and weekly Lithuanian papers also provide Russian translations. There is extensive publishing in Russian and the Lithuanian state subsidizes the production of Russian textbooks for schools. In the broadcast media there are daily broadcasts on national radio in Russian and a number of private stations broadcast solely in Russian. There are also programmes relayed from Russian radio stations. There are daily news broadcasts in Russian on national television and local private TV stations also offer extensive programming in Russian. Again there are also possibilities to receive TV programming relayed from Russia.
Updated June 2015
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