2 March 1993

Doc. 6787

1403-24/2/93-6-E

REPORT

on the application of the Republic of Lithuania

for membership of the Council of Europe

(Rapporteur: Mr BANKS,

United Kingdom, Labour)


Summary

      In March 1990, the Lithuanian Parliament, chaired by Mr Landsbergis, leader of the national movement Sajudis, declared the restoration of independence of Lithuania. At that time, the Soviet leadership's refusal to recognise such independence provoked acute tension. After the abortive coup of August 1991 in the Soviet Union, the situation developed rapidly. In September 1991, Lithuania's independence was recognised by most Council of Europe member states.

      Since then, voting on 25 October and 15 November 1992 has provided the country with a new democratic constitution and a new parliament. The outcome of the vote may be regarded as the free and fair expression of the will of the Lithuanian people.

      Lithuania seems to meet the essential conditions for accession to the Council of Europe. In its opinion, the Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers invite the Republic of Lithuania to become a member of the Organisation.

I. Draft opinion

1.       The Assembly has received from the Committee of Ministers a request for an opinion on the accession of Lithuania to the Council of Europe (Doc. 6506), in pursuance of Statutory Resolution (51) 30 A adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 3 May 1951.

2.       It observes that democratic parliamentary elections held by universal, free and secret ballot took place on 25 October 1992 and on 15 November 1992 and were monitored by an ad hoc committee of the Assembly.

3.       The Assembly welcomes the European commitment expressed by representatives of the Lithuanian parliament's political groups during the meeting held in Vilnius on 22 and 23 December 1992 with the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

4.       The Assembly appreciates the contribution made by Lithuania to the work of the Council of Europe, both at parliamentary level since its parliament obtained special guest status on 18 September 1991, and at intergovernmental level since it acceded to several European conventions, including the European Cultural Convention on 7 May 1992.

5.       It attaches great importance to the commitment expressed by the Lithuanian authorities to sign and ratify the European Convention on Human Rights and also to recognise the right of individual application to the European Commission of Human Rights (Article 25 of the Convention) as well as the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (Article 46).

6.        The Assembly considers that the Republic of Lithuania is able and willing:

i.       to fulfil the provisions of Article 3 of the Statute, which stipulates that "Every member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms";

ii.       to collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council of Europe as specified in Chapter I of its Statute, thereby fulfilling the conditions for accession to the Council of Europe as laid down in Article 4 of the Statute.

7.       The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers, at its next meeting:

i.       invite the Republic of Lithuania to become a member of the Council of Europe;

ii.       allocate four seats to Lithuania in the Parliamentary Assembly.

II. Explanatory memorandum

by Mr BANKS1

Contents

       Paragraphs

Introduction              1 - 9

Demographic background              10 - 18

Short historical overview       19 - 30

Democracy regained       31 - 45

Human rights        46 - 59

Economic situation       60 - 65

Other issues       66 - 78

Conclusions       79 - 85

Appendices:

Appendix I: Programme of the Rapporteurs' visit

Appendix II: Population structure and evolution in Lithuania

Appendix III: Position of the parliamentary delegation of Poland

Introduction

1.       On 13 September 1991, the Lithuanian Government sent a letter to the Secretary General in which it expressed the hope that Lithuania would be invited to become a member of the Council of Europe and expressing its readiness to respect the principles stated in Article 3 of the Statute. At a special meeting on 20 September 1991, the Ministers' Deputies adopted Resolution (91) 23 on Lithuania, inviting the Parliamentary Assembly to express its opinion on the application (see Doc. 6506). The Assembly referred this request to the Political Affairs Committee and, for an opinion, to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries.

2.       On the instructions of these committees, and with the approval of the Bureau of the Assembly, the Rapporteurs visited Lithuania from 24 to 26 June 1992. The programme of the visit appears in Appendix I. We should like to thank the authorities, parliamentarians and the various representatives we met in Lithuania for their welcome and their co-operation. The information they provided has been invaluable to us in drafting this report.

3.       Before looking at the various factors that directly concern the Lithuanian application for membership, we should like to outline briefly Lithuania's relations with the Assembly.

      4.       On 30 June 1990, the President of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet, Mr Landsbergis, applied to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly for special guest status. At the time, however, this request came up against an insurmountable obstacle: Lithuanian sovereignty, although proclaimed by the Lithuanian parliament in March 1990, had not been recognised by all Council of Europe member states. The Bureau of the Assembly was therefore unable to act on the application.

5.       A few months later, on 30 January 1991, the Assembly held a current affairs debate on the situation in the Baltic republics. As a result, an Assembly delegation carried out a fact-finding mission from 14 to 17 February 1991 to Moscow and the Baltic republics. Although the Bureau of the Assembly subsequently stood by its decision not to grant the Baltic republics special guest status, it invited the Assembly committees to discuss the situation in these republics with representatives of the three Baltic Supreme Councils and the Soviet Union.

6.       A hearing organised by the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries was held on 27 June 1991 during the summer meetings in Helsinki, attended by President Landsbergis and representatives of the Lithuanian Parliament's political groups (factions). At the request of all the parties concerned, the Bureau of the Assembly decided to commission an expert report on human rights legislation in the Baltic states. Mr Bernhardt, Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, and Mr Schermers, member of the European Commission of Human Rights, were asked to prepare a report on Lithuanian law and international human rights standards. This report was published on 16 January 1992 as a document of the ad hoc Committee on Relations with Eastern Europe.

7.        After the abortive coup of 19 to 21 August in the Soviet Union, the situation developed rapidly. A few days later, on 6 September 1991, the Soviet Union recognised Lithuanian independence. Recognition by other states followed, including most Council of Europe member states. On 17 September 1991, Lithuania became a member of the United Nations and the next day the Assembly granted the Lithuanian parliament special guest status. The Lithuanian delegation, which consisted of four representatives, was thus able to attend the Assembly's autumn 1991 part-session.

8.       On 25 September 1992, President Landsbergis invited the Assembly to send observers to the parliamentary elections scheduled for 25 October and 8 November 1992. On 8 October 1992 the Bureau set up an ad hoc committee including representatives of all political groups. Voting on 25 October included a referendum on the new constitution. The second round of voting was postponed to 15 November 1992.

9.       On 22 and 23 December 1992 the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights met in Lithuania.

Demographic background

10.       On the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania is bonded by Latvia to the north, by Belarus to the east and the south, and by Poland and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to the south west. The surface area of the country (65 200 m삲) is greater than that of countries such as Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands or Switzerland.

11.       In 1991, the population stood at 3,8 million, with 69% living in urban areas. As a result of events during and after the two world wars, there was no population growth in the first half of the twentieth century. It was only in 1969 that total population regained its 1939 level. The number of Lithuanians living abroad is today estimated at some 500 000.

12.       Lithuanians make up the majority of the country's population (2,9 million in 1989) and are overwhelmingly Catholic. Russians form the second largest ethnic group (344 500) and Poles (258 000) the third. The Byelorussian, Ukrainian, Jewish, Tatar and German minorities are much smaller. The table in Appendix II shows the structure of the population of Lithuania in 1989 in terms of ethnic groups and the percentages of each minority by comparison with total population over a number of years.

13.       Lithuania has experienced very considerable migratory movements over the last hundred years. For example, some 250 000 people emigrated to the United States between 1899 and 1914 and over 80 000 people left to settle in Latin America between 1918 and 1939. This migration was essentially for economic reasons, as the country's level of development was inadequate to meet the needs of the population.

14.       Other population shifts came about as a result of political factors. Between 1920 and 1939 more than 100 000 Poles joined the Polish community in the Vilnius region and in eastern Lithuania, then under Polish occupation. A further 25 000 Polish citizens sought refuge in Lithuania following the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

15.       The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact enabled Lithuania to win back its capital, Vilnius, but at the same time brought the country into the Soviet sphere of influence. The first Soviet occupation between 1940 and June 1941 resulted in the departure of some 56 000 Germans who had settled in Lithuania and the deportation to Siberia of a number of Lithuanians, put at between 13 000 and 30 000, depending on the source. A similar number of Poles were also deported.

16.       During the German occupation from June 1941 to January 1945, the nazis along with their Lithuanian "collaborators" massacred 240 000 Lithuanian citizens, the large majority of whom were Jews. In the same period, German settlers became established in Lithuania and over 50 000 Lithuanians were forced to go to Germany to work in armaments factories.

17.       In 1944, the advance of the Soviet army into Lithuania prompted some 180 000 people, mainly Germans and Lithuanians, to flee. In the years following the re-establishment of Soviet domination in Lithuania, and especially in the years between 1945 and 1958, 218 000 Poles were expelled from Lithuania and at the same time around 150 000 Soviet citizens, mainly Russians, settled in the country. In the same period, the Soviet authorities deported 300 000 people, including prisoners of war, of whom 100 000 are thought to have returned later. In addition, some 30 000 Lithuanians perished in the armed struggle against the Soviet occupation between 1944 and 1952.

18.       We were anxious to describe the population movements that have taken place in Lithuania in the last sixty years in order to make it easier to understand the complexity of the relationships between the different ethnic groups that currently make up the Lithuanian population.

Short historical overview

19.       Lithuania is the only Baltic state to have been independent for long periods before the twentieth century. In the fourteenth century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was one of Europe's largest states, comprising present-day Belarus, a part of Ukraine and the westernmost parts of Russia. At the end of the fourteenth century, Grand Duke Jogaila married the Queen of Poland and thus became King of Poland and Lithuania and introduced Christianity into the country. In this way, a personal union led to the creation of a great regional power in this part of eastern Europe, capable of resisting the Teutonic Knights and the Slav peoples to the east. In 1569, a treaty (the Lublin Union) sealed the permanent union of Lithuania and Poland, which formed a single state until the end of the eighteenth century.

20.       In 1795, Lithuania was annexed by the Russian Empire. In the years to follow, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were several uprisings, initially fomented by the Polish nobility keen to restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Gradually, however, a Lithuanian nationalist movement, which was to oppose the progressive Russification of the country, began to take shape, particularly after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the Lithuanian people's struggle for independence became better structured. In December 1905, 2 000 representatives from political and cultural organisations assembled in Vilnius to demand territorial autonomy. Although the demand was ignored by the Russian authorities, it gave rise to the development of a deep national awareness among the Lithuanian population.

21.       In the first world war, Lithuania was occupied in 1915 by the German army, which imposed a colonial regime. In September 1917, the occupation authorities permitted the holding of a Lithuanian conference, which demanded the establishment of an independent democratic state. It also elected a standing body, the Lithuanian Council, which proclaimed Lithuanian independence on 16 February 1918, recognised by Germany a few days later.

22.       The Red Army moved into Lithuania in the wake of the German defeat of November 1918. There followed civil war between Lithuanian nationalists and supporters of the Bolshevik revolution, in which the western powers and Poland became involved. The conflict soon turned into a war of independence that was to last until July 1920. In the peace treaty the Soviet Union recognised Lithuanian independence and sovereignty and of its own free will permanently renounced previous rights. The only remaining disagreement was over the Polish occupation of the Vilnius region, which was to last until 1939. The new republic was admitted to the League of Nations in 1920 and was recognised by a large number of states.

      23.       Afterwards, Lithuania enjoyed a period of parliamentary democracy, with free elections been held in 1920 and 1926. But a military coup in December 1926 put an end to this period and handed power to the nationalist forces of the day. They established an authoritarian regime which considerably restricted fundamental rights and freedoms and the rights of minorities.

24.       As already stated, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed on 23 August 1939 between Germany and the Soviet Union, paved the way for the Soviet army's first occupation of the country: on 10 October 1939, Lithuania found itself forced to sign a treaty with the Soviet Union granting the Soviet army access to Lithuanian territory and the use of a number of facilities in exchange for the city and region of Vilnius, which had been under Red Army occupation.

25.       15 June 1940 saw the first invasion by the Soviet army, on the pretext that the Soviet Union needed to station more troops in Lithuania. Two days later, a new pro-Soviet Government took over and organised elections on 14 and 15 July in which non-communists were not allowed to participate. The Assembly that was so elected declared Lithuania a Soviet Socialist Republic and asked to be admitted to the Soviet Union. This request was accepted by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on 3 August 1940, thus effecting the annexation of Lithuania. The Sovietisation of Lithuanian economic and cultural life then began, to be interrupted in June 1941.

26.       The declaration of war between Germany and the Soviet Union at the end of June 1941 was in fact followed by a Lithuanian uprising against the Soviet occupation. On 23 June 1941, the rebels proclaimed the restoration of Lithuanian independence. The proclamation was, however, not recognised by Germany, which occupied the country a few days later. Lithuania became a general district in the "Ostland" of the Third Reich. Nazis and Lithuanian "collaborators" committed atrocities and, as already noted, almost completely wiped out the large Jewish minority.

27.       Towards the end of 1944, the Soviet army succeeded in regaining control of Lithuanian territory, gradually restoring order. The years following the end of the war were marked by regular repression and deportation campaigns; an atmosphere of terror prevailed. The Catholic Church was persecuted, primarily because it backed the nationalist movement and enjoyed widespread support among the population. An armed resistance movement was particularly active until 1953 and it is estimated that some 30 000 partisans were killed in guerilla warfare.

28. From the 1960s onwards, industrialisation was rapid and Lithuania was completely economically integrated into the Soviet Union. As pointed out in paragraph 177, the Soviet authorities encouraged the immigration of Soviet citizens to Lithuania during this period. Some progress was made in education, science and culture, although they were governed by directives from Moscow, while the Communist Party of Lithuania (CPL) controlled all political life.

29.       The reforms introduced in the Soviet Union by Mr Gorbachev in the 1980s had very significant repercussions for Lithuania. These reforms gave a boost to the Lithuanian Reform Movement (Sajudis) which declared itself in favour of the restoration of independence and the establishment of a democratic system of government. This movement, headed by Mr Landsbergis since October 1988, rapidly won nation-wide following. At the same time, the importance of the CPL in political life waned, in spite of its efforts to meet some of the demands put forward by the Sajudis.

30.       In May 1989, the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania adopted a declaration of sovereignty that referred directly to former independence and illegal incorporation into the Soviet Union. The Supreme Soviet also adopted amendments to the Constitution, instituting the supremacy of Lithuanian laws over Soviet legislation. From this point on, rapid progress was made towards a pluralist system. Political parties were authorised and the CPL separated from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The continued efforts of the Sajudis and the CPL led to the holding of the first elections to the Supreme Soviet, which had become the Supreme Council, held on 24 February 1990.

Democracy regained

a.       The February 1990 elections

31.       The February 1990 elections were the first free elections to be held in Lithuania since 1926. They were completely dominated by the issue of whether independence was to be proclaimed immediately or whether it was preferable to secure it through negotiations with the Soviet Union. The Sajudis favoured the first option, while the candidates who were still more or less linked to the former CPL pressed for the latter. The electorate made its wishes known by voting by an overwhelming majority for Sajudis candidates.

32.       On 11 March 1990, the new parliament, headed by Mr Landsbergis, declared the restoration of independence of the Republic of Lithuania, formed a new government and adopted the Provisional Basic Law, which has since served as the new constitution. The Soviet leadership's refusal to recognise Lithuanian independence provoked acute tension, which reached its height in January 1991 when the Soviet army occupied a number of public buildings and laid siege to the parliament. Only when the attempted coup in the Soviet Union in August 1991 failed did the situation return to normal. The subsequent recognition of the country's independence by the international community has enabled the parliament to fulfil its role as representative of the Lithuanian people more effectively.

33.       Since the February 1990 elections, the Lithuanian Parliament has carried out all the functions of a legislative body in a democratic system, in spite of all the difficulties.

34.       Following the elections, the candidates - elected by majority voting in Lithuania's 141 constituencies - formed the following nine political groups (factions):

-       United Sajudis: 15 members

-       Nationalist: 10 members

-       "Concord" (Sajudis offshoot): 11 members

-       National progressives: 11 members

-       Moderates: 16 members

-       Polish: 8 members

-       Liberals: 10 members

-       Centre: 20 members

-       Democratic Labour Party (DLP) (successor to the CPL): 11 members.

Twenty-nine deputies did not belong to any faction. At the time of the Rapporteurs' visit, the rights of nine deputies were suspended, apparently as a result of criminal proceedings instigated against them.

35.       The parliamentary groups included deputies who at that time belonged to different political parties. Some of them were roughly comparable with their west European counterparts (liberals, social democrats, christian democrats, greens).

36.       The support enjoyed by the government in parliament was extremely variable. Generally speaking, it was always able to rely on the support of the United Sajudis, the Nationalist, "Concord", National Progressive and Moderate factions, which were considered as right wing. The other factions (Polish, Liberals, Centre and DLP) formed an opposition coalition. The fact that the independence issue dominated the elections, however, had not made it easy to build a stable majority on all the other issues exercising the country.

37.       The various political choices of the factions with regard to the necessary economic and social reforms meant that the government had on several occasions found itself without a parliamentary majority. The Prime Minister, Mr Vagnorius, complained about this at his meeting with us. He thought that he was being hindered in his task of setting up a market economy as quickly as possible by the opposition of a parliament that he regarded as "left wing". Parliament's vote of no confidence on 14 July 1992, which brought down the Vagnorius government, came as no surprise to us. It was simply an outward sign of the tension reigning in the Supreme Council. Indeed, since the proposals put forward by Mr Landsbergis for strengthening the executive were rejected in a referendum in May 1992, the Lithuanian Parliament became highly polarised. The supporters of Mr Landsbergis styled themselves defenders of the country against the enemies of economic reform and independence. The opposition parties presented themselves as the saviours of democracy in the face of nascent authoritarianism. However, on 21 July 1992, the parliament approved President Landsbergis' choice of Mr Abisala, former Minister without portfolio, as new Prime Minister replacing Mr Vagnorius.

38.       In the opinion of some Lithuanian parliamentarians we met in June 1992, the situation should become clearer after the October elections. The political parties should then be forced to present their political platforms to the electorate and distinguish themselves from each other. They would also be able to play a more active role, as parties in parliamentary life.

b.       The local elections

39.       At the local level, elections were organised in spring 1990 in conformity with the Provisional Basic Law adopted by the Supreme Council and democratic municipal councils were elected in all administrative districts. As in the parliamentary election, the majority of the electorate voted for Sajudis-backed candidates. Problems have arisen, however, in the case of three local councils, two representing Polish communities and the third a Russian community. These councils were dissolved on 4 September 1991. At that time, the official reason given for this measure was that they had adopted decisions contrary to the interests of Lithuania and had supported the attempted coup in the Soviet Union. The government appointed governors to replace the dismissed councils. New elections have not yet been held and this is causing the representatives of the Polish minority some concern. The Rapporteurs share this concern. It should be pointed out that one of the dismissed councils was that of Vilnius, the capital of the Republic.

c.       The referendum on the new constitution (25 October 1992)

40.       The drafting of a new constitution was one of the most important tasks the Lithuanian parliament had to tackle. We were given the draft constitution prepared by the competent committee, which was hotly debated throughout the country. During our visit, we learned from Mr Landsbergis himself that an alternative constitution has been drafted by the Sajudis group - as a sort of amendment to the whole draft submitted by the competent parliamentary committee. The parliamentary groups had until 31 August to submit amendments. Then, under the procedure laid down, the committee responsible for drafting the constitution examined the various amendments and submitted a new text to parliament in October 1992. This text, approved by the parliament, was put before the citizens for referendum on 25 October 1992.

41.       With a 74% turn-out of the 2,6 million electorate, the new constitution was approved by 75% of the voters representing 56% of the electorate (that is 6% above the required 50% threshold).

42.       The new constitution approved by the Lithuanians provides the country with the structures and institutions of a pluralist parliamentary democracy. It recognises the citizens' fundamental rights, entrenches the separation of powers and makes free elections based on universal suffrage the means by which the Lithuanian people can exercise its sovereign power. The new constitution is a considerable improvement on the Provisional Basic Law which was in force during the Rapporteurs' visit and which still contained some principles inherited from the former regime. To give but two examples, the provisions of this law stipulated that the president of the parliament (Supreme Council) was also head of state and that judges were accountable to the legislative organs. Under the new constitution, the President of the Republic will be elected by direct universal suffrage and will not be permitted to occupy a seat in parliament at the same time. The presidential elections were scheduled for 14 February 1993. The new text also stipulates that the judiciary shall be independent of all other state institutions, persons or organisations.

43.       Under the new constitution, the parliament ("Seimas") is to comprise 141 members elected for a period of four years by secret and direct universal suffrage. Parliamentary elections were held on 25 October and 15 November 1992 (see below) in conformity with a new electoral law. The new law was the result of lengthy discussions and replaced the former system of uninominal majority voting with a mixed majority-proportional system. Under the new system, seventy-one deputies were elected according to a single-seat majority voting by constituency, while the seventy remaining deputies were elected on the basis of party lists at national level. Besides the voting system, the new electoral law also fixed the rules governing the electoral campaign, including its financing, and access by the political parties to the various media. This last aspect seemed to cause concern to the representatives of political groups that were not participating in the former government.

d.       The 25 October and 15 November 1992 elections

44.       As indicated in paragraph 8, the parliamentary elections were observed by an Assembly's ad hoc committee set up by the Bureau. A separate report (Addendum II to Doc. 6724) has been submitted to the Assembly containing detailed information on the organisation of polling and the results. According to the Assembly's observers the outcome of the elections may be regarded as the free and fair expression of the will of the Lithuanian people.

45.       The elections were won by the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) (successor to the former Communist Party) which now holds 73 of the 141 seats in the new parliament. Until the presidential elections on 14 February 1993 Mr Brazauskas, leader of the DLP, was acting as Head of State2. On 1 December 1992, he named as Prime Minister Mr Lubys (vice-premier of the outgoing government). The new parliament approved by 87 votes with 40 abstentions.

Human rights

46.       As pointed out in the previous chapter, the new Lithuanian constitution is largely inspired by the principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that make up the common heritage of the member states of the Council of Europe. Nevertheless, we should like briefly to discuss a few points concerning citizenship, minorities and the legal system that appear to be exercising the people with whom we spoke.

a.       Citizenship

47.       The Law on Citizenship of 3 November 1989 enabled persons of Lithuanian origin and other persons having been permanently resident in Lithuania for at least two years to take out Lithuanian citizenship within two years of this law coming into force. The overwhelming majority (90%) of persons of non-Lithuanian ethnic origin (Russian, Polish, Byelorussian) opted for Lithuanian citizenship within this time period, which expired in November 1991.

48.       The new Law on Citizenship, which came into force on 11 December 1991, is somewhat more restrictive as far as access for persons of non-Lithuanian origin is concerned. Among the prerequisites for nationality are residence in Lithuania over the last ten years (a condition that is also contained in the new constitution) and examinations in Lithuanian language and the constitution.

49.       However, only approximately 25 000 people (1% of the electorate) were not in a position to take part in the last elections, having chosen not to become Lithuanian citizens.

50.       The issue of dual nationality, which was raised by some of the people with whom we spoke, seems to present a difficult problem, as the current laws and the new constitution do not make provision for this eventuality. This presents difficulties for the return of people of Lithuanian origin who have acquired the nationality of another country and would like to keep it.

b.       Minorities

51.       The representatives of the Polish minority told us in June 1992 that the Sajudis ultra-nationalist policy was a constant threat to their rights although at the same time they stressed the loyalty of the Polish community to Lithuania and its commitment to the struggle for the restoration of independence. Among the issues causing concern to this minority were the already mentioned dissolution of the municipal councils of Vilnius and Salcininkai (Polish majorities), the way in which agrarian reform was implemented in regions inhabited by Poles (the disappearance of archives makes it difficult for former owners to recover their land) and the plan to create a "greater Vilnius", which would cover an area five times greater than that of present-day Vilnius and in which Poles would no longer be in the majority. According to the Polish community's representatives, the use of Polish at all levels of education and in the media was meeting some difficulties. According to the government department with responsibility for minorities, however, in 1992 the situation was markedly better since the Law on Ethnic Minorities came into force in 1989. The programmes of one of the Polish television channels are shown in Lithuania.

52.       The situation was slightly different for the members of the Russian minority, who for the most part settled in Lithuania after 1945. Although it had some fears for its future in the months following the declaration of independence, subsequent developments have shown that they were unfounded. Schools that taught in Russian before independence have continued to function, although lately they have been having problems with the supply of teaching materials, which are no longer getting through from Russia. There are Russian-language magazines and radio and television both put out programmes in Russian. The Russian minority's main concern was for the 30 000 or so persons, former Red Army officers and members of their families, who receive their pensions in roubles and, having decided to remain in the country out of loyalty towards Lithuania, find themselves abandoned to their fate. It must be hoped that the Russian and Lithuanian authorities will find a way of dealing with this situation.

53.       A problem of a different nature is that posed by the presence of units of the former Soviet army on Lithuanian territory, but as they do not constitute a minority, we have decided to take up this point in a later chapter.

54.       The situation of the other minorities, for example the Byelorussians, Jews and Ukrainians, is marked by a distinct improvement in the level of protection for their languages and their cultures since the restoration of independence, with synagogues being returned to the Jewish communities in Vilnius and Kaunas.

c.       The legal system

55.       The legal system is currently being reorganised. From our talks with the Attorney General and judges from the Supreme Court we were able to note the judiciary's firm intention to bring judicial procedures in line with European standards. The independence of the judiciary is enshrined in Chapter 7 of the new constitution, which also provides for the creation of a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeal and district courts, whose organisation and jurisdiction will be regulated by a law that is currently being drafted. The presumption of innocence is also laid down in the constitution, as is the right of a person suspected of having committed an offence to legal assistance in his defence. Chapter 8 of the constitution deals with the Constitutional Court, whose composition and functions are comparable to those existing in Council of Europe member states.

56.       One of the most important issues that was raised at this meeting was the training of all those, judges and lawyers, who will be responsible for administering justice in Lithuania in years to come. Much of the legislation inherited from the past will have to be recast in the light of new circumstances.

57.       The representatives of the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights described to us the difficulties they are encountering in carrying out their activities, in spite of the re-establishment of democracy (withholding of access to a trial of members of the KGB). They consider the most important human rights issue to be the presence of units of the former Soviet army.

58.       Shortly after independence, a review took place of the trials that were held after the second world war and led to many Lithuanians being convicted and deported to Siberia. This helped us to realise the complexity of the tragedy experienced by the country in the post-war years. According to those with whom we spoke, around 35 000 cases have been reviewed and all those concerned reinstated. The Helsinki Committee believes that the majority were patriots accused of being "Fascists" by the Soviet occupying forces. In reply to questions put by the Rapporteurs, it admitted however that some of them might be war criminals who "collaborated" with the nazi occupying forces.

59.       To conclude this chapter on human rights, we should like to refer to two areas in which we would hope to see progress in the next few months. The first is the inclusion of the death penalty in the Lithuanian Penal Code, and it must be recalled that the abolition of capital punishment is the subject of Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The second is the restrictions that can legally be imposed on foreigners living in Lithuania if their country of origin violates the human rights of Lithuanians living in that country. This kind of reprisal is manifestly not in keeping with Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Economic situation

60.       Like the other east European countries, Lithuania has set in motion the change-over to a market economy. In order to steer this course of radical change, the former government adopted an economic policy that is governed by two essential principles: restoring the rights of former owners and their heirs to property that was nationalised and the privatisation of state property.

61.       Restoring rights to nationalised property has mainly been focused on land. It has not always been easy to produce title deeds dating back more than fifty years. We have already mentioned the Polish minority's impression that it is being discriminated against on this issue.

62.       The privatisation process was initially directed towards agriculture and property. Under the privatisation laws, Lithuanian citizens were given the opportunity to acquire land, agricultural enterprises (former state co-operatives) or the flats which they occupied.

63.       Such a radical transformation of the economy is, however, costly. In the course of 1992, for instance, industrial output began to decline sharply, agricultural production fell, inflation rose and unemployment grew. At the same time, Russia demanded payment for imports of crude oil at the international market price. The banking system might well be plunged into crisis as a result of all these tensions.

64.       It is not our place to pass judgment on the Lithuanian authorities' choice of economic policies. Nevertheless, we feel bound to point to the risks for the consolidation of democracy of an economic crisis which would hit the majority of the population. If it is to achieve the transformation of its economy, Lithuania needs western aid and investments.

65.       The need for outside assistance is not confined solely to the economy, however. We saw for ourselves the precarious conditions in which state institutions, justice, political parties etc. operate. Assistance programmes are essential if Lithuania is to make a successful transition to democracy.

Other issues

a.       Presence of troops belonging to the former Soviet army

66.       This report would not be complete if we did not discuss the issue of the presence of former Soviet troops in Lithuania, at present under the orders of the Russian authorities. Some of the persons we spoke to during our visit thought that at that time their presence - estimated at around 43 000 troops - was the most serious problem the country has to face. Although the Russian authorities agreed to the principle of the withdrawal of these troops from Lithuanian territory, arrangements for the operation were not yet finalised. According to the Lithuanian Government, the Russian authorities would have liked discussions on the withdrawal to be part of broader negotiations covering issues such as property belonging to the army or to Russian citizens, residence permits and dual nationality. On 8 September 1992, President Landsbergis and Russian President Yeltsin agreed on a schedule for the withdrawal of the troops to be completed by 31 August 1993.

67.       Withdrawal was a primary objective for the Lithuanian authorities as the presence on its territory of former Soviet army troops was a permanent threat. The authorities claimed that these troops move around inside Lithuania without prior authorisation, displayed a provocative attitude towards the civilian population and had even taken to looting. Moreover, given their role in the events of January 1991 (see paragraph 32) they were perceived as a possible instrument of foreign interference in Lithuania's internal affairs. It is not at all surprising, then, that the Lithuanians wanted this danger removed as soon as possible. For this purpose they should be able to count on the support of the member states of the Council of Europe.

68.       It must be noted here that in the referendum organised by the Lithuanian authorities on 14 June 1992 on the immediate withdrawal of the Russian army, more than 90% of those participating, representing 68,6% of the electorate, voted in favour.

b.       The media

69.       It emerged from our meetings with journalists that freedom of expression, enshrined in the 1990 Law on the Press and Media and recognised by the constitution, is largely guaranteed in Lithuania, although reference was made to certain problems with regard to the media's independence vis-ā-vis the authorities.

70.       For instance, at the end of 1991, when the government decided to take over the five main newspapers, which were all continuations of newspapers that existed under the former regime, journalists protested vociferously: in their opinion they had long since severed their links with the communists and their editorial line was independent. Since then there have been discussions on privatising newspapers, but there is a lack of financing and there is insufficient advertising to generate the necessary resources. Publications that appeared after the restoration of independence are gradually disappearing.

71.       Furthermore, as the editor of one independent newspaper pointed out, as long as paper supplies and the printing and distribution of newspapers remain in the hands of the state, it will be difficult to speak of true independence of the press. It must be noted that most newspapers and magazines are circulated by subscription - hence the importance of the distribution network.

72.       According to the journalists, at the time of our visit, the government was seeing the independent media as instruments of opposition to its policies. Consequently, it was tending to favour the papers which were less critical and to facilitate their access to privileged information. This is a practice, possibly a legacy of the past, that will definitely have to be abandoned.

73.       Criticism was also expressed with regard to the independence of television, which is governed by a board representing various political groups and appointed by parliament. The board stepped down on 17 June 1992 after being accused of using television as a means of political propaganda, but its resignation was not accepted by parliament. In the journalists' view, this situation was the result of television being seen as in the service of the political authorities.

74.       It is therefore understandable that fears were expressed by opposition political groups with regard to the essential neutrality of television at the October 1992 elections. Nevertheless the Assembly's ad hoc committee observing these elections had the impression that the electoral campaign was conducted fairly with no discrimination in access to the media.

75.       There are three independent radio stations, in addition to those that are state owned, and their programmes are not interfered with in any way.

c.       Trade unions

76.       The trade union representatives we met made no secret of their critical attitude towards the economic policy carried out at that time by Mr Vagnorius' government. The majority of trade unions currently registered in Lithuania, representing 95% of unionised workers, are the successors to those that existed under the former regime, which accounts for the authorities' grave misgivings. Nevertheless, all those representatives we met stressed the independence of their organisations, which are merely guided by a concern to safeguard jobs and defend social rights. This independence does not, however, prevent them from having contacts with the various political groups represented in parliament. In this way, they were able to make their opinions heard when articles of the constitution relating to workers' rights were being drafted.

77.       The trade unions have come out in favour of tripartite negotiations with the government and management in order to reach agreements on employment. The weakness of employers' organisations in certain sectors has proved an obstacle to such agreements. Moreover, according to the majority trade unions, the Vagnorius government was trying to bypass them by negotiating with the minority unions that are nevertheless closer to the position of the government. The trade unions have also complained that the government refused to sign International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

78.       The main bone of contention between the government and the trade unions, however, concerned the distribution of property belonging to the previous trade unions. Under the former regime, trade unions owned numerous sports centres, convalescent homes, holiday villages and camps, hotels, etc. At the time of our visit, the government considered that these facilities were built with public money and therefore transferred them to the relevant ministries or municipal councils in the areas in which they were located. The trade unions have voiced their disagreement with these measures and indicated their intention to appeal against them in the courts.

Conclusions

79.       We should like to stress at the outset that the people we met, whatever their differences, were unanimously in favour of Lithuania joining the Council of Europe. They were all convinced that although Lithuanian democracy leaves room for improvement, it can more easily be consolidated from within our Organisation.

80.       The new constitution clearly accepts the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within the state's jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Article 3 of our Statute stipulates that such acceptance is one of the basic conditions for membership of the Council of Europe.

81.       The rapporteurs were assured that the Lithuanian authorities gave serious attention to the problem of minority rights. They noted the concerns of some national minorities, particularly the Polish one, and were encouraged by undertakings that the full rights of regional self-government will soon be restored to the councils still placed under central control.

82.       Lithuania is in the final stage of its transition towards a completely democratic system of government. We should like to pay tribute to the vital legislative work carried out by the former Supreme Council, which was completed with its own dissolution after the elections of 25 October and 15 November 1992.

83.       Lithuania deserves the full support of the Council of Europe's member states in order to overcome the obstacles that stand between it and the consolidation of democracy. Of these, the presence of troops belonging to the former Soviet army is regarded as the main difficulty. The Assembly hopes that the agreement between the Russian and Lithuanian authorities in order to bring about the withdrawal of these troops will continue to be respected.

84.       Nevertheless, this issue must not make us lose sight of the seriousness of Lithuania's economic crisis. It is to be hoped that Lithuania's membership of the Council of Europe will facilitate co-operation in the economic sphere with other international organisations in order to help the country to overcome its present difficulties. Europe should do its utmost to ensure that the crisis does not become a destabilising factor for Lithuania's youthful democracy.

85.       In the light of the foregoing, the rapporteurs conclude that Lithuania appears to satisfy the basic conditions for membership of the Council of Europe. Therefore they recommend that the Assembly adopt a favourable opinion on Lithuania's application.

APPENDIX I

Programme of the rapporteurs' visit to Lithuania

(24-26 June 1992)

Wednesday 24 June 1991

3.00 p.m.       Meeting with the President of the Supreme Council, Mr Vytautas Landsbergis

4.00 p.m.       Meeting with the editors in chief of the main newspapers and from television and radio

6.00 p.m.       Meeting with leaders of trade unions

8.00 p.m.       Dinner hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Algirdas Saudargas

Thursday 25 June 1992

9.30 a.m.       Meetings with the Prime Minister, Mr Gediminas Vagnorius, and Mr Aleksandras Abisala, Minister without Portfolio

10.30 a.m.       Meeting with Chairman of Legal Committee and Chairman of Committee for Drafting the Constitution and with committee members

1.00 p.m.       Luncheon hosted by the Praesidium of the Supreme Council

3.00 p.m.       Meeting with the Attorney General and President and members of the Supreme Court

4.30 p.m.       Meeting with leaders of the parliamentary factions

6.00 p.m.       Sightseeing tour of Vilnius

8.00 p.m.       Dinner hosted by the Vice-President of the Supreme Council, Mr Bronislovas Kuzmickas

Friday 26 June 1992

9.30 a.m.       Meeting with Lithuanian Helsinki Committee members and representatives of other human rights organisations

10.30 a.m.       Meeting with representatives of various national minority organisations (Union of Lithuanian Poles, Russian Culture's Centre, Jewish Cultural Society)

11.30 a.m.       Meeting with Mrs Halina Kobeckaite, Director of the Department of National Minorities

APPENDIX II

Population structure in Lithuania (1989)

(number and percentage in relation to total population)

Lithuanians       2 924 251       79,6%

Russians       344 455       9,4%

Poles       257 994       7,0%

Byelorussians       63 169       1,7%

Ukrainians       44 789       1,2%

Jews       12 314       0,3%

Tatars       5 135       0,1%

Other       22 695       0,6%

Total       3 674 802       100 %

Population evolution in Lithuania (1857-1989)

(as a percentage of total population)

      1857       1897       1923       1959       1970       1979       1989

Lithuanians       75,6%       61,6%       69,2%       79,3%       80,1%       80,0%       79,6%

Russians       1,4%       4,8%       2,5%       8,5%       8,6%       8,9%       9,4%

Poles       5,6%       9,7%       15,3%       8,5%       7,7%       7,3%       7,0%

Byelorussians       0,3%       4,7%       0,4%       1,1%       1,5%       1,7%       1,7%

Ukrainians       0,1%       0,1%       0,0%       0,7%       0,8%       0,9%       1,2%

Jews       10,7%       13,1%       8,3%       0,9%       0,8%       0,4%       0,3%

Tatars       0,1%       0,1%       0,1%       0,1%       0,1%       0,1%       0,1%

Germans       5,1%       4,4%       3,4%       0,4%       0,1%       0,1%       0,1%

Other       1,1%       1,5%       0,8%       0,5%       0,3%       0,6%       0,6%

Source:       Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

      Department of National Minorities

APPENDIX III

The position of the parliamentary delegation of Poland

      The Polish delegation supports Lithuania's application for membership in the Council of Europe.

      However, the delegation cannot but present the following remarks in connection with the explanatory memorandum:

1.       The reference to "Polish occupation" of Vilnius is entirely unjustified. The incorporation of the said area into Poland resulted from a free election held in January 1922. The Polish-Lithuanian frontier was endorsed by the Council of Ambassadors of the Entente on 15 March 1923 and thus obtained sanction under international law. The Lithuanian Government did not recognise the incorporation of Vilnius into Poland (paragraphs 14 and 20).

2.       The figure of 100 000 Poles allegedly moving into the Vilnius area is a gross exaggeration: their number, part of migratory movements in both directions, did not exceed 20 000 persons; likewise, the number of Polish refugees in Lithuania after early September 1939 was 17 000, of whom 14 000 were soldiers (paragraph 14).

3.       The Supreme Council of Lithuania considered the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as null and void. Therefore, there was no legal basis for Lithuania's taking possession of Vilnius then (paragraph 15).

4.       The proclamation of independence of Lithuania of 16 February 1918 had to be changed having failed to obtain German authorities' approval at the time; it was recognised by them only later, after imposition, on 18 March 1918, of the conventions upon Lithuania to associate it with the German Reich (paragraph 21).

5.       The hostilities with the Bolsheviks were over in mid-1919 as the Polish Army moved in between the belligerents.

6.       The only unresolved dispute involved the Vilnius region incorporated into Poland after free election of 8 January 1922, while the Polish-Lithuania frontier was approved by the Council of Ambassadors of the Entente on 15 March 1923 (paragraph 22).

7.       A restrictive mechanism in respect of Poles was installed so that those of them who failed to become Lithuanian citizens were prevented from recovering their property rights of which they had been deprived in the time of existence of the USSR. The property of the Polish community, built by its contributions and private foundations at the time, should be returned to it (paragraph 47).

8.       The functioning of the Polish University in Vilnius has not yet been legalised. According to the representatives of the Polish community, a marked deterioration of the situation has been observed since 1991 (paragraph 51).

      These remarks deal mostly with the presentation of the past - sometimes difficult in mutual relations and tending to divide the two nations.

      In building up democracy in our countries we should rather take a position for the future. At times, when the past weighs heavy on our memories, we should overcome it feeling that a common effort by the Polish and Lithuanian historians to work out a mutually acceptable position would promote better relations between the two states and nations.

      Signed:       Andrzej Wielowieyski

      President of the Polish delegation

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee.

Committees for opinion: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries.

Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.

Reference to committee: Doc. 6506 and Reference No. 1752 of 25 September 1991.

Draft opinion: Unanimously adopted by the committee on 4 February 1993.

Members of the committee: MM. Reddemann (Chairman), Sir Dudley Smith (Vice-Chairman), Mrs Baarveld-Schlaman (Vice-Chairperson), MM. Agnelli, Alvarez Cascos (Alternate: de Puig), Andreotti, Antretter, Baumel, Björn Bjarnason, Bokov, Bratinka, Caro, Cimoszewicz, Efraimoglou, Espersen, Lord Finsberg, MM. Fiorini, Flückiger, Galanos, Mrs Haller, Mrs Halonen (Alternate: Rehn), MM. Hardy, Hellström, Irmer, Kelchtermans, König (Alternate: Schwimmer), Mrs Lentz-Cornette, MM. van der Linden, Machete, Martins, Maruflu, Masseret, Mimaroglu, Moya, Oehry, Pangalos, Panov, Psaila Savona, Schieder, Seeuws, Mrs Suchoka, MM. Szent-Ivanyi, Tarschys (Alternate: Granstedt), Thoresen, Trabacchini.

N.B. The names of those members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.

Secretaries to the committee: MM. Sorinas and Kleijssen.


1 1In conjunction with Mr Oehry (Liechtenstein, Christian Democrat), Rapporteur for an opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and Mr Tarschys (Sweden, Liberal), Rapporteur for an opinion of the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries. Remarks submitted by the Polish parliamentary delegation appear in Appendix III.

2 1On 14 February 1993, Mr Brazauskas won the presidential elections with more than 60% of the votes.