1.2 Ethnic composition of the Population 1970-1989
As stated above, all censuses since 1970 have asked respondents to state their ‘nationality’ or ethnic group. The overall totals in each ethnic group have been published by the Lithuanian Statistics Department (LSD)69, and the figures are shown in Table 1.
The overall ethnic composition of the population at the end of this period was roughly similar to the pattern at the beginning. In the first of these censuses (1970), Lithuanians were the largest ethnic group by a considerable margin (80%). Russians (8.6%) and Poles (7.7%) accounted for over three quarters of the non-Lithuanian population. By 2001, these percentages were roughly similar – 83.5%, 6.3% and 6.7% respectively. However, a closer examination of change over time reveals a somewhat more contrasting picture between the Lithuanian group and non-Lithuanian groups.
Table 1: Ethnic composition of the population 1970-2001 - (Population census data)
Population in thousands
As percentage of the total state population
In each of the earlier intercensal periods (1970-79 and 1979-1989), the population of Lithuania grew by 250,000 to 300,000. With the exception of the Jewish population (which declined continuously), the population of all ethnic groups increased. However, the rate of increase varied and a number of minority groups fared somewhat better than the majority (Lithuanian) group. For example, the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian groups grew by 13%, 26.6% and 28% respectively in the first intercensal period, and by 13.5%, 10.5% and 37.5% in the second. The comparable figures for the Lithuanian population were 8.4% and 7.8%. By contrast, the Polish population grew by only 2.9% and 4.4%. The outcome of these different growth rates was a marginal decline in the percentage of Lithuanians and Poles in the population over the period 1970-1989 – from 80.1% to 79.6% in the first case, and from 7.7% to 7.0% in the second.
In the final intercensal period (1989-2001), a very contrasting pattern developed. After a twenty year period of population increase, between 1989 and 2001 the population of Lithuania declined by 190,000. However, the population of ethnic Lithuanians declined by only 17,000, or 0.06%. The brunt of the population losses was borne by minority groups. In general, the groups that had grown fastest in the 1970-1989 period, were now the groups which experienced the greatest losses. For example, the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian populations declined by 36%, 31% and 50% respectively. By contrast, the Poles declined by only 8.9%. As a result of these different rates of demographic change, the percentage of ethnic Lithuanians in the population increased from 79.6% to 83.5%, and the percentage of Poles in the population (6.7%) is now greater than the percentage of ethnic Russians (6.3%).
Population change is the sum of births minus deaths, plus/minus net migration (immigration minus emigration) for a given group over a given period. The LSD has argued that the primary cause of population changes 1989-2001 was net migration, which appears to have affected the minority groups to a far greater extent. The consequences of this for the longer-term viability of minority groups is considerable. Relatively high levels of population loss due to out-migration normally reduces the reproductive capacity of a group, because of disproportionate losses of young adults (especially women). The information so far published about the age-structure of ethnic groups in 2001 would suggest that this is already having an effect. While the percentage of Lithuanians in the total population is 83.4%, among the very youngest age-group (0-4 yrs.), this percentage rises to 89.0%70. Thus, the percentage of children being born in minority groups is less (by one third) than might be expected having regard to their overall size. If this pattern continues, then the numbers of children entering minority schools will decline faster than the Lithuanian majority, even if all other factors remain constant. (It must be stressed, however, that there are clear and substantial differences between minority groups in this respect. While 28.4% of ethnic Lithuanians are under 20 years of age, the corresponding figures for the ethnic Polish, Russian, Belarussian and ‘Other’ communities are 23.7%, 18.0%, 10.9% and 15% respectively. Apart from the Poles, these percentages indicate that all other minorities are in natural decline, i.e. even if net out-migration is disregarded, deaths exceed births.)
Although constituting less than 20% of the population overall, minorities are in some localities the majority group, because of the uneven distribution of most groups. In Table 2, the distribution of the larger ethnic groups by county is shown.
Table 2: Distribution by County of Selected Ethnic Groups, 2001 (Thousands)
In the county of Vilnius, which includes the capital city, Lithuanians constitute only 54% of the population, Poles 25%, Russians 11.5% and others 9.5%.
A finer-grained analysis would show that in specific municipalities in Vilnius county (and in other counties as well), non-Lithuanians form either sizeable minorities or, sometimes, even a majority, e.g. the data of the 2001 census show that Lithuanians account for the following percentages in certain districts/towns of Eastern Lithuania: District of Salcininkai; 10.2%; Town of Visaginas 13.3%; District of Vilnius 22.7%. In Vilnius itself, Lithuanians constitute only slightly more than half (54%) of the city’s population (see Section 2.7 below for a fuller discussion of Vilnius). In these cases, Poles or Russians, either separately or in combination form the majority ethnic group. The linguistic ecology is thus quite complex in these localities.