Language Education Policy Profile

Majority-Minority Relationships: Minorities in the Media

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1.11 Majority-Minority Relationships: Minorities in the Media

Some research has been done by Lithuanian sociologists on this issue, and the results are summarised in the report prepared under the auspices of the United Nations Institute for Social Development87.

“Overall, in Lithuania issues of national minorities are not urgent and sensitive within the whole context, including both public opinion and governmental policy. Discourses of silence, invisibilisation or even exclusion dominate. One illustration of this could be an analysis of mass media in which principles of being noticeable/unnoticeable or visible/invisible are dominant.

The research of the main daily newspapers in Lithuania demonstrates that texts on ethnic groups quite often portray them as groups that are not integrated into the society's life, as criminal, socially unprotected or "exotic" groups and the problems of thee members of these groups are presented by emphasising their nationality or politicising them88.

The urgency of the issue is determined by political matters and is therefore frequently politicised. To put it in another way, there is no public discourse on the issue and a discourse of silence exists, or, on the other hand, examples of stigmatisation (especially in the case of Roma people) are presented.

When discussing the issues of ethnicity and national minorities in Lithuania, a discourse of civil loyalty and political loyalty dominates, the content of which is usually politicised, especially in the framework of public opinion and public discussions. Therefore, the issues of political integration of national minorities are mainly discussed and developed (legal instruments, laws, etc.) and less attention is paid to the issues of social integration”.

Tereskinas A. (2002) has continued Beresnevičiūtė and Nausėdienė’s work on Lithuanian mass media89, but draws somewhat similar conclusions In a Discourse Analysis of the main Lithuanian dailies and a sample analysis of prime-time TV programs, he argues

“that there is a lack of in-depth reporting on ethnic minorities in the Lithuanian mass media. Minority groups share relative invisibility and one-sided stereotypical representations. Close reading of the most popular daily and TV programmes reveals undercurrent xenophobia in a large part of news reports and broadcasts. The “bad news” focus is overwhelming: most newspaper reports and TV broadcasts focus on some minority member who committed a crime. Much less attention is paid to stories about minorities experiencing problems, prejudice, racism or unemployment. 

Roma people merit the worst representations as the least socially integrated, criminal and exotic group. The mass media frequently refer to the Roma minority as criminal, deviant, socially insecure, inscrutable, and manipulative. In the police reports published in newspapers, the ethnicity of Roma is always emphasized. Paradoxically, there appeared quite recently a set of positive stereotypes attributable to the Roma: Romani have been shown as passionate, romantic and very musical.

Russians receive mixed coverage in the Lithuanian mass media. On the one hand, they are shown as active participants in Lithuanian political life. On the other hand, their political behavior is described as threatening and serving the interests of foreign powers.

As in the case of the Roma, news reports about crimes stress the Russian nationality of criminals.

The representations of the Polish minority focus on the extremely politicized problem of education. From these representations, Poles emerge as a self-conscious national minority that requires special status and rights. 

Jews receive the most multi-sided coverage in the Lithuanian press: coverage of Jewish-related issues ranges from detailed descriptions of anti-Semitism in Lithuanian society to news about Jewish celebrations and cultural events, from Holocaust commemorations to the trials of war criminals.

Sampled TV programs, unfortunately, indicate minimal presence of ethnic stories and characters in the mainstream programming. Ethnic minorities are still hardly ever mentioned in the major broadcast news programmes. This fact demonstrates that television fails to mirror the ‘real’ proportion of Russians, Poles, Roma and Jews in the population of Lithuania…..

His concludes ‘that the Lithuanian mass media describe ethnicity as problematic and not as a positive quality of a multicultural society’.

2.0 Minorities in Education in Lithuania

Most people can speak either Russian or Lithuanian or both. Polish is spoken by a significant minority, but speakers of other languages are quite small in number.

Section 2 above provides clear evidence of a language shift towards Lithuanian since the early 1990s. This process is in part due to the very substantial rates of out-migration experienced by many minorities in this period, and in part due to a process of language assimilation

In spite of this, census and survey data reveals that Russian and Polish are strongly maintained as first languages in the home. Minority languages are also spoken in a some work situations and in public places generally.

Although it is difficult to be precise, sizeable numbers of children, perhaps as many as one eight of all school-going children (about 65,000) have, as their first or mother tongue, a home and neighbourhood language that is different from the language of mainstream Lithuanian schools.

The purpose of Section 3 is to describe the manner in which the Lithuanian authorities are meeting this challenge, having regard to the commitments and assurances contained in the relevant legal documents (see Section 1).

Although census and survey data will continue to be brought into the discussion, the analysis here relies primarily on data collected and published by the Ministry of Education and Science.

2.1 Historical Trends

The broad outline of the pre-1989 situation is succinctly described by Ozolins (1999)

“In all Republics of the Soviet Union (such as Lithuania 1940-1991) local (ie. titular) languages served a virtually full range of sociolinguistic functions, with school systems, higher education, cultural and publishing activities all carried out in the Republic language. In some Republics other local languages also had official currency in more local settings. With the growing influx of Russian settlers in the non-Russian Republics, particularly after World War II, institutions were duplicated for Russian speakers, with Russian language schools, publishing etc. However, only the Republic language (i.e. Lithuanian) and Russian received consideration — speakers of other languages not in their home Republic would have the choice of, for example, sending their children to Russian-language schools or schools in the Lithuanian language. (The only exception to this were some Polish schools in Lithu­ania.) Overwhelmingly, such settlers chose Russian language institutions, leading to a situation where in Lithuania and in many Republics a process of russification occurred within the non-Russian republics. Also, Russian language schools often did not teach the local national language, but Russian was a compulsory and regularly expanded subject in local language schools90

Among the reforms and transformations which took place since 1989, significant changes in the educational system took place. ‘The new 1991 law on education provided for substantial changes in aims, content and structure. In 1992, the government published a document entitled The General Concept of Education in Lithuania, which set out fundamental guidelines for the reform of the education system91.’ These changes included changes in the regulation of languages of instruction. (A new Law of Education was passed in 2003, but a translation was not available while this report was being written).)

According to Article 10 of the Law of Education (1991), ‘the language of instruction at Lithuanian schools in the Republic of Lithuania shall be Lithuanian.’ As a matter of law and policy, all secondary schools from grade 1 onwards must ‘ensure a command of the Lithuanian language’, in line with the required standard set by the Ministry of Education and Science.

However, Article 12 of the Law of Education (1991) states that ‘in the localities where a national minority resides or where there are many of its members, they shall be provided facilities for having public, municipal or non-state pre-school establishments, schools of general education and lessons in the mother tongue, if the said individuals so request and if such request corresponds with an actual need. Parents (guardians of the child) shall choose for the children a pre-school establishment or a school of general education with instruction in an appropriate language’. The same article also provides that ‘for small ethnic communities, classes or optional courses as well as Sunday schools may be set up at state and municipal schools of general education for the purpose of learning or acquiring a better knowledge of the mother tongue’.

The results of these changes can be seen in Table 26, which gives the numbers and percentage of students classified according to their language of instruction for selected years since 1990/1. (See Appendix, Table A for the full set of annual figures.)

Table 26: Number (thous.) and Percentages of students according to the language of instruction (t for selected school years

School Year

Number of students according to the language of instruction

Percentage of students according to the language of instruction
















































































Two features are immediately apparent. First, while the total number of students in the system increased steadily between 1990 and 2001, numbers have been declining in recent years. Secondly, the numbers of pupils receiving their instruction through the medium of Russian and Polish have not changed in line with overall demographic shifts92. The numbers receiving instruction through Polish practically doubled between 1990 and 2000 (from 11,400 to 21,800) and have experienced only a small decline since then. By contrast, the numbers receiving their instruction through the medium of Russian declined by almost 50% from 76,000 to 30,500.

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