U.S. English Foundation Research



Language Research

3. Language issues: Where does one observe language to be a problem in the country?

Amongst the Baltic States Lithuania has the smallest number of Soviet-era Russian immigrants but their future seems to be the most positive. Lithuania has no border problems with Russia, nor does it have a problem in relation to its Russian ethnic population. The delineation of the State border between the two countries was completed in October 24, 1997 with the signing of a Treaty between Lithuania and Russia including a Treaty establishing an Exclusive Economic Zone near the Baltic Sea.

Rights of national minorities, including those of Russians, are fully respected in Lithuania. Lithuania granted the right to obtain Lithuanian citizenship to all inhabitants residing in Lithuania at the Declaration of Independence. Russians represent approximately 8% of the population of Lithuania and they enjoy a full social, cultural and linguistic autonomy guaranteed by the Lithuanian laws and according to international standards.

Lithuanian law is widely considered by international observers to be the most liberal in the Baltic States with regard to minority rights. Although the Law on Ethnic Minorities (1989) states that people of all ethnic groups must respect Lithuania’s state language, culture and traditions, the State must also provide equal protection for all the citizens of Lithuania, regardless of ethnicity. Article 4 says that in offices and organizations located in areas of substantial minority numbers with a different language, the language spoken by that minority shall be used in addition to the Lithuanian language (amended on January 29, 1990). The same also applies to schooling, newspaper and street signs.

The Lithuanian Law on the State Language of 1995 deals only with the usage of the state language.

In comparison with Estonia and Latvia, the Russian minority living in Lithuania gains certain rights from the law. Due to this fact, Lithuania is not criticized by the human rights organizations.

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Updated (February 2003)


Problems between Lithuania and Poland regarding the Polish minority living in the Vilnius region erupted at the end of January 2003. The debate concerned bilingual signs erected last year by the Polish minority, constituting three quarters of the residents in Suderwa, near the capital Vilnius. The Lithuanian authorities have ordered to take down the signs and imposed a fine on the residents. Almost all the parties represented in the Polish Parliament called for the signs to be kept.

However, Polish MP Heinrich Kroll, a representative of the German minority living in Poland, argued that Warsaw uses double standards. Germans do not have such rights in Poland. In the German minority regions around Oppeln, information in two languages is only permitted on public buildings.

Source: Eurolang News, Brussels, February 4, 2003, by Hannah McGlue,

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