Protesters urge government to resign

  • 2009-02-04
  • By Justinas Vainilavicius
VILNIUS -  A protest by about a 100 marchers ended peacefully on Feb. 3, with protesters awarding politicians with golden onions, a symbol of political dissatisfaction.
"This government will have to resign," said Algirdas Paleckis, the protest organizer and leader of the Frontas political party. Frontas was formed in the lead up to last year's elections, but failed to cross the 5 percent threshold needed to gain a seat in Parliament.

The rally did not get permission from the Vilnius city municipality after the initial general strike was canceled. It was initially planned by the Paleckis-led Frontas party and the Lithuanian Small Enterprise and Trade Association. The latter, however, withdrew its support after the government agreed to satisfy their demands.
Frontas went ahead with protest plans outside the parliament, but chose to organize a so called "Onion Campaign" involving a procession from the Cathedral Square via Gediminas Avenue to the fenced-off Seimas (Lithuanian parliament). Protesters were pushing a wheelbarrow full of golden-colored onions.

"We want to show Valinskas that he's not in his place, as well as [Prime Minister Andrius] Kubilius. We give back the onions he previously awarded me. He should go back to show business and continue to entertain the nation, not sink it in the economic crisis," Paleckis said.
When he was an entertainer, Parliamentary Speaker Arunas Valinskas organized an annual humorous award ceremony named Golden Onions. Politicians would receive onion-shaped awards for specific, usually quite uncomfortable, achievements during a parody award ceremony.

When asked why he is angry with Kubilius, Paleckis, in reference to police action during January protests, replied that it was "because he was shooting at the nation. He shot at my deputy's knee, that was, apparently, his minister's order. Have you ever seen officers that would shoot at people in Greece or anywhere else? The government of Kubilius shot at the nation, it can't work any longer."
Authorities and police were worried that the peaceful protest would turn violent 's as happened on Jan. 16, when thousands of people protesting outside Seimas clashed with police.

"The end of this rally, as far as it depends on us, will be peaceful and dignified, everything will be fine. We are really not inciting anything," Paleckis said.
However, this time media representatives and police outnumbered the group of protesters several times over. Before the rally started, a police officer warned Paleckis to be careful that the group of people not break the law and follow common traffic rules. The group marched on the sidewalk peacefully and stopped at every crossing. Cars and other traffic were fully functioning.

The police, in anticipation of an escalation in violence, had surrounded the Seimas with metal fences. Protesters, except for the leaders, were not allowed to get close to the building. A wide area, which included shops and a parking area, was left between the parliament building and the fence 's the area could only be reached by long detour.
Paleckis and Audrius Butkevicius, a Vilnius City Council member, brought the petition along with three onions from the wheelbarrow to the parliament.

"One onion for the Speaker of the Seimas, one for the Prime Minister, and one for the President," he told the crowd.
But they could not hand over onions directly. Nemira Pumprickaite, head of the Seimas Speaker's Secretariat, said she would do that.
One of the main reasons for the protest was to show that people can and will protest, according to Paleckis, despite authorities opposing and trying to fight that.

"It is forbidden to protest in Lithuania, so we are protesting because of that. We once again want to show Valinskas that he is too far from reality, and has to take responsibility for his actions. By prohibiting public gatherings, they can't ban protests as such. This protest didn't need any sanctions to be held, we just want to deliver a petition," Paleckis said.

The petition is made of several points, first of which is a request for the Kubilius government to resign. Other requests included establishing a parliamentary commission to investigate the Jan. 16 events, recalling the alleged ban on public gatherings and rallies, and forming a national council responsible for solving the crisis. 
He also said that the government is "pathetic" because it does not want to have a dialogue, and Frontas is going to hold more protests until the government sees that it has to serve the people, not big businesses.
"All the world is protesting against neo-liberalism and the crisis it has caused. People around the world demand a bigger public sector and the state's involvement without damaging small and medium businesses. Our government moves in a different direction, they make monopoly-friendly laws," he said.

Protesters 's who marched and later gathered at the fence, 75 meters away from the parliament building 's were peaceful. They yelled slogans and demanded that a government representative come out to address the crowd.

"I was a participant of Jan. 13 events back in 1991 's I wasn't sleeping for nights fighting for this state and was even awarded a medal for that. Now I'm fighting against the privileges authorities have, privileges that even old commies didn't have," said one of the protesters.
Three protesters, one of them underage, were arrested when they refused to take off their masks after being ordered to do so by police. They appeared after protest organizers had already announced that the protest was over.