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2021.09.06 17:45

Kaunas Pride: a failed test for Europe’s upcoming Capital of Culture?

Jūratė Anilionytė, LRT TV, LRT.lt2021.09.06 17:45

Kaunas will be Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2022, but the hurdles to host the city’s first LGBTQ+ march may hurt the reputation of Lithuania’s second largest city.

On Saturday, over 2,000 people gathered in Kaunas to draw attention to the social problems faced by the country's LGBTQ+ community. The event saw scuffles break out between the police and counter-protesters, who blocked the path along the city’s central Laisvės Avenue.

Read more: Police launch five probes after Kaunas Pride, including incitement to hatred

Kaunas Pride also addressed Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, with a list of 14 demands. These range from marriage equality, including the right for same-sex couples to adopt children, to the abolition of Lithuania's controversial media law which considers information about LGBTQ+ people as harmful to minors.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, however, has recently spoken against same-sex couples adopting children, and objected to teaching LGBTQ+ history in schools.

“I am against such demands and I think that they won’t be met in Lithuania. As the president, I will do my best so that such demands could not be met at this time,” he told reporters last Thursday.

He also said that marriage equality, another demand by Kaunas Pride, would require amending the constitution, which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

“The reality is that we face difficulties in our everyday lives, we live in fear and anxiety over how we can ensure peace and social protection for our community,” said Vika Matuzaitė, one of Kaunas Pride organisers. “It won’t be that all of the demands will be met after the march, realistically, we know that. We know that change comes slowly, and we want to be a part of this discussion.”

The event took place following the organisers’ legal battle against the local authorities, which denied permission to stage the rally, citing security concerns and infrastructure works. The organisers sued the city and the court ruled on July 30 in their favour.

Kaunas Municipality had 30 days to appeal the decision and did so days before the deadline and a little over a week until the pride march, planned for September 4.

The municipality is rumoured to have waited to appeal the decision so that the court could not rule for Kaunas to allow the event in time. However, a day before the event, the court ruled again against the municipality, ordering it to approve the march.

Kaunas residents have recently been complaining about a foul smell emanating from an unknown source. Kaunas Mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis joked last Monday that the stench may be related to the pride event.

“Will my evaluations matter to you? [...] Let’s have a little break, then I will answer you immediately,” said Matijošaitis on Thursday, avoiding the topic of Kaunas Pride. “Repeat the question. Well, the court will decide it all.”

Mayor’s homophobic remarks can harm the city in the long run, discouraging foreign investors, according to public relations expert Arūnas Armalis.

“We have a city that will become the European capital of culture very soon, and that will fill not just Laisvės Avenue, but also its spaces [with events]. If the projects are successful, the city will be filled with many LGBT people from all over Europe,” he said. “It will be very interesting to watch the mayor attend public events then.”

Political scientist Ainius Lašas, meanwhile, expressed concern over municipalities denying citizens the right to protest.

“These are all different methods [...] of preventing people from gathering, whether it’s in Vilnius or Kaunas, whether it’s for people from one camp or another,” he said. “I am generally concerned over this wish to forbid, to disallow people to express their opinion, their position [...]. This is absolutely normal and encouraged in every democratic society.”

Vilnius authorities have refused to issue a permit for a rally against coronavirus restrictions planned near the Lithuanian parliament building on September 10. The decision was made due to security concerns after another anti-vaccination rally organised by the same group on August 10 turned into a riot.

Organisers have sued the city, and plan the protest for September 10.

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