The Law on ethnic minorities in Lithuania: a positive argumenticelds
The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, responsible for the formation of the national minorities policy, refers to three main sources when it comes to legal regulations of national minorities in Lithuania: (1) the articles 37 and 45 of the Lithuanian Constitution, (2) the agreements of the United Nations and (3) conventions of the Council of Europe. In addition to this, the numerous acts of national legislation are being mentioned as well. Among them there are the Law on associations, the Law on sponsorship, the Law on citizenship, and the Law on education. However, no law on ethnic minorities is being mentioned: neither the law on national minorities that perfectly functioned in Lithuania from 1989 to 2010, nor the latest draft law that was approved after the deliberation in the Lithuanian parliament in July 2014. The latter was a setback in comparison with the law that functioned until January 2010. For instance, the draft law did not include a possibility of using public bilingual signs in the minority populated areas.
One could possibly argue that there is no legal vacuum in minority legislation starting from 1 January 2010 (when the Lithuanian authorities terminated old law on national minorities), because international legislation and other national laws are absolutely sufficient to regulate the situation of Lithuanian minorities. The more extreme position would be to argue, copying the legal position of France which claims the absence of minorities in its state, that de iure there are no national minorities in Lithuania since all citizens are treated equally independently of their origin. However, Lithuania does accept having national minorities.
Neither the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, nor other acts of Lithuanian legislation provide a sufficient regulation in terms usage of minority languages. Previously, the Lithuanian law on ethnic minorities was in conflict with the State Language Law, regulating the usage of minority language in addition to the official language. This legal conflict disappeared after the law on ethnic minorities was terminated on 1 January 2010. For instance, the adoption of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages could be a serious substitution for the absence of the law on national minorities in Lithuania. However, Lithuania does not consider signing and ratifying it. Under these circumstances, there is a clear need for a law on ethnic minorities in Lithuania.
On 15 February 2018, the Social Democratic Party political group in the Lithuanian Seimas came up with a new draft law on ethnic minorities. The registered draft law not only provides definitions of ethnic minority and minority language, but also enlists the right of using a minority language in communication (oral or written) with municipalities (Art. 5), the right of receiving information and the first legal aid in a minority language (Art. 6) and the right of writing the names of places, streets, subjects of public administration and topographical signs in a minority language (Art. 7) if a minority comprises no less than one-third of the inhabitants in a municipality. The novelty of the minority definition in the draft law is that it does not require legitimation based on history or tradition; the main criteria are a person’s consideration of being other than the Lithuanian ethnicity and providing evidence that parents (grandfather, great-grandfather) or one of them belonged or belong to that ethnicity.
The initiators of the draft law openly declare that the criterion for the minority size was copied from the current Croatian, Polish, Romanian and Polish legislation and that one of the aims of this law is having good inter-state relations between Lithuania and Poland. Thus, the Polish minority (the largest ethnic minority in Lithuania) would benefit from this law in the first instance. However, the law would have some impact on other ethnic communities in Lithuania as well. It would also allow Lithuania to more clearly position itself on ethnic minority issues.
 National Minorities, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, https://lrkm.lrv.lt/en/activities/national-minorities.
 Art. 37: “Citizens belonging to ethnic communities shall have the right to foster their language, culture, and customs.” Art. 45: “Ethnic communities of citizens shall independently manage the affairs of their ethnic culture, education, charity, and mutual assistance. Ethnic communities shall be provided support by the State.” See: Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, http://www3.lrs.lt/home/Konstitucija/Constitution.htm.
 Draft Law on Ethnic Minorities approved after deliberation, Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, http://www.lrs.lt/sip/portal.show?p_r=10140&p_k=2&p_t=148477.
 Lithuania signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1995 and ratified it in 2000.
 Tautinių mažumų įstatymo projektas, Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAP/4c2a4650125111e88a05839ea3846d8e?positionInSearchResults=0&searchModelUUID=3c5ae9ec-84a1-4433-9319-29f77ce2b6b6.
 Aiškinamasis raštas dėl Tautinių mažumų įstatymo projekto, Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, https://e-seimas.lrs.lt/portal/legalAct/lt/TAK/6f2c5f30125111e88a05839ea3846d8e?jfwid=-fa58i4kyk.
 According to the last census of Lithuania, 200,300 inhabitants ( 6.6 percent of the population) declared Polish ethnicity. Source: 2011 Population and Housing Censuses in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Statistical Office of Estonia, Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia and Statistics Lithuania, 2015, p. 24.
Image: © Kiryl Kascian