VILNIUS - Officials of the Vilnius city government on May 18 decided not to issue a permit for an EU-backed tolerance campaign rally in the capital saying they fear that the event could spark unrest in the country. The decision to ban the rally, scheduled for May 25, was made based on information that the event, which was to include the public display of a rainbow-colored flag, 's the symbol of the homosexual community, 's might be confronted by anti-gay protesters.
"Public safety and public order could be threatened, people's health and morals could be jeopardized," said an official letter from the Vilnius city government, signed by the head of the Public Order department Gintaras Tamosiunas.
"The city government was provided with data on possible violations of public order during the event," the letter sent to organizers of the rally added.
Anti-gay activists launched an Internet campaign calling on people to "resist the mandate of homosexuals" and gather to protest the planned rally.
"Democracy is a power of the majority and not the dictatorship of the minorities," a specialized Web site titled "Citizen's Linkup for Honor and Nation" said. It also calls on people to defend the family and values and "to stop the aggression of sodomy."
Vladimir Simonko, the chairman of Lithuanian Gay League, said that the city government's decision reflects the homophobic attitudes of Lithuanian society.
"It in fact shows that the majority of Lithuanian society does not accept us as fellow citizens and thinks we are not entitled to have the same rights as others," Simonko told The Baltic Times. (See interview, page 14)
The banned rally was meant to be part of a campaign called "For Diversity 's Against Discri-
mination" organized in cooperation with the European Union. It aimed at promoting tolerance towards minority groups, including gays and lesbians.
One of the highlights of the event was to have been the arrival of a so-called "anti-discrimination" bus, which is touring 19 EU member states and is designed to inform citizens of their rights under EU and national anti-discrimination legislation.
The decision by the Vilnius city government makes Vilnius the first capital in Europe to reject the campaign, which is now in its fourth season.
The European Union immediately criticized Vilnius' decision. The European Commission, the bloc's executive body issued a statement on May 21 saying that it "regrets the decision to cancel the planned event."
"It is the the first time in the four years the truck has been on tour that a stop has been canceled by local authorities," the statement said, adding that "the activities on board the truck also aim to raise awareness of anti-discrimination laws, which all Member States have signed up to."
"The decision by the city authorities shows how much still needs to be done to change behavior and attitudes towards discriminated groups and to promote awareness of diversity," the statement concluded.
The ban on the rally came days after trolleybus drivers in Vilnius and Kaunas refused to drive vehicles carrying advertisements calling for sexual tolerance.