Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2001 census there were 3,235 Tatars in Lithuania, compared with 5,188 in 1989. Only three small village communities near the ancient Lithuanian capital Trakai have survived the Soviet period. Tatars are heavily assimilated in terms of language and reportedly only a few hundred may retain Tatar as their native language.
Tatars were brought to Lithuania from the Crimea by Grand Duke Vytautas in the fourteenth century. The main Tatar settlements were in Trakai, Vilnius, and Ašmena. By the sixteenth century they had begun to assimilate into the cultures of the groups around them, principally Belarusian, Russian and Polish. Before the Second World War they had a rich library, a Muslim religious centre, mosques in Vilnius and Kaunas and in several villages near Vilnius, as well as journals dealing with Tatar issues.
Following Lithuanian independence a small-scale revival of Lithuanian Tatar culture took place, with the publication of a Tatar and Russian language monthly periodical. In 1997 a festival commemorating six-hundred years of Tatar settlement in Lithuania took place.
There have been efforts to revitalize the Lithuanian Tatar community, with the opening of eight Sunday schools in Vilnius and Visaginas. National radio broadcasts a half-hour programme in Tatar twice a month. In Visaginas television programming relayed from Tatarstan is also available.
Updated June 2015
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