• 2002-02-14
Chaotic scenes of anti-globalization protesters running amok on city streets, barricading the doorways of financial institutions and large corporations like McDonald's are familiar enough from the TV screen. But you won't see rallies like this in the cities of the Baltic states. At least, not yet.

The only protests to take place here since the word globalization was added to the worldwide vocabulary in the 1990s have been small bands of pensioners in sponge-cake hats waving placards for better pensions.

And those protests weren't always genuine, the protesters often being wheeled in subversively by opposition political parties trying to cause a stir.

But it's a small world. The media and the Internet are pushing anti-establishment, anti-capitalist, animal rights, environmental and other ideals into the Baltic states.

The first signs are barely noticeable: a small anti-NATO protest in Vilnius last May during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which attracted a tiny but recognizable international element; leaflets given to passers-by outside fur stores like Nijole, and, this week, McDonald's in Vilnius.

In France, charismatic anti-globalization activist Jose Bove led highly publicized attacks on McDonald's restaurants and hacked down genetically modified rice plants. His supporters believe he is a symbol of their proud food and farming traditions.

It's these traditions that the small group of protesters against McDonald's in Vilnius want to protect. And this is the hook the public will most likely take notice of, more than all the other complaints held up against the company in similar protests around the world, like damaging the South American rainforests, low wages, poor treatment of workers and brainwashing children into eating unhealthy food.

Bove was jailed. But he caught the public imagination in France and rallied thousands of supporters. We are witnessing the beginnings of such rallies in the Baltics.

About 25,000 protesters gathered in Sweden's second city, Gothenburg, just the other side of the Baltic Sea, last June. Finns, Scandinavians and Hungarians were among those arrested. It won't be long before Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians are also handcuffed in anti-globalization street clashes around the world.