'Nation of bigots'

  • 2008-10-22
  • By Adam Mullett
VILNIUS - The majority of Lithuanians would not work or communicate with other nationalities, gays or the disabled, a survey carried out by the Social Security and Labor Ministry in September has found. Despite this, 80 percent of those polled consider themselves tolerant.
According to the poll, performed by the public opinion and market research company Vilmorus, intolerance is more characteristic of men than women (7 percent and 3 percent, respectively), unemployed people than specialists (11 percent and 0 percent, respectively), residents of small towns and rural areas than Vilnius residents (5 percent and 2 percent, respectively).

Specialists say there is "veiled intolerance." Valdas Dambrava of the Office of Equal Opportunity Ombudsman said people believe they are tolerant, but adhere to stereotypical beliefs and avoid contact with different people.
Valdas Dambrava said Lithuanians don't really understand the word. "People think that if they aren't beating anybody or killing anybody they are tolerant."

He added, "People write down the politically correct answer the first time, but then when asked if they could work with someone, they say no."
Doctor of Social Sciences at Vilnius University, Ruta Ziliukaite, said the actual number of intolerant people in Lithuania was probably higher than statistics show.

"Research carried out on the European Union (EU) scale has found that the level of tolerance of the Lithuanian population is far lower than the EU average. A tendency is observed in Lithuania that the public respect to certain social groups, such as Roma and homosexuals, is not rising but, quite the opposite, dropping," said Ziliukaite.
Ziliukaite said that people have pre-formed ideas that they like to believe regarding minorities. "The prevailing stereotypes they have are negative and these are strengthened in the public sphere. Some politicians say that minorities should be invisible and this strengthens that," she told TBT. Experts say the Roman Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality is not helpful.

Dambrava thinks that contact with other types of people will change attitudes.
"People need to have contact with different people and talk with them and see that they won't lie to them or trick them or steal from them. Only then can their attitudes change," he added.
Other surveys showed that respondents under 20 are in fact highly intolerant and that tolerance increases with age.

The survey questioned more than 1,000 of respondents over the age of 18 living in the country's largest cities, as well as small towns and rural areas, reported the ministry.