- Estimated Gypsy population: 5,500. The official population, according to the last Soviet census (in 1989), was recorded as 2,700, with 81 percent speaking Romani as their mother tongue. The earliest reference to Gypsies on the territory of present-day Lithuania dates from 1501, but it is likely that they had been there for some years before. In that year, Earl Alexander granted the right to Vasil to govern the Gypsy clans in Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus, the Gypsies being permitted to nomadize under the authority of their own leader.In 1564, however, Gypsies were told to settle or leave the country. In 1569 Poland and Lithuania became one country, and a new decree was issued, confirming the existing policy of expelling nomads, in 1586. Some Gypsies left, some settled down, and a third group continued to nomadize in spite of the prohibition. In 1795 the Russian tsar became ruler of the country. From 1919 to 1940 Lithuania was independent, then it was taken over by the USSR for one year until Nazi Germany invaded.During the German occupation (1941-1944) about half of the Gypsies were killed, with the collaboration of Lithuanian nationalists. One transport of 20 persons was sent to Auschwitz; the others were killed in Lithuania itself.In 1944 the Soviet Union once more occupied Lithuania. The country finally became independent again in 1991. Nationalist feelings against the Russians spread to incorporate the Gypsy minority. In 1992 there was a pogrom in Kaunas. Some Gypsies were killed, cars were set on fire, and homes were ransacked.The majority of the present population are Catholics, the rest Orthodox. A Gypsy organization has been set up, and a project to develop Romani as a written language is under way.
Historical dictionary of the Gypsies . Donald Kenrick.
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