VILNIUS - About one-fifth of Lithuania's ethnic minorities suffer from workplace discrimination, according to a survey released Feb. 23 by Lithuania's Department of Ethnic Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad.
The survey showed that 23 percent of Russians, 19 percent of Poles and 29 percent of members of other ethnic groups in Lithuania have encountered discrimination while on the job.
Stanislav Vidtmann, the director of the Department of Ethnic Minorities and Lithuanians Living Abroad, said the Roma people 's sometimes referred to as gypsies 'sbear the brunt of the discrimination.
"The Roma minority endure more discrimination than other ethnic minorities," Vidtmann said.
Another recent survey has found that almost half of the respondents would not want Romas as their neighbors.
Vilius Mikulenas, a project manager for the House of National Committees, said the Roma people face issues that are unique among Lithuania's ethnic groups.
"One of them is qualification, because usually they are not qualified. The second is the portrait of Roma people that was created during the last 15 years 's that the Vilnius Roma camp is drug dealers, so nobody wants to hire them," Mikulenas said.
The House of National Committees is a nonprofit that operates community outreach programs to Lithuania's ethnic minorities.
Mikulenas asserted that other ethnic groups, such as Poles and Russians in Lithuania, don't usually run into problems at the workplace based on their ethnicity. Under the 2001 general census data, Poles made up 6.74 percent of Lithuania's population, Russians and Belarusians accounted for 6.31 percent and 1.23 percent, respectively. Other nationalities made up less than 1 percent of Lithuanian residents.
"They [Lithuanians] love foreigners actually," Mikulenas said. "For them [Russians and Poles] the lack of knowledge of the Lithuanian language is not the biggest problem. It is the general situation in the labor market. When we are speaking about discrimination it is not for Polish or Russian people but for gypsies or Roma people."
Some 42 percent of those surveyed cited an insufficient command of the Lithuanian language as the cause of the discrimination, while only 10 percent blamed the negative attitude of their employers toward foreigners.
However, other recent polls point to high levels of intolerance of ethnic minorities among Lithuanians.
A survey carried out by the Social Security and Labor Ministry in September showed that the majority of Lithuanians would not work or communicate with other nationalities, homosexuals or the disabled. Despite this, 80 percent of those polled considered themselves tolerant.
Specialists say there is "veiled intolerance." Valdas Dambrava, who represents 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."
"People write down the politically correct answer the first time, but then when asked if they could work with someone, they say no," he said.
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 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 The Baltic Times.
Experts say the Roman Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality is not helpful.
Neither Vidtmann nor Mikulenas expected Lithuanian's economic slowdown to spark an increase in ethnic discrimination at work.
"The economic crisis has just started in Lithuania and at the moment there are not any signals that workplace discrimination can increase. The majority of the employers assess the ability of the employee, not their ethnic origin," Vidtmann said.