London houses the largest ethnic Lithuanian population outside the Republic of Lithuania numbering 40 000 - 80 000 (0,5% - 1% of all Londoners). Most of them immigrated after 1990 (independence restoration of Lithuania) and especially after 2004 (Lithuania's accession to the European Union).
Lithuanian community in London is, however, much older than most other immigrant groups there. Oldest building associated to it is the St. Casimir Roman Catholic church built in 1912. Somewhat reminiscent of a multi-storey building the church is smaller than the Lithuanian American churches of the era as the majority of emigrants used to leave for America at the time. Still, the docks and factories of what was the world's largest city between 1825 and 1925 attracted some Lithuanians. The church is in East End (Bethnal Green) where immigrant communities used to settle and still settle (now the area is more populated by people from Africa and Indian Subcontinent).
In 1955 the parish acquired a large countryside house southwest of London (Guildford GU35 8TE). Now known as Headley Park Hotel this location still celebrates Lithuanian holidays the traditional way (especially the Pentecost).
Since 1963 London has a Lithuanian cemetery or, more correctly, a Lithuanian zone in the old St. Patrick Roman Catholic cemetery (Langthorne Road, Leytonstone). Some 200 Lithuanians have been buried there including ambassadors to Great Britain Bronius Balutis and Vincas Balickas whose bodies were precluded from repatriation by the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. Today Lithuanians are buried in various London cemeteries, however (and in St. Patrick's outside the Lithuanian sector).
Modern Lithuanian community has not built any buildings or monuments but founded numerous live institutions. Multiple newspapers and magazines circulate (largest newspaper is the weekly "Tiesa" which may be found free of charge in central London). There are Lithuanian shops, restaurants (sometimes shared with other Eastern European communities). The language is taught at Saturday schools while Lithuanian newspapers are full of adverts for Lithuanian legal offices, dentistry, and other services. There are also Lithuanian clubs such as the London City Lithuanian Club dedicated to Lithuanians working in London's financial heart. In addition to the old Catholic parish, a new Lithuanian Christian church was established meeting at Methodist premises.
Basketball (Lithuania's national sport which is dubbed "second religion") is also well represented. British-Lithuanian Basketball League (BLKL) was established in 2007 in East London. Now it has some 20 teams (some named after Lithuanian cities and famous professional teams) and multiple sponsors. All games are played in an arena at Dagenham Parsloes Avenue RM9 5QT, tickets are not free. Among the reasons to establish their own league was the ban on loud fans in British leagues. In Britain football is where the most active fans go while Lithuanians typically enjoy basketball the same way: with chants, screams, painted faces and even drums. Brits, however, view basketball differently (some Lithuanian fans who were arrested in 2012 London Olympics for loud chants learned this the hard way).
While the number of London Lithuanians increased greatly after 2004 the participants in official Lithuanian community did not increase. The new immigrants of diverse groups (temporary students, permanent blue collar and white collar employees) typically integrate more thoroughly into London society as a whole, speaking good English. Some of them do not feel such loyalty to the Lithuanian nation as the earlier immigrants feel.
United Kingdom census of 2011 revealed that most Lithuania-born people live in East London: 8348 in the borough of Newham (where they comprise 2,7% of total population), 4028 in Barking and Dangenham (2,2%), 3500 in Waltham Forest (1,3%), 2827 in Redbridge (1%), 1979 in Greenwich (0,8%), 1332 in Lewisham (0,5%). Total number for London was 39 817 (0,5%). Even the British local councils, however, doubt these statistics and believe that the true number of Lithuanians may be twice as large; among the reasons of underrepresentation is the pressure of landlords on immigrants not to complete census forms. Additionally, the census counted place of birth rather than ethnicity so it includes Lithuania-born Russians and Poles but excludes ethnic Lithuanians born abroad.
Thanks to the large emigrant community London is the most easily reached foreign city from Lithuanian airports. There are 5 to 7 daily services by planes of some 180 seats. They are operated by low-cost carriers offering return tickets for prices less than 100 Pounds. Coupled with a flight time of under 3 hours it is common for London Lithuanians to frequently visit their original homeland. They do that during vacations and major holidays as well as for medical, cosmetical, spa and similar services (such services are much cheaper and sometimes of better quality in Lithuania).
Article by Augustinas Žemaitis
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