The demonstration season starts in May

  • 2010-05-05
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

GOOD EXCUSE: The Vilnius municipality refused to give permission to the Russian Union to demonstrate on Gedimino Avenue on May 9, which is celebrated in Russia as the victory day for WWII, because on May 9, the traditional Europe Day celebration is held on this main avenue of Vilnius.

VILNIUS - On May 1, some 500 supporters of trade unions, some 50 socialists, several anarchists, and four men carrying swastikas (they say it is an ancient symbol of pagan Lithuania) marched in separate columns via Gedimino Avenue in Vilnius. The socialists, who are a non-parliamentary marginal force in Lithuania, may have increased their number because some of their ideological brothers arrived from Estonia. The main slogan of the trade unions was, “Stop emasculation of the people, unemployment, disruption of business, and destruction of sport, press and culture.” Anarchists brought posters with inscriptions calling Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius names which are unprintable in the press.

Taking into account that last week, the price of a Kubilius doll, which is suitable for voodoo-style acupuncture, sky-rocketed from 2.55 litas (0.74 euros) to 10,575 litas on the Internet auction eBay, such thoughts about Kubilius are shared not only among the poorest segments of society. However, the biggest controversy raises demonstrations, which have little to do with economics. The Vilnius municipality would be happy to combine a gay demonstration with the demonstration of WWII veterans, allowing them to march together somewhere in the forest outside Vilnius, but the municipality should take into account the international reaction.

On May 8, the first gay and lesbian march for equality in Lithuanian history,  the Baltic Pride, will start at 13:00 at the Forum Palace on Konstitucijos Avenue and will finish on Upes Street. The municipality issued permission for this, although 53 MPs signed a petition asking the Vilnius municipality to ban that demonstration, while on March 24 the Sajudis movement (the remains of the powerful national movement of the late 1980s which now is a little organization dominated by pensioners) sent its letter, in English titled “No to the parade of the homosexuals in Vilnius!” to The Scotsman, Metro and other British newspapers.

“The homosexuals are tolerated at shops, institutions, transport, workplaces, public events as well as the other citizens. However, we are against the strained increase of homosexuals’ problems (are there any in Lithuania???), against policy and ideology, which propagate homosexuality in an aggressive way. The homosexuals do not take part in the process of reproduction of society, but use it for the satisfaction of their sexual needs. No one in the world has presented a report about damage made by the homosexuals. Therefore, we ask not to satisfy any extreme demands of the Lithuanian homosexuals, as well as of the European ones, which could cause disorder and contraposition of people.

There is enough tolerance and respect in Lithuania to each human, insofar as he respects and tolerates the other. We ask the mayor to cancel the permit for European homosexuals to organize a parade in Vilnius,” reads the letter from Sajudis.
The letter, signed on March 17, was addressed to Lithuanian Parliament Speaker Irena Degutiene, Prime Minister Kubilius, the Lithuanian parliament and Vilnius Mayor Vilius Navickas. However, this letter gave no positive result for its authors.

On April 29, a public hearing organized by the international group on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) rights was organized in the European Parliament. “We must correct our mistakes if we want to claim genuine democracy. And the very fact that Baltic Pride does take place in Vilnius is a breakthrough. Lithuanians don’t have to love gays, Lithuanians don’t have to embrace them.  But they do have to tolerate difference,” Leonidas Donskis, Lithuanian Liberal member of the European Parliament, said at the hearings.

Michael Cashman, British Labor member of the European Parliament and co-president of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights, said the EU is a community of values, all EU member states have agreed to promote fundamental rights and similar values. He and several other members of the European Parliament will take part in the Baltic Pride in Vilnius. Activists of Amnesty International and Sweden’s EU minister Brigitta Ohlsson will also arrive in Vilnius to participate in the Baltic Pride demonstration for equality. Erica Jennings, the Lithuania-wide famous Irish-born pop singer of the Lithuanian band Skamp, and Joep Wijnands, Dutch ambassador to Lithuania, said that they also will take part in the demonstration.

On May 4, however, Raimondas Petrauskas, interim prosecutor general, asked the Vilnius Court to ban the Baltic Pride street demonstration stating that there is some danger of violent contra-manifestations; it seems that some legal battles could be fought until May 8.

On April 29, the Vilnius municipality issued permission to the Russian Union to commemorate on May 9 the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII. There are very few WWII veterans in Vilnius who are capable of moving on their own feet. The organizers say that some 200-300 people will take part in a short-distance commemoration march from the Cathedral Square to the Arsenalo Street and probably the majority of attendees will be post-WWII generation. A similar appeal by the Russian Union to the Klaipeda municipality got a negative response - the demonstration in Klaipeda is not allowed. The general Lithuanian mood is as follows: the Red Army brought no freedom to Lithuania and WWII for Lithuania finished in 1993, when the last Russian soldiers left Lithuania, and therefore such demonstrations are largely controversial.

Such street commemorations would be an occasion for the Russian Union, a small political party, which claims to represent the Russian minority in Lithuania, to promote itself. During the last parliamentary election in the fall of 2008, the Russian Union got no seats in the parliament.

Initially, the Russian Union asked for permission to demonstrate on Gedimino Avenue. However, on May 7 - 9, the avenue will be occupied by Vilnius’ restaurants presenting the cuisine of various EU countries to celebrate Europe Day of May 9, which is kind of the EU’s birthday. The Russian Union leaders understood that WWII veterans, marching among the steam of boiled and baked food and people enjoying Belgian beer, would look rather ridiculous and refused their demand to commemorate on Gedimino Avenue.

The positive response to the Russian Union’s demand for a street commemoration march from the Vilnius municipality could be explained by the fact that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is invited to visit Vilnius on June 1 and 2, when the sitting of the Council of Baltic Sea States will be held in Vilnius. The Council of the Baltic Sea States is a political forum for regional inter-governmental cooperation. The members of the Council are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden and a representative from the European Commission. Lithuania holds the presidency in 2010 for this organization. German Chancellor Angela Merkel already stated that she will arrive at the sitting of the Council in Vilnius on June 1 - 2. 

The most politically dangerous demonstration for the Kubilius government is planned on May 8 in front of the War Museum in Kaunas, by the Kaunas section of the United Democratic Movement. This organization, led by lawyer Kestutis Cilinskas, is not flirting with the government like trade unions do, and therefore is more trustworthy to many Lithuanians. On May 8, this organization plans to protest against the bad work of prosecutors in the famous case of alleged pedophilia (so-called Kedys case), the compulsory health insurance (PSD in Lithuanian) for the unemployed people who have no income, and the rest of the government’s economic policy increasing poverty and mass emigration, which is already turning into “evacuation,” according to organizers.