VILNIUS – Lithuania's State Language Inspectorate will start checking the Lithuanian language skills of Ukrainian war refugees working in the country from March, 2024, according to a letter sent on March 16 to the chairman of the Seimas Committee on Education and Science and the Ministries of Education, Science and Sport, Social Security and Labor, and the Economy and Innovation.
A copy of the letter was posted on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon by Economy and Innovation Minister Ausrine Armonaite.
Speaking with BNS, Audrius Valotka, head of the State Language Inspectorate, confirmed that the letter was sent to the institutions. He said this was done to avoid a "strange sociolinguistic situation" and to ensure that Ukrainians have the opportunity to learn Lithuanian.
"We have talked to all municipalities and their language managers and see that the situation is far from good everywhere. In some places, (Ukrainians - BNS) are learning the language, and there are simply no teaching resources in some places, the state has not allocated funds for teaching, Ukrainians would like to learn, but there is nowhere to learn," Valotka told BNS.
"We absolutely do not want to have a strange sociolinguistic situation to suddenly arise in the middle of 2024, where, for example, a few thousand people (...) had not passed the exam they should have passed. … This needs to be taken care of in advance. That is the purpose of the letter," he added.
In his words, the situation will be discussed by the parliamentary Committee on Education and Science on April 17.
In the letter, the inspectorate said it would start checking Ukrainian refugee's Lithuanian language skills March, 2024, after a two-year moratorium on the requirement for war refugees from Ukraine to speak Lithuanian. If employers fail to provide a certificate that their employee has passed the language test, "the inspectorate and municipal language managers will be forced to take action".
The document also states that the inspectorate receives complaints about war refugees from Ukraine failing to speak Lithuanian in their workplaces. „From a legal point of view, this is a violation of the linguistic rights of Lithuanian citizens“, – it said.
Meanwhile, Minister Armonaite has accused the State Language Inspectorate of a lack of empathy and vowed to stop the "persecution of war refugees and the companies that employ them".
"I find it sad and surprising to see such a straightforward approach to our work and lack of empathy for people affected by the war. Personally, I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian, but I have never had any problems with service providers of other nationalities whose services I use every week. Besides, it's impossible not to see how many people already speak Lithuanian and are doing their best to do so," Armonaite posted on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon.
"It's good that we have received a copy of this letter. We will take all measures to stop the persecution of refugees and the companies that employ them," the minister added.
According to Lithuania's Employment Service, some 23,300 Ukrainians were employed in Lithuania in February and 3,700 were looking for employment.