RIDE ON TIME: Zingeris, a prominent Lithuanian lawmaker, pulled his car over to save a young Italian student from a racist attack.
VILNIUS - An Italian student who recently moved to Vilnius was rescued from a skinhead attack on Aug. 26.
What makes the case unusual, however, is that his rescuer was prominent Lithuanian parliamentarian Emanuelis Zingeris.
"I am alive thanks to him," said Gian Marco Solis, 21, expressing his gratitude to Zingeris.
Solis was leaving a club late that Sunday night at the crossroads between Svitrigalios and J. Basanaviciaus streets when he heard shouts directed towards him. Solis, a native of Sardinia who moved to Vilnius one month ago, was evidently targeted because if his skin color.
"I didn't know much Lithuanian, but all I knew was that he wanted to punch me because my skin is brown," Solis told The Baltic Times. "He thought I was a Muslim."
Solis described the would-be attacker as a neo-Nazi and said the man refused to stop harassing him. Solis' friends had left the club a few hours earlier so he was alone.
A few minutes later, Zingeris drove by and noticed the two young men in the middle of the street.
"I saw incredible actions," the MP said. "It was a demonstration of hatred, the idea was to scare him, to bring fear among foreigners."
Cars were passing by and everyone was looking out from their windows but nobody dared to park their cars and help, Zingeris said.
"I immediately stopped my car, opened the door and invited the guy [Solis] to sit down."
The two men said that as they were driving away the skinhead had raised his right arm and shouted "Heil Hitler."
The number of reported racial discrimination cases is relatively low in Lithuania. In 2006, Lithuania's Equal Opportunities Ombudsman received 20 complaints of racial and ethnic discrimination and six complaints of discrimination based on religious background.
However, anecdotal evidence suggests that racially motivated attacks continue to be a problem in the country. In April, the Lithuanian Christian College in Klaipeda hired a private security service to protect its foreign students after a racist group assaulted several foreigners.
Solis' language professor Vilma Leonaviciene said she has also observed racial and ethnic tensions among foreigners and locals, and said it's about time something was done to stop discrimination and open a dialogue on sharing different cultures.
"It's really an open question now, a lot of young people are coming here for studies," she said. "People don't know how to react to the foreigners who come here. We need to talk about how to be together with people from other nationalities," she said.
About 500 foreigners currently study in Lithuania. Leonaviciene said she teaches about 100 students, mostly from Turkey, Poland, Slovenia, Norway and the Czech Republic.
The possibility has been raised of holding a meeting in mid-September between Vilnius police and the universities on issues of security and tolerance.
Zingeris said that the solution isn't to put more police on the streets, but for members of the community to look out for each other.
"Foreigners should feel warm in our capital," Zingeris said.
"We should have a good place in our hearts and a feeling of responsibility. The streets belong to us, not to them [hooligans]. We should be the owners of the streets, and not allow little hate groups to declare their independence," he added.
Solis said that next time he's out late he won't walk alone and plans to take a taxi home. Regardless of the threats, he said he's happy to live and study in Lithuania.