LGBT community gets its day on Gedimino Avenue

  • 2013-08-07
  • By Sarah Franci

TREE HUGGERS: It’s called “urban knitting,” though some call it “bombing yarn.” Born in The Netherlands almost ten years ago, this art appeared a few months ago in Vilnius, and has spread. It’s now been seen in the other two Baltic countries. “Urban knitting” is an artistic movement that uses the technique of knitting to create a collective involvement and inspire people to reclaim public spaces. It aims to give color to gray spaces in cities.

VILNIUS - After weeks of much acrimonious discussion and controversy between participants and protestors about the location for Gay Pride parade, it was finally allowed to go forward down Gedimino Avenue in center Vilnius.
Vilnius Municipality tried to ban the parade, and when that failed it tried to relocate it far from the city center, on Upes Street. The Lithuanian Gay League (LGL), the national association fighting for gay rights in Lithuania, was forced to take the issue to court. Not only the First Court, but also the Supreme Court decided to permit the march for equality to take place on Gedimino Avenue. The court’s verdict arrived only on July 23, a few days before the planned parade, mentioning that the change of venue would have been in conflict with human rights.

The march, which was the top event during Gay Pride week, took place on July 27. There were about 1,200 people in total out for the event, representing both sides - the Pride participants and protesters.
Aliona Polujanova, volunteer coordinator in the LGL - the Lithuanian organization which fights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights - told The Baltic Times why they fought to have the event on Gedimino Avenue. She said that this is where all public gatherings take place: political parties, social groups march there, sports, cultural and commercial events take place there on a regular basis. “I have never heard,” continued Polujanova, “that any other social group struggled to get permission to have an event on that street. But the LGBT people and their supporters were not good enough. We used legal procedures in order to prove that we have the same right for peaceful assembly. For us it is extremely important.”

The parade route started at the Cathedral and after an hour and a half arrived in Lukiskes Square where, on stage politicians, activists and representatives of European and other organizations, like Amnesty International, spoke. This part of the parade event was held peacefully and without any serious clashes. However, at the end of the speeches, when all the demonstrators started heading back home, protestors started with loud and showy protests. Until that point they had stayed in the square, behind the police barricades, with their banners, t-shirts and other protest materials. They were just biding their time.

The parade went on peacefully until MP Petras Grazulis, who was against the march and homosexuals’ rights, took to the street to protest. Grazulis is known in Lithuania for his continuous attacks on the LGBT community, and on this occasion he got the crowd aroused.
One of the participants in the parade, Justas Sereika, said that the government doesn’t support their cause, because a lot of Seimas members have been around since Soviet times. Therefore, says Sereika, they don’t understand that there is nothing wrong with being gay. He adds that the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, supports them but can’t make an impact on the issue alone; the real problem is that the Lithuanian people don’t have enough information about the LGBT culture.

The group thinks that one way to change this is teaching tolerance and a better understanding of this in school, as is done in the UK and other European countries. This should be done “especially in high school because sometimes kids could be very bad [towards others], so in every school probably more information is needed.”
Kestutis Lancinskas, the Chief of Vilnius Country Police, reported that the cost for providing security during the event was 182,500 litas (52,900 euros) and that the cooperation by the police force was successful. “We had a few incidents,” he said, “but they were insignificant. Basically the city is calm again. There were 28 people arrested, pre-trial investigations have started, and one policeman was injured.” One of the participants, who actively resisted arrest, injured a police officer in the face.

In the previous Gay Pride event, which took place in 2010, the atmosphere was more intense, even violent, than this one. This time, there weren’t any direct clashes with the police and the only public disturbances centered around petty hooliganism and some resistance against police officers. In Lancinskas’ opinion this is because, he says, people are more civilized. And maybe they understood that throwing objects and general violence does not give positive results.
According to Amnesty Intentional, the fight for the right to parade along Gedimino Avenue was a fight for human rights. In his speech in front of the demonstrators, the Amnesty International representative said that the association is proud to participate and to support Baltic Pride, not only for protecting the right of assembly, but also, and especially, for protecting the right of expression. Moreover, Amnesty international also highlighted that it was in Vilnius where support for transgender rights were demonstrated, in a city in which they have been constantly violated.

The municipality, however, who struggled against both the parade and its chosen venue, says Lithuania doesn’t need any other events like this. The mayor of Vilnius said to BNS on the following Monday that “Vilnius needs no more of these festivals. I believe that developments on Saturday serve as yet another clear proof of the event that has nothing to do with promoting tolerance. It was more of a tool for propaganda of one’s own values and lifestyle.” He said that “We could have avoided the furor had the organizers accepted the proposal to hold the parade on Upes Street. The aim of the event – to promote tolerance – was not achieved, and this is something we have to regret.”