Half of Lithuanians said not to tolerate Islam, new Christian groups

Vilnius, Lithuania - Around half of Lithuania's population of 3.5 million shows strong opposition to Islam and new Christian groups, such as evangelicals or Pentecostals, according to a recent survey in the country that was once part of the Soviet Union.

In the survey, less than half the population said they supported freedom of expression for freethinkers, pagans and what are deemed "self-help groups", while only a quarter of Lithuanians would accord such rights to "Oriental" religions and nature worshippers.

The New Religions Research and Information Centre commissioned the survey carried out by the Vilmorus Research Centre. The survey was part of an investigation into discrimination on the basis of religion and beliefs that the European Commission initiated for 2007 as a contribution to the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

The Lithuanian survey found that 84 percent of respondents believe freedom of expression regarding beliefs should only be allowed to traditional Christians (Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants). Between five to six percent of Lithuanians demonstrate extremely negative views towards any believers, while, depending on the individual questions asked, 30 to 50 percent of the population hold negative views towards believers of any religion different to their own.

Another finding is that only a quarter of the population thinks that new Christian groups, which can be doctrinally close to Catholic or Protestant teaching, should be given rights of free expression. The same small percentage of respondents think that such rights should be accorded to Muslims.

"In many cases this phenomenon can be deemed as hostility and an inclination to discriminate against believers of any other religions by not according them the usual civic rights (freedom of speech, employment, eligibility, etc.)," said a statement by the ombudsperson from Lithuania's Office of Equal Opportunities.

This, in turn, the statement added, can lead to the conclusion that any publicly-declared religion and belief could become the basis for intolerance and discrimination in Lithuania, where, the statement continued, the majority of the population can be considered as xenophobic as regards religion and beliefs.

According to a 2001 census, 79 percent of Lithuania's population consider themselves Roman Catholic, 5 percent Orthodox, and 1 percent Protestant.