VILNIUS - Tolerance, a central pillar for the stable development of a democratic society, is fading away, the Civil Society Institute has concluded. The think tank has found that certain types of intolerance escalated after Lithuania joined the EU, despite widespread beliefs that accession would foster a spirit of open-mindedness and integration.
According to a poll carried out by Baltijos Tyrimai at the end of 2005, the Baltic state's attitude toward fellow citizens of other ethnic origin and culture is souring. The poll revealed that tolerance toward people of other cultures has in fact weakened since 1990.
The number of those unwilling to have people of other nationalities as their neighbors doubled, surging from 9 percent in 1990 to 20 percent last year. What's more, 31 percent of Lithuanians said they wouldn't like to have Jews in the neighborhood, a rise from 18 percent in 1990.
Intolerance against Muslims increased from 31 percent to 51 percent, immigrants from 15 to 34 percent, and Romas from 59 to 70 percent.
"Society is seriously diseased, and unfortunately neither our growing economy nor European structural funds have had a positive effect on the nation's social condition," said Dainius Puras, an expert from the Human Rights Monitoring Institute. "Fifteen years ago, foreign experts thought it would take us 10 years to get the nation on its feet, but everything turned out to be more complicated." As Puras added, "The communist experiment has done severe damage to mutual relations between individuals and also to ties between a citizen and the state, as the individual was positioned against the state. EU entry hasn't helped us advance toward European values, from what we see now 's all we wanted were European funds, not the values."
Human Rights Monitoring Institute Chairman Kestutis Cilinskas said the nation's priority on money had grown to threatening levels, and it has promoted the trend of intolerance.
"On the political level, the power of money and wealth has become a primary value, which leads to a disappointment in democracy. Citizens' interests are disregarded, and this has direct effects on the growth of intolerance and peoples' disrespect to human rights," Cilinskas said.
On top of external preconditions, such as ethnic tension, Lithuania fails to tackle its internal seed-plot of hatred. Experts have criticized the media and political elite for strengthening society's negative attitudes.
The Civil Society Institute pointed out the media's important role in forming an image of minorities over the past few years. In 2004, controversy endured following a series of anti-Semitic articles in the second largest daily Respublika. State officials failed to endorse the outburst and react.
"The political elite seemed unconcerned about the information promoting ethnic and religious hatred," said Darius Kuolys, director of the Civil Society Institute. "The Respublika group and its anti-Semitic articles didn't receive any damnation from the political elite. On the contrary, when prosecutors launched an investigation, the ruling coalition parties, such as Social Democrats, Social Liberals and the farmers, supported the publications indirectly, saying one ought to respect the freedom of speech."
Experts described Lithuanian society as being trapped in a vicious cycle, especially when politicians tend to gratify people's discrimination.
"It's unheard of for a politician to speak about social inclusion or the integration of minorities during an election campaign. Such a political party could never win elections, so they pander to worn-out values," Puras said.
Experts also pointed out that society's image of the Roma is primarily based on media reports, which chiefly cover criminal reports and drug dealings.
A Roma settlement 's or ghetto as it is referred to 's in Kirtimai, situated on the outskirts of Vilnius, has become almost a media icon in Lithuania's depiction of the Roma. In December 2004 the Vilnius municipality demolished six buildings in Kirtimai, regarded as a center for drug trade, in an effort to combat the dealing of narcotics.
Experts said these aggressive actions undermined citizens' shaky mutual confidence.
"The media fell into a trap set by Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas' public relations campaign," said Kuolys. "The mayor initiated the campaign against the Romas to shift attention from his corruption scandals. As a result, the media propagated the message: gypsies are the enemies of the beloved mayor."
Although the primary institution for teaching such values is the family, tolerance is becoming less important among Lithuanians: 57 percent of poll respondents emphasized the need to promote tolerance among children in 1990, 58 percent in 1999 and merely 53 percent in 2005.
Intolerance for people with negative social behavior has also increased during the past six years. When asked to indicate social groups people would not like to have as neighbors, 64 percent of the respondents said previous convicts in 1999 and 77 percent in 2005, drug addicts were indicated by 88 and 96 percent, respectively, alcoholics by 82 and 87 percent and persons with AIDS by 55 and 70 percent.
The only social group to receive growing tolerance was homosexuals. In 1990, 87 percent of those polled did not want them as neighbors, the figure was at 68 percent in 1999, and 66 percent in 2005.
Lithuania, with a population of 3.4 million, is among the most homogenous countries in Europe: 83.5 percent of residents are ethnic Lithuanian, while the largest minorities include Poles (6.7 percent) and Russians (6.3). There are also communities of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Tatars, Latvians and Romas.