The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic or national minorities, but intolerance and societal discrimination persisted. Minority ethnic groups, including Russians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Tatars, and Karaite Jews, constituted approximately 16.5 percent of the population.
During the year the Ministry of Interior reported 332 cases of alleged discrimination and incitement of racial or ethnic hatred (most of the instances investigated involved the Internet), compared with 159 in 2010.
There were reports of racially motivated violence during the year. The country’s national day, February 16, continued to be an occasion for racist and xenophobic manifestations. In Kaunas youth wearing jackets and paraphernalia similar to those worn by skinheads attacked and beat a Pakistani national.
On March 11, the 20th anniversary of the reestablishment of Lithuania after Soviet rule, approximately 1,000 people participated in a march in downtown Vilnius. The event included some racist and xenophobic slogans, and the primary organizer was a nationalist movement widely criticized for its association with skinheads and neo-Nazis. Some marchers displayed slogans proclaiming “Lithuania for Lithuanians” and “Thank God I was born white.” Senior leaders denounced the demonstration; some criticized the continuing willingness of the Vilnius city administration to provide permits for this annual event.
The small Romani community (approximately 3,000 persons) continued to experience problems, including discrimination in access to such services as education, housing, and health care; in employment; and in relations with police. However, there were no official charges of police abuse. Extreme poverty, illiteracy, perceived high criminality, and the negative attitudes of mainstream society kept this group locked in social exclusion, reflected in the fact that 40 percent of Roma did not know the national language. Many Roma did not have identification papers; a number of them, although born in the country, were stateless. The Romani unemployment rate continued to be more than 95 percent. Minority advocates continued to criticize the Vilnius city government for focusing on law enforcement in the Romani community but doing little to integrate Roma into the broader community.
On September 23, the Supreme Administrative Court, in response to a lawsuit brought by the Vilnius community of Roma, ordered the Vilnius Municipality to pay nonmaterial damages of 55,000 litas ($21,000) in compensation for the destruction of Roma housing in 2004. By year’s end the Vilnius Municipality had paid only a small portion of the award.
On March 17, parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Education that for the first time set minimum requirements for hours and subjects to be taught in the schools. When fully implemented the revised law calls for all students to take the same high school graduate exam in the Lithuanian language and with standardized scoring. Representatives of the country’s Polish minority were critical of the new provisions of the law and the manner in which they were implemented because they said it would reduce the emphasis in schools on Polish language and culture. Lithuanian politicians asserted that comparable requirements exist for ethnic Lithuanians in Poland and that the new rules do not violate EU norms or standards.
Some members of the Polish ethnic minority community also argued that laws which do not allow Polish letters to be written in passports and on street signs violate their minority rights. On July 11, following numerous legal challenges by the Polish community, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the previously existing law requiring that street signs be displayed in Lithuanian only. The European Court of Justice on May 12 also found Lithuania’s law requiring personal names to be written in the state language in passports to be constitutional.
The Polish ethnic community further complained of a lack of progress on restitution and compensation for lands owned by Poles before the Soviet and Nazi occupations. The National Land Service stated that it makes no distinction between ethnic communities and does not discriminate against the Polish minority. According to National Land Service data, 96 percent of outstanding claims in Salcininkai, which holds the largest Polish minority population, were settled. In the other center with a large Polish minority population, Vilnius city and region, 32 percent of outstanding claims in the city and 87 percent in the region were completed. This compared with 19 percent (city) and 85 percent (region) in 2010.