Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Lithuania grapples with homophobia

  • Lithuania is ranked 36 out of 49 European countries on how it safeguards the human rights of LGBT people (Photo: Janis Zakis)

Lithuania has recently started discussing its attitudes towards homosexuality, in what remains a novelty for a country ranked among the most homophobic in the EU.

While data shows that attitudes remain largely the same, many agree that the debates are proof that a change may be coming, albeit slowly.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The discussions were largely sparked by Lithuanian DJ Ten Walls (Marijus Adomaitis) who recently equated homosexuals with paedophiles.

His comments led to several festivals cancelling his shows.

Ten Walls‘ apologised for what he said but social media took up the issue. People either felt he had expressed an opinion that "everybody shares" or that his views revealed "completely stupid narrowmindedness".

Music journalist Karolis Vysniauskas, however, notes that the issue became big only after it caught the intention of international media.

“Lithuanian society is used to homophobic statements. That is why people were so shocked to see how seriously such a statement was taken by international audiences,” he told EUobserver.

He noted the incident pointed to two things: Lithuanians’ insecurity about what foreigners think about their country; and the importance of attitudes to LGBT rights in a wider geo-political context.

“We are a part of NATO and EU, we joined the Euro club, we have H&M, Barclays and McDonald's. This was a good wake-up call to remind us that the economy is not enough – we also have to solve social issues and educate society.”

President Dalia Grybauskaite, previously not so vocal on the issue of homophobia, has called the recent discussions “healthy” saying the sooner the country becomes “more open and more tolerant, the better”.

But it will take more than a few public statements to change ingrained attitudes.

Earlier this month, justice minister Juozas Bernatonis said that same-sex couples in Lithuania were ”more of an issue of propaganda than reality“ in reference to a partnership bill which excludes same-sex partnerships.

The amended bill is soon to be put before the cabinet. A statement by the prime minister that final adjustments are being made in consultations with the Catholic Church sparked another round of debate.

“The Lithuanian parliament convenes each session with several homophobic initiatives on the table. In 2014, for example, several Russian-type 'anti-propaganda' draft laws that could effectively restrict dissemination of any information about homosexuality were discussed by our lawmakers,” Natalija Bitiukova, Deputy Direcor of Human Rights Monitoring institute, told this website.

The “Rainbow Map 2015” released by pressure-group ILGA-Europe in May ranked Lithuania at number 36 out of 49 European countries, closer to Azerbaijan and Armenia rather than to the UK or Belgium in terms of safeguarding the fundamental human rights of LGBT people.

The first EU-wide survey conducted by the EU Agency of Fundamental Rights in 2013 revealed that 61 percent of Lithuanian LGBT people who participated in the survey felt discriminated against or harassed in the last 12 months because of their sexual orientation. It was the highest percentage in the EU.

Liutauras Gudžinskas, a political scientist from Vilnius University, says this is due to homophobic discourse being well-established and tacitly supported by leading politicians.

“The most vociferous LGBT-rights opponent MP Petras Grazulis, who repeatedly calls for suppression or even annihilation of gays, has never been held accountable for his actions," he noted.

Some analysts go so far as to see it as a geopolitical issue with neighbouring Russia not supporting gay rights while most western European states do.

However political scientist Liutauras Gudžinskas believes the issue can be exploited by external forces only if local politicians do not feel they have to tackle discrimination against LGBT people in the country.

“The recent scandals show that public pressure on top Lithuanian politicians to fight homophobia and discrimination is increasing, which eventually may be a start for more positive developments.”

Natalija Bitiukova also notes that condemnation of homophobic outbursts by certain public figures became more frequent.

Meanwhile the EuroPride which has just taken place in neighbouring Latvia - the first one to be held in a post-Soviet country - has also prompted some soul-searching in Lithuania about its widespread homophobic attitudes.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

Former Malta opposition leader fears for his life

Simon Busuttil spent 10 years as an MEP before returning to Malta to lead the opposition. He now fears for his life amid probes into high-level corruption in Malta's government.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us