VILNIUS - On July 20, the new Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, who was inaugurated to her post on July 12, met with European Union ambassadors residing in Lithuania and promised to make changes in the recently adopted Lithuanian "law on the protection of minors against the detrimental effect of public information." The law provoked protests from such human rights organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. This wide-ranging censorship law was passed by the Lithuanian parliament on July 14. The law was widely criticized for its discriminatory restrictions on public information on homosexuality.
At the meeting with EU ambassadors, Grybauskaite discussed many issues. However, the infamous law was the hottest topic.
After the meeting at the Swedish Embassy with ambassadors of 24 countries, in which Sweden now holds the EU presidency, Grybauskaite gave a short briefing for journalists.
"The minors should be protected but not in this way. The current law reminds one of Soviet-style censorship," Grybauskaite said. She added that a group of law experts will be created to revise this law after the parliament's summer vacations, which are scheduled for August.
"You are touching a very sensitive issue. We do not regard information on homosexuality to be the same as torture or molestation," said Ulrika Cronenberg-Mossberg, Swedish ambassador in Vilnius, at a similar briefing near her embassy.
The law bans the public dissemination of information considered harmful to minors. This covers material on homosexuality, bisexuality and polygamy, as well as depictions of violence and death.
On the same day in her presidential palace, Grybauskaite met with designated Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius to discuss his government, which should be reappointed after the election of a new president, according to the Lithuanian constitution.
However, Kubilius could not avoid the most scandalous theme in Lithuanian media. He suggested that the law's scope should be narrowed to information that is produced for minors and that the ban should not emphasize homosexuality.
"We'll just ban all sexuality-related material in the programs for children as is the case in many European countries," Kubilius said at his briefing in the presidential palace.
The law was also on the agenda during the first foreign visit of President Grybauskaite, which she made to Sweden on July 16. At the joint press conference with Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Grybauskaite was questioned about the homophobic law only. She expressed her regret that "the parliament cooks up such laws."
On July 15, protesting against the Lithuanian homophobic law, the group of Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament had requested a debate in the plenary session of this parliament. The group also asks the European Commission to respond publicly in this scandalous case. "The law is a definite mistake and it will damage Lithuania's reputation," Lithuanian Liberal member of European Parliament Leonidas Donskis told the Baltic News Service.
Bernaras Ivanovas, professor of political science at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, said that the law weakens Lithuania's position in Europe. "Russia should be happy because now it could be more difficult for Lithuania to speak about security and energy issues at the international level," he said on Lithuanian public radio on July 21.
"The reason for such weird behavior by Lithuanian lawmakers is a less tolerant history of Lithuania in comparison with such countries as the Netherlands," Ivanovas added.
The law was passed by the Lithuanian parliament, dominated by the center-right Homeland Union 's Christian Democrats, on June 16. However, outgoing President Valdas Adamkus refused to sign it before he left office. He vetoed the law. On July 14, 87 of the 141-seat parliament overturned a presidential veto while 25 MPs abstained and only six voted against the law.
The Lithuanian MPs congratulated their decision with applause for themselves in the parliament. "We have finally taken a step which will help Lithuania raise healthy and mentally sound generations unaffected by the rotten culture that is now overwhelming them," Petras Grazulis, MP of the right-wing Order and Justice Party, told BBC. The law will enter into force on March 1, 2010. According to the constitution, Adamkus' successor, Grybauskaite, was not able to re-impose the veto.
Vytautas Bruveris, political columnist at the biggest Lithuanian daily Lietuvos Rytas, wrote on his newspaper's Web site on July 21 that the law is very vague in specifying the spheres of the planned censorship regarding sexual matters. He also criticized the July 20 statement by Kubilius regarding possible changes in the law that would ban all kinds of sex-related information to those who are under 18. Bruveris ironically pointed to a popular Soviet-era saying, "There is no sex in the USSR."