Ethnic groups in Georgia #19 ? Lithuanians
r.amirejibi-mullen at qmul.ac.uk
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
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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