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2021.09.10 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: A tale of two protests

Justinas Šuliokas, LRT.lt2021.09.10 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – September 10, 2021

It’s September and politics is in the streets. On Saturday, over 2,000 LGBTQ+ people and allies marched in Kaunas Pride, while this week we are gearing up for a follow-up to last month’s anti-vaxx protest-turned-riot.

Although the two groups could not be more different, there are some similarities between the events. Both made local authorities very uncomfortable: in Kaunas, the municipality wouldn’t issue a permission until a last-minute court ruling, while Vilnius authorities have refused to allow Friday’s rally near the parliament building (the rally has been relocated to Cathedral Square). Strong police presence is another common feature.

Lithuania’s first big LGBTQ+ march outside the capital, Kaunas Pride, comes at the time when the parliament is preparing to debate – again – a same-sex civil partnership bill. The president, who has made no secret of his scepticism about the law, said he was eager to take part in the process, casting himself as a mediator between the liberal authors of the bill and their traditionalist opponents.

POLITICS OFF THE STREETS

In more traditional politics, a significant rebalancing of power in parliament was effected this week when Saulius Skvernelis, Lithuania’s former prime minister, left the biggest opposition party to set up his own parliamentary group. The schism is thought to be a result of long-brewing discord between Skvernelis and Ramūnas Karbauskis, the heavy-handed leader of the Farmers and Greens Union.

The move is seen as a loss for Karbauskis’ party – the former prime minister was its most popular politician and took with him a decent chunk of the party's MPs – and a gift for the ruling coalition, which is left to deal with a more fragmented opposition.

ZAPAD TIME

Lithuania is watching with unease as Russia and Belarus are gearing up for the biggest joint military exercise in years. The Zapad 2021 drills on Baltic borders is kicking off on Friday and come amid a border crisis fostered by the Minsk regime, with the threat of provocations “at its highest in four years”, according to Lithuania’s foreign minister.

Could the current cold war between Vilnius and Minsk turn hot, if these provocations are not contained?

LET US REPORT FROM THE BORDER

Ever since Lithuania’s border guards were instructed to push back irregular migrants from its borders, no journalists were allowed to observe how it is done. This week, the country’s media organisations issued a joint statement, saying this unjustifiably limits their right to receive and disseminate information vital to the public.

“Excessive restrictions on press freedom on the borders of Poland and Lithuania with Belarus” were also denounced by Reporters Without Borders.

LOOMING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Lithuania is struggling to provide adequate living conditions to some 4,100 irregular migrants that have recently been detained and housed in makeshift camps. A report by 15min.lt has described appalling developments in Rūdninkai camp, which houses single young men. A “caste system” is taking place, as prostitution, sexual exploitation, and extortion are rampant.

Lithuanian authorities have promised to tackle the situation, planning to move the migrants to more adequate housing.

MUCH ADO ABOUT DOUBLE-U

While most expecting parents puzzle over the first name for their baby, for a Dutch-Lithuanian family the issue is the last name. Lithuania's language laws prevent children from taking their parents' last name if it contains Ws, Qs, or Xs.

EDITOR’S PICKS

– 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.

– More than 20 years ago, leaders from Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on creating a union state, drawing the two former Soviet republics tightly together. Details, however, have never been agreed on by the two sides.

– Lithuania has received the epiphany that leadership is a dangerous job with a high price and punishments, argues Margarita Šešelgytė of Vilnius University.

– Members of European and US parliaments have lauded Lithuania for standing up to the world’s authoritarian leaders. However, the country’s foreign policy may put its security at risk.

In an interview with LRT.lt, German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck discusses the position of Eastern European countries within the German-dominated European Union, how Berlin’s policies might change or remain the same in the post-Merkel era, and the different visions France and Germany have for European security.

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