VILNIUS - Some fifteen anti-gay activists gathered in the square in front of Vilnius' city hall on May 25 to celebrate what they called their "victory," a recent decision by the city government to ban an EU-backed pro-tolerance rally that was supposed to take place on the square the same day.
Participants in the event dressed in white T-shirts bearing the slogan, "Resist homosexual propaganda." They distributed leaflets to passersby, chanted "Lithuania," and unfurled a large Lithuanian flag 's an apparent barb at earlier plans by anti-discrimination supporters to display a 30-meter long rainbow flag, the international symbol of gays and lesbians, at their event.
The European Commission's event, "For Diversity. Against Discrimination," was banned by the Vilnius city government on May 18. Officials said they feared the event could spark unrest in the country.
"We have achieved the victory," Marius Kundrotas, chairman of Lithuania's Nationalist Union and member of the "For Morals and Nation" group that organized the rally, told journalists. He held a large banner reading, "They will not pass through," a World War II-era slogan implying that the enemy will be kept out at all costs.
Organizers did not have official permission for the event, but when police arrived to check their documents they insisted that they numbered nine persons. Under Lithuanian law, a rally permit is only required for groups of ten or more.
Not everyone was celebrating the city government's decision to ban the rally. Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement published in Lietuvos Rytas on May 25 and in this issue of The Baltic Times, that he regretted the decision made by Vilnius politicians and urged the city government to reconsider and to "take concrete measures to protect the freedom of assembly of all individuals, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons." (See full text, page 15)
Earlier the same week the city government's decision was criticized by the European Commission, the European Union's executive body.
The intolerant stance of Vilnius politicians may have additional repercussions. According to Lithuanian public television, gay rights groups have raised doubts in the European Commission as to whether Lithuania is the best place for the headquarters of a new EU institution, the European Gender Equality Institute, which was scheduled to open this year in Vilnius.
Giedre Purvaneckiene, adviser to Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, told journalists that European Parliament's international group of gays and lesbians released a statement expressing concern about the decision to open the center in Vilnius.
The city government's decision has also attracted the attention of the Lithuanian Office
of Equal Opportunities Ombudsmen. The office anno-unced that it has started an investigation into whether the decision was made in accordance wth Lithuanian laws.