The law prohibits discrimination against ethnic or national minorities, but intolerance and societal discrimination persisted. According to the Department of Statistics, in 2011 minority ethnic groups, including Russians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Karaites, and Jews, constituted approximately 14.3 percent of the population.
In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of Interior reported 108 cases of alleged discrimination and incitement of racial or ethnic hatred, compared with 265 in 2012 and 332 in 2011. Most of the instances investigated involved the internet. According to a former Vilnius County prosecutor, judges and other law enforcement officials prosecuted these crimes infrequently, giving priority to “real-life” crimes with identifiable victims.
The country’s national day, February 16, and the date of the country’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, March 11, continued to be occasions for nationalist manifestations.
On March 11, an estimated 3,000 ultra right-wing nationalists, some carrying signs that said “Lithuania for Lithuanians,” took part in an unsanctioned march through central Vilnius to mark the country’s Day of Restoration of Independence. The city government denied the organizers’ request for a permit in December 2012, indicating that the city’s main avenue had been reserved for government-organized events but offering another venue for the march. The organizers lost an appeal to the courts. Although they had no permit, the organizers called for supporters to gather at the cathedral and march down the city’s main avenue. The event took place without incident.
The small Romani community (approximately 3,000 persons) continued to experience discrimination in access to education, housing, healthcare, employment, and relations with police, although there were no official charges of police abuse during the year. Extreme poverty, illiteracy, perceived high criminality, and the negative attitudes of mainstream society resulted in the social exclusion of Roma, 40 percent of whom did not know the Lithuanian language. Many Roma did not have identification papers, and a number of them, although born in the country, were effectively stateless. The Romani unemployment rate continued to be more than 95 percent. Advocates for minority rights 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 society.
On May 14, over a hundred police officers conducted searches for narcotics in the Romani settlement in Kirtimai, where 378 persons, including 183 children, lived. During the searches armed officers broke into Romani houses wearing masks and separated children from their parents to search for evidence. On May 16, three NGOs – the Union of Lithuania’s Eyas, Lithuanian Center for Human Rights, and the Romas’ Integration Home – issued a report to the media asserting that the police actions caused fear and panic among children and irreversibly damaged minors’ mental and psychological health. The searches occurred at 5:00 a.m., when most of the infants and children were sleeping. On May 28, the NGO Union of Lithuania’s Eyas filed a complaint about the raid with the children’s rights ombudsman. On September 24, the ombudsman stated that, even though police complied with the requirements of the law in carrying out the searches, they should have conducted their operations with the interests of children in mind and in accordance with various international conventions and national legal acts. The ombudsman recommended that the general prosecutor and the police general commissioner, in cooperation with other institutions, look for ways to improve the implementation of such searches.
There were no reports of developments in connection with the 2012-14 action plan for integration of Roma into various areas of national life. In early 2012 the government allocated 400,000 litas ($160,000) for the project. Human rights and Romani NGOs were not included in the group that formulated the plan. Nonetheless, seven NGOs submitted their joint comments to the ministry on the proposed action, contending that it did not correspond to EU policy on the integration of Roma. As a result the Ministry of Culture formed a working group of government representatives and NGOs to monitor the plan. The working group met twice in 2012, but there were no meetings in the first 11 months of 2013.
The Polish minority continued to object to requirements, enacted in 2011, that all schools teach the Lithuanian language, history, and geography in Lithuanian. They asserted that this would undermine Polish culture and identity in areas with a substantial ethnic Polish presence. They also complained about a requirement in the law that all students complete a single, uniform Lithuanian language examination at the end of their studies. In 2012 the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities, Knut Vollebaek, stated that the requirements did not violate EU norms or standards. Following Vollebaek’s recommendation, however, the government established an eight-year transition period for the language examination, during which minority students would receive preferential grading. Following the entry of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania party into the ruling coalition after the November 2012 parliamentary elections, the government made additional efforts to alleviate some of the Polish minority’s concerns by changing the content and reducing the length of the essay portion of the single, uniform Lithuanian language examination. In June, however, the Chief Administrative Court issued a final and binding ruling that these changes ran counter to the constitutional principle of equality. The government continued to consider other solutions for language issues during the course of the year.
In December 2012 the European Commission upheld the government’s policy on use of Lithuanian in Polish minority schools and referred to a May 2011 EU Court of Justice ruling that laws concerning minority linguistic rights do not entitle members of an ethnic minority to use the minority language version of their names in official documents. Restrictions on the use of Polish in street signs and on official documents continued to be contentious.