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Unnoticed Transformation of Lithuania

Lithuania has no mention of ethnicity-related issues at all in the Polity IV country reports. No wonder that in 2004, Eleonora Mitrofanova, the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, noticed:

The situation of the Russian-speaking populations in the three Baltic States

differs. Lithuania, as you know, in 1991 automatically granted citizenship to all its permanent residents; it has signed and ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and consistently relies on its provisions in its legislation and nationalities policy. The example of Lithuania once more confirms the correctness of our thesis of the unacceptability of references to historical circumstances for justifying discrimination against large groups of non-titular population, as is the case in Latvia and Estonia (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation 2004).

Lithuania was a showcase of a civilized and Russian-approved solution to the minority issue introduced on their soil by the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States from 1940 to 1991. As we have discussed, there are many differences between the Lithuanian case on the one hand, and the Estonian and Latvian cases on the other. This attitude has been deeply ingrained in popular and scholarly publications. However, nobody has pointed out or noticed that these policies underwent substantial changes and became similar in terms of content to the situation in the rest of the Baltic nations. As in the Estonian and Latvian cases, the immediate postSoviet Lithuanian concept of the “other” was equally about breaking down the traditionally existing linguistic-cultural and confessional pluralism. The history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, especially its parts inhabited by people speaking Lithuanian dialects, was very different from the ideological vision of contemporary nationalism that saw ethnolinguis- tic borders overlapping with political borders. The aim of the Lithuanian national movement founded at the end of the nineteenth century was to establish a national state where people speaking Lithuanian would become the majority and be supported, promoted and protected from “others” by the future state. The vision was idealistic but detached from reality, with the hope of turning it into political practice in the future. This was not an easy dream to realize.

During the years of the interwar Lithuanian Republic (1918-1940), there was a conviction that ethnolinguistic minorities would object to the establishment of a Lithuanian state for Lithuanian speakers. Mistrust and suspicion towards ethnolinguistic minorities was often combined with a paternalistic attitude towards them and became one ofthe main obsessions of the Lithuanian state’s administration. The state tried all kinds of measures to ensure loyalty which all served specific purposes, for example, subsidies for minority organizations, direct administrative and police control, censorship and a policy of assimilation.

The Soviet transformations from 1940 onwards did not change identity policies much in Lithuania. They promoted and enforced the lay-folk forms of identity and the myth of linguistic exclusiveness. Moreover, they further elaborated on the themes of Lithuanian identity, going beyond the Christian and European traditions, which were always under pressure from Christendom. The Lithuanians as the last pagans resisting Europeans in the times of the Crusaders and the negative social and historical stereotypes against Poland were beloved topics of Soviet Lithuanian officialdom. Lithuania under the Soviets was a small microcosmos of the Soviet Union. It was a ground of competition for the cultures of the Lithuanian and Russian peoples, which competed for attraction among the other minority pupils.

On the other hand, it was almost impossible for a pluralist identity to find its place in the sun. All the inhabitants of Lithuania were framed into one or another kind of identity. The only alternative to the traditional ethnicity was the Soviet type of socio-economic identity, which denied the importance of local language, culture and ethnicity. The Russian culture was often identified with this kind of “homo sovieticus”, because this ambiguity was the safest strategy in the world of essentialist Soviet policies, which defined ethnicity as monistic and inherited. In practice, it meant the objectivization of ethnicity, very often mutually denying identity, a ban on professions, and discrimination not only of minorities but of the majorities as well (Kobeckaite 1989). Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of Lithuanian independence did multiculturalism and uni- versalism start to receive wider acknowledgement.

However, the pedigree of statehood in Lithuanian ethno-nationalism made Westernization and gravitation into a postmodern type of political nationhood difficult during the post-communist transition. The regaining of statehood in 1990 was closely related to the SqjUdis movement, based on restitution of the pre-war statehood and ethno-nationalism. Naturally, ethnic minorities became a focus of attention immediately because of historical, political, legal and psychological reasons stemming from a paternalistic Lithuanian attitude deeply ingrained in the cultural memory. On the other hand, minority organizations (which suddenly found themselves as Georgians, Russians, Poles, etc.) tried to find a consensus with representatives and organizations of the ethnic majority in Lithuania and to understand its relationship with the future sovereignty of Lithuania (Kobeckaite 1989).

Articulation of ethnic interests and self-organization took place in parallel with the process of legalizing the presence of minorities in the political framework of the country. It took some effort on the part of the new authorities in the Lithuanian Republic in 1990-1993 to resist the temptation of establishing national autonomy for minorities. This turn of events would have meant turning Lithuania into a partner of the corporate minorities, as in the initial years of the interwar independence (Laurinavicius and Sirutavicius 2008, p. 128; Liekis 2003). Despite the failure of ethnic minority federalization, the minorities had to be integrated through the preservation of ethnic and organizational-institutional separateness. This kind of integration, preserving separate ethnic institutions, appeared first in the SqjUdis Popular Front and later in the new Lithuanian state structure.2 An association uniting all ethnic organizations had been established already in 1988. It became the only association which aimed to re-establish the traditional culture and appreciate the ethnic identities of their members. The decree by the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic over Temporary Order for Registration of Citizen Voluntary Organizations issued on 17 February 1989, helped to promote self-expression and development of civil society and a larger number of organizations.

However, all of the official rhetoric of the time was full of anthropomorphisms when discussing nation, national identity and ethnicity. The Lithuanian nation (ethnicity), as it was understood in pre-independent Lithuania, became a substitute for the non-existing independent statehood and the hegemonic figure in the country. At the same time, very rarely did anybody remember the role of state institutions or even the sociological makeup of society. A radical step in the opposite direction was the Law on Citizenship of 23 November 1989, which entitled all inhabitants of Lithuania to citizenship and equal rights. The first Minorities Law of Lithuania was passed on 23-24 November 1989. The discussions that hindered rapid acceptance of the law were about the willingness of the local Polish politicians to have national territorial autonomy, and the debates about the necessity to offer university education in minority languages. On 18 November 1988, the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic introduced an article proclaiming the Lithuanian language as the state language, with an option to use minority languages in the territories of their compact inhabitance.

According to Vladas Sirutavicius (2008), one of the researchers of the period, Lithuanian ethnic minorities representatives met the law with hesitation. For example, the Polish minority representatives were not concerned that Lithuanian was proclaimed the state language, but that regulations on using the Polish language in the eastern part of the country where there was a high percentage of a Polish speaking population were introduced. The first contacts between Lithuanian politicians and representatives of the Polish Union of Lithuania took place on 30 June 1989. These were discussions which at the initial stage did not contribute much to mutual understanding. Nevertheless, it did point to a very different understanding of the nature of the new state. On what basis did it plan to regain independence? For Lithuanian politicians, it sounded natural that the new state would be ethno-national, a state for Lithuanians, but not that ethno-nationalism would constitute a political principle of the democratic state. In other words, only Lithuanian ethno-nationals could restore Lithuanian independence and the core of the new Lithuanian nation would be made up of ethnic Lithuanians. In a sense, ethnic Lithuanians became the new owners and subjects of the new state and they had to establish their relationship with their ethnic minorities.

Integration of the multicultural ethnic heritage became conceptually problematic. The problem of how ethnically diverse cultures should become part of Lithuania’s culture was an underlying current during the whole period. Plus, there were serious tensions between two contradictory principles: giving priority to an ethnic group, or being democratic towards the entire majority and minorities in all aspects of politics. Despite the difficulties in being convinced about the democratic intentions of Lithuanians, Polish politicians finally found themselves in a position that was not so different to all the other minorities. The attempts to acquire special status for the Polish minority did not succeed. In the later years after regaining independence, politicians were also selective in promoting a certain ethnic identity. This was very much reminiscent of the interwar and Soviet Lithuanian-type of Lithuanian ethnic identity, based on folk culture and lacking the continuity of the historical dimension entrenched in the culture of the elites in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Naturally, attempts to promote identity based on narratives of exclusivity should be defined as counterproductive.

Integration is not a separate method to deal with ethnic relations, but rather the state of affairs between different ethnic groups. Acculturation is more appropriate in describing the ethnic policies which result in integration. Because integration and acculturation are intermediate stages before assimilation, in real terms both might be interpreted as an attempt to introduce assimilationist policies. The policies of the Lithuanian state can be described through government programmes. The first elements for the implementation of ethnic policies were introduced in the programme of the III Lithuanian Government (13 January 1991-21 July 1992). It has a chapter about migration policies by establishing an institution which was to take care of migration processes. Apart from the focus on regulating the flow of people leaving the country, for the first time the historical-cultural tradition and a willingness to act in the former historical boundaries of Lithuania was mentioned. There was a plan to implement a programme for fostering the culture of Lithuania Minor. There were also intentions for another programme for fostering the culture of south-eastern Lithuania, which had to be based on the continuity of the traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a polycultural state.

However, in the final analysis, during this period observers witnessed active cultivation and fetishization of ethnic identity. Moreover, the state’s attention to ethnicity issues was also related to helping compatriots in learning the Lithuanian language and, generally, culture was seen as the sphere which might help build historical continuity. Prioritizing Lithuanian language and support for its study abroad automatically meant prioritization and exclusive support for only one of Lithuania’s ethnic cultures.

The first attempt in 2003 to produce a draft ethnic policy of the Lithuanian Republic, based on positive interculturalism, drew criticism from traditionally oriented opponents. They were against multi-ethnicity in the country. According to them, minorities had at best to be ascribed the status of a traditionally understood national minority in return for having limited civic participation, which implied marginality in society. The drafters of the concept well understood that uneven and ethnically charged policies did not have the potential to level different interpretations of history, values and points of view between the ethnic majority and minorities in the state. Moreover, the previous policies of ethnicization did not strengthen a sense of belonging to the Lithuanian state, and might have been interpreted as hindering the formation of social contacts and dialogue (Potasenko 2009, pp. 280-283).

These tendencies prioritizing Lithuanian ethnic nationalism continued unabated until November 2006, when the Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a decree confirming the Concept of the Lithuanian Civic

Nation. The decision forced change in as many as 23 articles of the Law on Citizenship of 2002 (Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania 2006). The decision turned against ethno-nationalist nationalism. Later, attempts in the political domain to undermine the decision of the Constitutional Court through legislation and everyday public practices did not make an impact on the legal interpretation. A different turn of events continued in the public policy formation process. Any attempts to construct positive multiculturalism or interculturalism drew criticism from the followers of an ethno-nationalist interpretation of Lithuanian identity.

Many observers might be able to claim that “categorical nationalism” united everyone, and that rejection of the Soviet system, which was heavily identified with Russification, prevailed (Venclova 1994, p. 17). Actually, the factor of perceiving the Soviet order as threatening Lithuanian identity was of crucial importance for the national movement in capitalizing on the advantages offered by Gorbachev’s Perestroika. However, let us keep in mind the patterns and circumstances of change where there was not a single ethnic conflict and only an instrumental, festive and short-lived antiRussian argument in place. According to Saulauskas, it well suited the eclectic nature of the development.

Thus, the reality was more complex. The elites understood that civic (political) nationalism is more favourable to multiculturalism and recognition of societal diversity. However, the tensions still existing in the political field and ideological manifestations between two visions - the ethno- nationalist and civic nationalism - contribute to political mobilization of ethnic minorities, their radicalism and social distance.

Neither of these visions are effective in light of the inconsistency facing the political mobilization of minorities. All this is even more exaggerated with the absence of modern consultative politics at the governmental level. However, the tendencies at least from 2003 were very visible in the legal field and were fruitful in the formation of the political nation.

Lithuania moved much further away in changes with civic self-identification, catching up with the population’s predominantly ethnic world view. Research by Nadezhda Lebedeva from 1996 revealed that already a few years after regaining independence in 1991, identifying oneself as a citizen of one’s respective country was the most frequent among Lithuanians (23.5 %) and significantly less so among Estonians. A certain parity between two types of self-identification (ethnic and civic) is noticeable only between Lithuanians. Among the Estonians, ethnic identity clearly dominates, followed by civic and European options (Lebedeva

2004, p. 52). The lesser emphasis on ethnicity in Lithuania in terms of self-identification is matched by the close social distance to Russians (Lebedeva 2004, p. 62). Genealogical heritage manipulation and balancing economic and political interests are seen as the most successful prescriptions that governments can apply under certain circumstances (Statkus 2003, p. 278). The Lithuanian government employed these policies to a certain degree, in respect to its Polish minority.

Among other things, this tendency to identify with civic nationalism contributed enormously to Polish-Lithuanian rapprochement and political partnership until 2008. Lithuanian ethno-nationalist identity has been constructed on selective negation of its intimate relationship and its roots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and to a certain degree in the Polish language (Maciulis 2005).

Ever since the 1990s, the Polish minority has been viewed horizontally as constituting a challenge to Lithuanian statehood and as an offspring of the former Polish cultural dominance in the Lithuanian territories. The shift in Lithuanian policies in 2000 was a good example of how ethnic politics in the country could help to encourage international cooperation and closer collaboration. The new Polish-Lithuanian narrative of closeness helped to legitimize the policy of Polish-Lithuanian cooperation. Also, the identity narrative helped mobilize the political public. Moreover, it helped to build and maintain alliances, encouraged (re)constructing identity claims in international relations and encouraged formation, projection and reception of a Lithuanian strategic and civilizational narrative for foreign policy purposes.

The surveys demonstrated that 24 % of Lithuanians felt a relationship of identity with Poles, while around 20-30 % of Lithuanian Poles did not mind being called Lithuanians. The Lithuanian and Polish identities, as in premodern times though having a different content, at times supplement one another (Leoncikas 2007, p. 89). The politicization of minority issues became possible after a worsening of Polish-Lithuanian relations in 2008, following the election victory of the Civil Platform in Poland and the Conservative Party in Lithuania. Many issues of real and of secondary importance and sometimes of symbolic value (e.g. the writing of Polish names in the original language, with Polish diacritical letters) started to be exaggerated and politicized on both sides in the period 2008-2016. The Lithuanian Conservative Party, joining with the Lithuanian Nationalist Party that represented the ethno-nationalist worldview, also exaggerated in a bad sense the Lithuanian stance towards the

Polish-Lithuanian rapprochement. The victory of the social democrats in the 2013 elections in Lithuania did not change bilateral relations much from the perspective of minority politics. It might have indicated also the failure of deeper integration, limiting its success only to legal phraseology. Especially, since scholars from the Lithuanian Social Research Institute have noticed the negative trend of Lithuanian Russians sliding into the social exclusion zone. Russians demonstrated that they felt more discriminated against than others, and were mostly negative in self-evaluation of their social status and opportunities for social mobility, which was a substantial change from the pro-integrationist attitude of Russians in the 1990s (Leoncikas 2007, p. 128). This might have certain correlations with the feelings and segregationist strategies of the Polish ethnic political elites in Lithuania from 2008, which also saw electoral cooperation with Russian ethnic political movements in Lithuania in the national and municipal elections in 2013.

An ethnicity-centred analysis and geopolitical narrative of a civiliza- tional stand against Russia with increasing consolidation, linguistic assimilation and an amalgamation of ethnic markers is not the only topic of interest to researchers. Other areas of interest include social divisions and the formation of the “winning” and the “losing” sectors of society with, for example, modernists opposing traditionalists, liberals opposing nationalists and pro-Europeans opposing Eurosceptics. (Svarplys 2013, p. 278).

The power balance with the neighbours and their influence on their coethnics in Lithuania seemed to have greater influence on the actions of the state than other considerations. The vertical relationship with the Russian ethnic minority based on cultural memory constructs underwent changes with Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 1999, when Lithuania’s perception of Russia changed enormously, especially after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The vague identification of local Russians with present-day Russia started to be seen as being related to the agenda of the Russian Federation.

Within the framework of the worsening international situation, with the Russian Federation playing an increasingly more assertive role since 2014, the present-day situation in Lithuania is almost playing into the hands of Russian propaganda and its strategic anti-European narrative to the same extent. The Russian Federation’s propaganda war has been based on the premise that the policies of the Baltic States and East Central European countries seek to subvert the status of Russian speakers in the post-Soviet area. Recent Russian propaganda efforts resorted to instigating the separatism of Russians and Poles using social media. Thus, such an instigation of separatism in the Baltic States has to be placed in the context of the entire post-Soviet space.

 
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