April 8, 2009
Lithuanians cling to their language to protect culture

Lithuania, a nation of more than three million people, was the very first of the former Soviet republics to declare its independence from the Soviet Union.

During the 50 years of Soviet occupation, Lithuanians clung to their language as a not-so-quiet form of rebellion. Today, as Worldfocus correspondent Daljit Dhaliwal and producers Sally Garner and Ara Ayer report, they want to protect it — not from an occupying force, but from other languages.

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9 comments

#9

polish and russians must go out of Lithuania, if they don`t like our culture (sorry for my english mistakes). We speak only Lithuanian language all time. Then we were occupated, we also speak Lithuanian language, even russians punished us. They were killing our people, if we were speaking in Lithuanian language.

#8

While the USSR did not officially outlaw Lithuanian, the Czarist Russian empire did so. While occupied countries were allow to keep their native language as an official language secondary to Russian, the Russians did nothing to encourage local culture or languages. For a time, Lithuanians had to go through a length process to order their birth certificates from Moscow. When they arrived they were in Russian only.

#7

“…In these times, English is much more of a threat to Lithuanian…”
True, indeed.

To Vadim Jitnikov:
“…the Lithuanians need to learn from the US and have more tolerance towards the russian language…” - come on, the “protection” is not exactly what you’re thinking about, it equally applies to the russian language in Lithuania, just think about all those russian swear words, and “lithuanian”, sort of, loanwords like ‘tusovkė’, ‘prikolas’, ‘krutiakas’, ‘bablo’, ‘babkės’ - they do not enrich neither russian nor lithuanian. Same about english.
But the report is “very shallow to say the least”, incredible indeed :).

#6

The report is very shallow to say the least… Unfortunately… Just to clarify, the Lithuanian language “police” is exactly what the French have to safeguard French from unnecessary influences from other languages, especially English.
Although Lithuanian was under siege in the 2nd half of the 19 century from Russians, who actually outlawed the language use as traditionally written in Latin, Lithuanian not only survived but thrived, thanks to mass disobedience by Lithuanians in refusing to let their children to schools and instead teaching them in underground schools from the books in Lithuanian with Latin alphabet smuggled from Prussia.
During soviet times Russians had no chance… (of course, Lithuanians use some Russian, or rather Mongolian-Turkish-via-Russians swear words, but that’s about it with Russian influence… In these times, English is much more of a threat to Lithuanian or to that matter to any other languages than any other language…
And the issue with minorities is a bit more complicated… On the surface it does not feel like a big deal, but a problem arises than we start considering that those minorities certainly great majority of them can speak and read Lithuanian just fine… The issue than becomes of their loyalty to the state, why they need that, and so on… Personally, I do not think that it is a big deal, but…

#5

I feel many lithuanian journalists who chose to use newly made-up words based on the english language are much more of a threat to this old, beautiful language than are translations under street signs….

#4

I agree with George, but only technically. The Soviet Union relegate all other languanges to being less than desireable, presenting Russian as the language to know, both in speaking and writing. Forturnately, just like Sweden tried to do to Finland, it didn’t work … if it had we would have lost not only a whole language but a whole wonderful culture, that being Lihuanian.

#3

I agree with George, I think the baltic states had language liberties than Ukrainians. Half of my family still live in Lithuania. My family members who live there are ethnically mixed, even though they have russian heritage as well as Lithuanian, they speak better Lithuanian than Russian. I think the Lithuanians need to learn from the US and have more tolerance towards the russian language. For instance, the hispanic community is the biggest in the US and so a lot of public surfaces offer services in spanish. So I think Lithuanians should have the same services for the biggest ethnic majority after lithuanians who happen to live there for quite some years.

#2

Attempts to suppress the Lithuanian language were more blatant during the Czarist era when teaching the language was indeed outlawed. Many Lithuanians died for the “crime” of smuggling in Lithuanian language books. While Soviet occupiers were not as obvious, mass deportations and Slavification of the Baltics was consistent with a policy of not so benign neglect of Lithuanian culture and language.

#1

Thanks to WorldFocus for another very interesting international report. However, I feel that I need to make a very important correction: The report claims that the “Lithuanian language was outlawed by … the Soviet Union.” This is emphatically not true. Lithuanian was one of the two official languages of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. It is not constructive to make up imaginary claims against the Soviet Union; the country had enough problems and human rights violations as it is. Banning native languages was not one of them.

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