Ethnic groups in Georgia #19 ? Lithuanians

Rusiko Amirejibi-Mullen r.amirejibi-mullen at
Fri Jul 25 09:41:33 UTC 2008

Ethnic groups in Georgia #19 ? Lithuanians

Tom Trier and George Tarkhan-Mouravi
Georgian Times , July 24

In our series on the wealth of ethnic groups in Georgia, this week  
features the Lithuanians. The materials on the ethnic groups are  
provided by the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI) and the  
Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and are extracted from the book,  
Georgia ? An Ethno-Political Handbook by Tom Trier & George  
Tarkhan-Mouravi. With support from the foreign ministries of  
Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, the book will be published by the end  
of this year in a Georgian and an English edition.

Population in Georgia: 134 (2002 census).

Total population: 4-5 million.

Settlements in Georgia: Tbilisi, Gori, Rustavi, Borjomi and Batumi.

Kin state: Lithuania (3 million Lithuanians).

Other countries of settlement: Brazil (800,000), USA (660,000), United  
Kingdom (100,000), Russian Federation (80,000), Ireland (50,000),  
Germany (40,000), Canada (36,000), Latvia (33,000), other European  
countries and Australia.

Who, What, Where
Lithuanians (self-designation: lietuviai; litveli in Georgian,  
originate from the Baltic region and first arrived in Georgia in the  
late 19th century. Lithuania had been annexed by the Russian Empire in  
the late 18th century, and early Lithuanians came to Georgia mostly as  
part of military detachments of the Russian Imperial army. Lithuanians  
also moved to Georgia in the Soviet period, mostly as specialists and  
skilled labourers. Today, mostly assimilated into Georgian society,  
the few remaining persons still considering themselves Lithuanians or  
cherishing their Lithuanian origin live mainly in Tbilisi and other  
bigger cities such as Gori, Rustavi, Borjomi and Batumi.

A Bit of History
The first settlements of Lithuanians in Georgia occurred in the second  
half of the 19th century, largely due to their involvement as  
conscripts or officers in the Russian army. The process accelerated  
during the beginning of the 20th century, as the Russian  
administration encouraged the resettlement of teachers, doctors, and  
engineers in order to develop the borderlands of the Russian empire.  
The period around World War I was also marked by the movement of  
troops from Lithuania to the Caucasian front in military measures  
against the neighbouring Turks, even resulting in the creation of a  
Lithuanian army division in Tbilisi. During World War I, the  
Lithuanian community in the Caucasus counted several thousand persons,  
mainly soldiers. In Georgia they were concentrated in Tbilisi and  
Batumi. In 1917, the increasing number of Lithuanians in the Caucasus  
prompted community leaders to establish a Council of Lithuanians aimed  
at registering the Lithuanians and organizing their return. The  
majority of the Lithuanians in the Caucasus left the region at that  
time with the help of the Council. A new influx of Lithuanians took  
place in the Soviet period, especially after World War II.

As of 2002, according to the Georgian census, 134 Lithuanians lived in  
Georgia, down from 977 in 1989. Community leaders put the current  
figure much lower, closer to 60 in total, with most Lithuanians being  
middle-aged women in mixed marriages, mostly married to ethnic  
Georgian men.

According to Lithuanian community leaders, the main part of the  
Lithuanians in Georgia today descend from migrants who came to Georgia  
in the Soviet period or women married to Georgians. The Lithuanians  
who arrived in Georgia in the 19th century have long ago assimilated  
into the Russian or Georgian population.

Language, Religion and Cultural Life
The Lithuanian language belongs to the (East) Baltic group of the  
Indo-European family. Middle aged and elderly members of the  
Lithuanian community mostly are fluent in Russian while they speak  
basic Georgian. In contrast, the younger generation - who are usually  
children of mixed Lithuanian-Georgian couples - have mostly attended  
Georgian schools and speak Georgian as natives, while they usually  
converse in Russian at home. Lithuanian is spoken only by a few, and  
mostly among the middle-aged and elderly. Lithuanian was not taught in  
the Soviet era, but after Georgian independence, a Sunday language  
school for Lithuanians is functioning in Tbilisi, established by the  
community organization and supported by the embassy.

The Lithuanian government has organized a program to send ethnic  
Lithuanians in the diaspora to educational institutions in Lithuania.  
Students with at least one Lithuanian parent are eligible after  
passing a proficiency test in Lithuanian. Each year, 150 scholarships  
are available for the diaspora, including the Lithuanian minority in  
Georgia, though due to the lack of Lithuanian language proficiency up  
until now only two students from Georgia have been enrolled into  
Lithuanian educational institutions. The possibility of obtaining  
higher education in Lithuania has motivated some members of the  
younger generation to learn Lithuanian and attend classes at the  
Sunday school. Another project implemented with Lithuanian government  
funding is an annual summer camp in Lithuania for diaspora children.  
Every year, the Lithuanian community in Georgia sends two children and  
an adult supervisor to this summer camp.

The community keeps its Roman Catholic traditions alive in Georgia and  
Lithuanians generally attend ceremonies at the newly reconstructed  
Roman Catholic Santa Maria Church on Leselidze Street in Tbilisi,  
where one of the priests is Lithuanian. Once a year, usually at Easter  
time, he conducts a mass in the Lithuanian language.

Many well known Lithuanian artists and cultural figures have lived and  
worked in Georgia ? among them the writer Antanas Vienuolis-?ukauski  
(1882-1957) and the artist Rimas Burneika (1942-2002). Both  
contributed to Georgian cultural development by studying the history  
of the region and its traditional artistic methods. In the 1990s,  
Burneika played a crucial role in reviving the almost forgotten  
Georgian tradition of enamel coating.

Well integrated if not assimilated into Georgian society, while  
extremely small in numbers, the Lithuanian community has not expressed  
concern over a lack of representation at any level of government. The  
only Lithuanian organization, Ruta, founded in 1990 and headed by Ms.  
Zinaida Karukhnishvili (see photo), runs the Sunday school classes  
mentioned above and up until 1998 also organized the folk ensemble  
Ruta Zalioji which performed both in Georgia and abroad. Folk artists  
and musicians were invited to Georgia in 1998 for a ?Lithuanian Days?  
festival, which put on display many aspects of Lithuanian culture in  

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