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Polish President, Gay Rights and Radicals in Lithuania

February 16, 2012 - Linas Jegelevicius - Bez kategorii

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In anticipation of February 16th, Lithuanian Independence Day, Polish President Bronisław Komorowski and homosexuals have drawn the most exasperation and contempt from many (ultra) patriots in Lithuania.

Quite ironically, the Polish head of state and a bunch of openly gay Lithuanians have been chastised for the same thing. Nationalistically-inclined skinheads, ultras and other radicals do not want the honourable Polish guest or gay rights activists to ever be seen in public in Lithuania. Be it in the central promenade of Kaunas, in the case of gay rights, or in the heavily Polish-populated region of Salcininkai (Soleczniki), in Komorowski’s.

Are you perplexed, wondering whether radicals dictate the policies in Lithuania, even for February 16th?

In this case, yes, they do.

Having already obtained permission from the city of Kaunas for a February 16 march for a unanimous and diverse Lithuania, the organisers, the Kaunas affiliate of Lithuania’s Tolerant Youth Association (LTYA), were stunned to learn that the administration of Kaunas revoked this permission just two days before the event. The claim for revoking was based on grounds of the “inability to secure the marchers’ safety.” Interestingly, Kaunas police said it was able to protect the marchers, even the gays.

The organisers were proposed to hold a 100-participant procession, consisting of Kaunas’ young intellectuals, free-minders, liberals and a couple of homosexuals, a few kilometres away from the Old City of Kaunas, in a park, where only stray cats and dogs roam.

However, the organisers of the nationalistic march, Lithuania’s National Youth Association (LNYA), every year attracting throngs of belligerent skinheads, leather men, ultras, EU-haters and all types of other radicals, were allowed to march along the main street of Kaunas. It is likely that among the rowdy youngsters there will be those who beat up a Pakistani man last year after the same march. The perpetrators have never been found. That is not surprising, as, in most similar ambushes, hooligans (forget patriots!) are rarely brought to court.

LTYA, slapped in its face, does not intend to give up, and is planning to sue the municipality for violating the constitutional right for free gatherings.

“We have never been informed of the reasons why our permission was revoked. We strongly suspect of political motifs being involved in the decision. It is very sad that, after more than 20 years of our independence, the state officials do not comprehend that outside the types of youth who are able only to carry the national flag, shouting ‘Lithuania for Lithuanians’,  ‘Brothers, we are white!’ and ‘Say no to the West, say no to the East!’, there exists other youth. Which is interested in green education, human and animals rights, and believes and preaches tolerance, integration and unity,” Sandra Suliauskaite, head of the association’s Kaunas affiliate said.

Julius Panka, the LNYA head, calls her and her peers from the LTYA “provocateurs”. “I see their will to march on the sacred day for Lithuanians in the heart of Kaunas as an attempt to provoke and split up the society,” Panka said. Some MPs and leaders of nationalist parties participated in the LNYA event.

However, the radicals weren’t able to deter Polish President Komorowski from having a walk in the Salcininkai region, historically known for a large conglomeration of Poles.

Huge sensitivity toward the issue was reflected on the internet. A short piece of news on the president’s visit to Salcininkai on the trendy Lithuanian website Delfi has triggered an avalanche of angry reactions. A commentator under the name “Parallel” drew a comparison between Komorowski and Hitler: “Didn’t Hitler visit Sudetenland? Is history repeating itself?” Another brave man writes: “Nevertheless, Hitler was not such a cad as Komorowski…” Another user states: “Salcininkai is not Poles’, it is Lithuanians’! Why does the president intentionally heat up the atmosphere in the region? Get him out of there as soon as possible!”

While the LTYA fights abundant gay hatemongers and libel in court, no one stands against the online badmouthing of the president.

Most importantly, could the haters hiding themselves beneath the cover of patriotism be curbed if Lithuania’s top policy-makers do not shy away from emphasising their nationalist propensity, which sometimes is too thin to sort out from pure radicalism and extremism?

Hungary, heavily criticised for its anti-democratic reforms carried out by the rightist government and parliament, has officially applauded Lithuania for its support.

“Vilnius was on our side when the democracy and sovereignty of Hungary was attacked by Brussels. We should consider expressing publicly our gratitude to Lithuania for the support in the conflict with Brussels,” Zsolt Nemeth, Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Ministry’s state secretary announced last week.

Lithuanian PM and chairman of the conservative party Lithuania’s Motherland Union and Christian Party, Andrius Kubilius, drew Budapest’s applause after praising Hungary’s constitutional reforms, which are lambasted by the EU institutions as anti-democratic.

And the examples of Lithuanian nationalism-turned-radicalism are just a few to mention. If we were to flip through most of the Lithuanian Parliament’s legal acts adopted in the past couple of years, we would stumble upon the nationalist-radical footprint in astonishingly many legislative pieces.

Such examples include ambiguous drafts, or laws in effect, on conception (Lithuania’s Constitutional Court, to the dismay of the ruling Conservatives, ruled it unconstitutional – author’s note), Intrauterine Insemination Law, Family Policy Foundation Law and Protection of Minors against Detrimental Effect of Public Information –  most political analysts and observers agree that these laws are soaked with the manifestations of radicalism.

Although the legislative trend is dangerous and instigating intolerance, segregation and jeopardising the secular state, the conservatives and radicals are pushing ahead their agendas, proclaiming to be strengthening constitutionality, the state and the pure-bred nation.

“What is going on is precarious, as the citizens are being divided into good, better and the best ones. I see such segregation is under way even in our kindergartens, where children, according to the Conservatives, could be sorted out into family children and bastards,” says Dalia Kuodyte, a liberal MP.

With discussions over the description of family and family policies flaring, the Catholic Church has heavily stepped in, forgetting about its detachment from the state. Those who venture to point out what is happening are accused of breaking down the institution of traditional family and servicing Brussels’ integrationists, and are portrayed as gays in the radical Lithuanian media.

Nevertheless, despite the louder prevalence of the hardliners, Lithuania hardly stands out in the European context of radicalisation which is intermittently shaking up Europe’s cradles of democracy, like Austria, Finland, the Netherlands or the UK.

In Lithuania’s case, the warning bell will ring when, next time, the homosexuals willing to march on February 16 will be locked up in detention cells, and the Polish president won’t be allowed to meet the Polish speakers in Lithuania.

Who can be sure that the resilient nationalism and radicalism in Lithuania won’t lead to that?

I cannot.

Linas Jegelevicius is a Lithuanian journalist and editor of a regional Lithuanian newspaper. He also contributes as a freelance journalist to several English language publications, including The Baltic Times, the only English-language weekly newspaper in the Baltics.

Baltic Spotlight is a column by Lithuanian journalist Linas Jegelevicius for New Eastern Europe. 

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