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Anti-Lithuanian sentiment (sometimes known as Lithuanophobia) is the hostility, prejudice, discrimination, distrust, racism or xenophobia directed against the Lithuanian people, Lithuania or Lithuanian culture. It may also include persecution, oppression or expulsion of Lithuanians as an ethnic group.
Some Belarusian academics are known for engaging in historical negationism and trying to culturally appropriate Lithuanian culture, national identity and history of statehood by arguing that the Belarusian word litoutsy (літоўцы), meaning ‘Lithuanian’, historically refers to modern Belarusians instead whereas present-day Lithuanians are pretenders who should actually be identified as letuvisy (летувicы) and are accused of stealing their ethnonym as well as the historic name of their homeland. Some Belarusian scholars consider the statehood of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to be primordially Slavic rejecting the notion that its origins come from Baltic Lithuanian tribes. Historian Mikola Yermalovich claimed that King Mindaugas was Belarusian whereas the epicentre of historic Lithuania was actually in central and southern Belarusian lands.
During the Belarusian opposition protests in 2021, a Lithuanian woman was arrested and beaten up by Belarusian OMON forces after they found out she was a Lithuanian citizen.
In 2023, statistics from the previous year alone indicated that a significant number of Lithuanians were exploited or faced discrimination at work in Belgium with Federal Public Service Employment getting around 400 complaints: 168 of cases were from Lithuanians who did not receive their paycheck or it got delayed whereas 234 of them received smaller payments than their coworkers for the same work because of their background. There were also accounts of Lithuanians facing racist or humiliating comments such as being called ‘dirty’, ‘Eastern European’ or noted as coming ‘from the Soviet Union’ in their certificate of employment.
In 2007, a scandal began to surface as it emerged that some Irish schools forbid Lithuanian children from using their native tongue. There was a reported case of Lithuanian girls suffering physical abuse because they were considered to be more attractive than their Irish peers. Inspector for Children’s Rights Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė stated that “Lithuanian children are feeling unsafe and face discrimination” and concluded that Lithuanian and Irish children were not being treated as equals. In 2008, three Lithuanian men were beaten up because of their nationality by bouncers who claimed that people like them are not welcomed.
During the plague of 1709–11 in the Kingdom of Prussia, 270,000 Baltic people died from starvation and disease, 150,000–160,000 of whom were from the Lithuanian province. This was partially a consequence of Prussian leadership not sending any food aid to regions inhabited by Old Prussians and Prussian Lithuanians due to poor harvest, laws forbidding them to have a sauna resulting in a lack of hygiene and servile work conditions imposed by local administrations. This tragedy resulted in the near-complete extinction of Old Prussians and had tremendous demographic consequences for Prussian Lithuanians. Once the plague ended, King Frederick William I invited colonisers from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France and Austria to resettle in Lithuania Minor. After the creation of the German Empire in 1871, the population of Prussian Lithuanians in East Prussia started to decline even further due to Germanisation. Many Lithuanians who wanted a better life were forced to adopt German culture and eventually abandoned their native tongue. Germans believed their culture to be superior to Lithuanian culture whereas the nation itself was considered to be politically inept. In 1916, a German science publication Der Koloss aut fonernen Fusen in Munich wrote:
[T]he Lithuanian himself has a tendency to superior German culture and by taking this path, he can become a loyal citizen of the Reich. [...] those who think that a Lithuanian is already mature enough for even the most primitive form of self-governance are deeply mistaken.
During World War II, in accordance with Generalplan Ost, the Nazis planned to commit a mass-scale genocide of Lithuanians — 85% were to be physically exterminated, which was the second-highest percentage of planned killings of an ethnic group in German-occupied Europe only to be surpassed by Latgalians.
Historically, Lithuanians in Latvia were called leiši, which apart from its primary meaning was also used to refer to someone who is negligent, lazy, uneducated and illiterate. Following Latvia’s declaration of independence, this term was soon replaced by a neologism lietuvieši due to its negative connotations and official complaints from the Lithuanian Government regarding the designation of the nationality of their compatriots in Latvian passports. Philologist Aistė Brusokaitė suggests that Latvians were the first ones to call Lithuanians zirga galva, meaning 'horse head', which was later adopted as an insult by Lithuanians themselves:
Since Latvians were economically more well off than Lithuanians, Latvians that lived by the border used to take young Lithuanian workmen to serve on their farms to do all the dirty work. Latvians were Lutherans and Lutherans always paid more attention to education. Because of this, Latvians were more educated than Lithuanians, which is why less educated, illiterate Lithuanians were sometimes looked down upon and called ‘zirga galva’.
Before World War II, the Government of Latvia closed Lithuanian organisations and schools, which contributed to many Lithuanians fleeing the country as they could no longer ensure proper education for their children. In the 1950s and 60s, however, economically struggling Lithuanians were once again resettling in Latvia where they faced some degree of discrimination from the locals who did not consider them to be equal or trustworthy. There were reported cases of inciting tensions and insults directed at the Lithuanian people as well as children bullied at school for having Lithuanian parents.
The first negative depictions of Lithuanians in Polish culture date back to the 13th century when they were perceived as wild, greedy and cruel barbarians. In the 15th century, Polish priest Jan Długosz described Lithuanians as barbarous shabby primitives. According to historian Krzysztof Buchowski, “Poles mocked Lithuanians for their poverty, lack of manners and untidiness.” Poland also held certain negative attitudes towards the Lithuanian language and culture as well. Lithuanians experienced strong Polonization, especially in the church, with many Polish clergymen, including hierarchs, deeming the Lithuanian language unrefined, pagan-like and unsuitable for the Christian faith, including its prayers or psalms. Historical accounts also mention violent outbursts in churches against Lithuanian peasants because of their nationality or native tongue. There was a belief amongst the Lithuanian peasantry that they should pray in Polish since Lithuanian is the language of pagans and therefore God cannot understand it. When comparing historical discrimination faced by Latvians under German rule, linguist Alvydas Butkus notes that “Latvians were becoming cultured as Latvians whereas the preliminary condition for Lithuanian and Latgalian peasants to be cultured was Polish language and Polish national identity.” According to historian Alvydas Nikžentaitis, Polish literature also played its role in reinforcing Polish prejudice towards Lithuanians:
In Polish historical consciousness, there is no place for 20th-century events, the formation of the modern Lithuanian nation is ignored and Lithuania is being seen through the creative prism of Adam Mickiewicz and Henryk Sienkiewicz: Lithuanian is a Polish-loving barbarian who should be grateful to Poland for each and every civilizational accomplishment.
After the Polish–Lithuanian War, Lithuanian captives experienced inhumane treatment by the Polish: when transported to Galicia, they were deprived of food, insulted and pelted with apples and stones. Some prisoners died from starvation. In January 1921, a Polish military regime in the Vilnius Region was introduced. Local Lithuanians faced severe repressions: they were punished for letting their children go to Lithuanian schools, possessing illegal press and refusing to participate in rigged elections as they were persecuted, fined or imprisoned. Many Lithuanian intellectuals faced expulsion from their homeland and the Gymnasium of Vilnius was shut down. Some Lithuanian students turned up in protest, but they were brutally cracked down by police. As described by journalist Jeronimas Cicėnas:
When police ousted gymnasium principal M. Biržiška and the director of the teacher’s seminary J. Kairiūkštis from the premises, the Lithuanian anthem could be heard in the street. The alarm of the police immediately followed… A dozen students were beaten until they were bleeding. Practically all were hit by gunstocks, sticks and rocks. I remember when we retreated to the nearby streets. But in Vilnius and Subačius Streets, we were being beaten once again.
Following the annexation of the Republic of Central Lithuania in 1922, Poland actively promoted Polonisation policies aimed to assimilate Lithuanians: they were not allowed to do civil service, have Lithuanian surnames or baptise their children with Lithuanian names. During sermons, Polish priests compared Lithuanians to pagans, their native tongue was presented as unsuitable for prayers. Ordinary Poles would also openly demonstrate their anti-Lithuanian sentiment: there are numerous reported cases of vandalism when they would smash Lithuanian windows on February 16 and even try to break into their apartments. According to journalist Rapolas Mackonis:
Constant debilitating persecutions, harassment, and hatred towards Lithuanians at every step resulted in unbearable life and work conditions. Many Lithuanians could not take it and one by one — some on wheels, some by foot — fled to the West. Besides, many could not get passports and had to scram for this reason alone. Others faced exile.
1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania raised tensions as Poles living in Vilnius held signs saying: “Those who beat Lithuanians live a hundred years” and “Death to Lithuanians.”
During World War II, the Polish resistance forces organised mass killings of innocent Lithuanians. On April 25, 1943, Home Army executed at least 11 Lithuanian civilians in Nočia village, Rodunė, after they told them they identified themselves as Lithuanians. On May 12 of the same year, Polish partisans killed two Lithuanians in Rimdžiūnai village, Gervėčiai, by nearly ripping a woman in half and by cutting off the scalp of a man. In January 1944, Home Army attacked Knicekai village in Eišiškės and massacred 35 Lithuanian civilians with 13 being injured and 40 farms burned to the ground. In the early morning of February 10, 1944, Lithuanians in Rudamina were instructed to leave the Vilnius Region within the next 12 hours or be hanged. Such orders were also given to 330 Lithuanian families living in Maišiagala and Paberžė. On June 23, 1944, in response to the Glinciszki massacre, which was a Lithuanian revenge campaign for killing their auxiliary policemen, the Polish resistance movement Home Army killed up to 200 innocent Lithuanian civilians (by Polish accounts — 27) in the Dubingiai massacre. The victims included newborns, children, women and the elderly. They also killed 273 Lithuanians in Molėtai from 1943 to 1945. Around 4,000 people were murdered by Polish partisans in ethnic Lithuania alone. In 1993, the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Lithuania concluded that “the partisan units of the Home Army who did not recognise the return of Vilnius to Lithuania in 1939, committed genocide against the Lithuanian people.”
The activities of the Home Army in Lithuania remain a sensitive subject for both nations to this day. On March 13, 2005, Lithuanian broadcaster TV3 showed a documentary The Home Army in Lithuania. The Dead End of History (In Lithuanian: Armija Krajova Lietuvoje. Istorijos akligatvis) covering these tragic historical events. Then-correspondent for Gazeta Wyborcza in Vilnius Jacek Komar condemned this film. The broadcaster responded by asking: “Should all those who were beaten, robbed, terrorised, raped by the Home Army soldiers remain silent? Those who were forbidden from speaking Lithuanian, whose passports and prayer books were examined, whose relatives were shot in the back or their heads were smashed against the wall?”
Polish derogatory sayings such as “Lithuanian is a boor whereas Pole is a master” (In Polish: Litvin – cham, a polek – pan) are sometimes used to this day. In 2013, during a football match between Lech Poznań and Žalgiris clubs in Poznań, Polish fans publicly mocked Lithuanians by hanging up a banner, saying “Lithuanian boor, kneel before the Polish master” (In Polish: Litewski chamie, klęknij przed polskim paniem). Thousands of Poles signed a letter of apology on Gazeta Wyborcza following the incident claiming that “in Poland, there’s no place for such primitive behaviour that insults the Lithuanian nation.” In 2014, however, another incident followed when in Białystok football stadium Polish fans showed signs with the word “Wilno” painted in Polish national colours, alluding to Poland's historical claims of Vilnius.
Some Lithuanian public figures also complained about Lithuanian Poles who are allegedly abusing their minority rights and slandering the Lithuanian state based on nationalist sentiments, thus deliberately sabotaging its reputation in the international arena. Romualdas Ozolas wrote:
Even international institutions acknowledge that the conditions for the Polish community in Lithuania are the best in the world: every Pole can get their education in their native language starting from primary school, even in kindergarten, all the way to high school. The education expenses in Polish for Poles, as for all Lithuanian citizens, are covered by the Lithuanian state. <...> The Polish community in Lithuania has its representatives at all levels of Lithuanian politics, starting with elderships and ending with Lithuanian Seimas, Government, European Parliament. Unfortunately, ultranationalist leaders and representatives of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in power are unilaterally yelling: Poles are being neglected by Lithuania, Poles are being discriminated against in Lithuania!
After the partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, most of Lithuania proper fell under Russian rule. From the early 19th century, Russian ethnic policies concerning annexed land were different: unlike in Poland, Latvia, Estonia or Finland where Russians imposed more mild integration policies mainly seeking to turn them into loyal subjects of the state, Lithuanians together with Belarusians and Ukrainians faced assimilation. The unsuccessful January Uprising (1863–64) resulted in Governor General Mikhail Muravyov initiating the Programme of Restoration of Russian Beginnings that claimed Lithuanian land being Russian since ancient times. In 1863, Lithuanian publications in Latin script were banned. From 1872, only the Cyrillic script was allowed and Lithuanian was banned in schools.
Following the occupation of East Prussia, around 130,000 Prussian Lithuanians suffered from ethnic cleansing as they were slaughtered by the Red Army. Thousands of local orphans also known as wolf children (In Lithuanian: vilko vaikai) were left behind to fend for themselves, with many Prussian Lithuanian children escaping to Lithuania proper by crossing Neman. According to the Research Centre of Lithuania, “In Lithuania Minor and all of East Prussia, there were almost no settlements where the Soviets wouldn’t have killed and tortured the civilian population, destroyed or pillaged their property. Men were killed and women were raped.” NKGB officer Kuzmyn in Klaipėda writes:
In Klaipėda and Šilutė there are all-around rapes of women happening, regardless of their nationality, physical stance or age. The beautiful city of Šilutė that was left by the Germans without a battle now looks repulsive.
In 1947, the Council of Lithuania Minor in Fulda, Germany, protested against the ethnic crimes and Russian colonisation of their homeland. Some historians deny accusations of genocide against Prussian Lithuanians, claiming it to be the result of soldier brutality. In 2006, this massacre has been recognised by Lithuania as genocide against the Prussian Lithuanian people carried out by the Soviet regime.
During the Soviet times, the famous slogan “Lithuania shall remain but without Lithuanians” by statesman Mikhail Susnov was coined. Once Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, immediate Russification followed: the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would give administration positions in Lithuanian SSR to Russian representatives who usually could not speak Lithuanian, ethnic Russians were encouraged to resettle in Lithuania. In some governmental institutions of Soviet Lithuania, the Lithuanian language was banned. In 1948, 80% of all communists in Lithuania were Russians whereas only 18.5% of them were Lithuanians with the situation getting slightly better after Stalin's death. In 1953, the leadership of the Lithuanian SSR indirectly admitted that there were attempts to Russify Lithuania and plans to eliminate politics of national character. In the 1980s, Russification intensified in public life as well: it was mandatory for the Lithuanian Communist Party to report on their progress regarding Russification. From 1972, Lithuanian names were started to be written in accordance with Eastern Slavic naming customs as patronyms were introduced.
See also: Soviet deportations from Lithuania
Similarly to the Soviet Union, modern Russia has also been accused of historical negationism, claiming Kaliningrad to be “primordially Russian land” despite the region sharing much closer cultural ties with its neighbouring countries and being historic Baltic land of Prussian Lithuanians and Old Prussians for centuries. Historical book The Western Part of the Lithuanian Ethnographic Territory written by Professor Pavel Kushner (Knyshev)exploring Baltic people’s ties to the region has been removed from all libraries of Kaliningrad and mainland Russia with possibly only a few copies in archives remaining.
In the present-day political context, Lithuanians themselves are oftentimes framed as ‘nazis’ or ‘fascists’ by the Russian state media and press due to the Lithuanian killing squad Ypatingasis būrys carrying out atrocities against the Jewish population during the Holocaust and Lithuanian leadership defending partisans of questionable reputation. In 2015, Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky threatened the territorial integrity of Lithuania by urging Russia to “take back Klaipėda and Vilnius” on national television. In 2023, reacting to President of Lithuania Nausėda's encouragement to send more military aid to Ukraine, Russian television host Vladimir Solovyov made claims suggesting that Lithuania is not worthy of its independence, threatened the future of its sovereignty, and asked: “Why do we put up with their existence?”
There have been instances of Russian ethnically motivated violence directed against the Lithuanians living in Lithuania. In 2020, a 24-year-old Russian man who received political asylum physically assaulted a Lithuanian teacher in Visaginas for teaching Russians Lithuanian in school and called Lithuanians "man-eaters". Lithuanians have also been attacked for addressing Russian speakers in Lithuanian either as pedestrians or clients.
Lithuanians have reported facing double standards when seeking to come to the United Kingdom. There have been reports of Lithuanians having to pay £55 more for obtaining a UK visa than citizens from other EU countries. Despite Britain’s official explanation that the larger price is a result of Lithuania not ratifying the Social Charter of the European Commission of 1961, Embassy of Lithuania claimed this decision to be discriminatory and “not fully convincing” as the country did ratify the Social Charter of 1986, which “[f]rom a legal stance, is not a more inferior document.” Post-Brexit amendments affecting labour migration in Britain have also been seen as discriminatory against Lithuanian workers as it will cost much more for employers to employ them in comparison to other nationals. In the words of the representative for IOM Audra Sipavičienė, additional taxes for employers “may contribute to Lithuanians being discriminated against in the labour market. This means there will be no interest in taking a more expensive Lithuanian instead of a cheaper Latvian.” There have been several instances of hostility towards Lithuanian migrants accompanied by property damage although motives for such attacks may vary. In 2016, a twelve-year-old Lithuanian boy was beaten up in Manchester because of his nationality by his British peer who was ordered to do so by his mother waiting for him in the car. Many Lithuanian families have claimed their children suffered abuse in public schools because of their nationality.