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2021.11.22 10:14

Anatomy of Lithuania's August riot: participants, instigators, connections – LRT Investigation (I)

Mindaugas Aušra, Jurgita Čeponytė, Rūta Juknevičiūtė, Indrė Makaraitytė, Jurga Tvaskienė, LRT Investigation Team, LRT.lt2021.11.22 10:14

After the August 10 riots outside the Lithuanian parliament Seimas, participants said the violence broke out due to provocations. But the LRT Investigation Team has gathered information on individuals who actively agitated the public before and during the rally.

Some 5,000 people gathered outside the parliament building on August 10 to protest against the government's plans to impose restrictions on unvaccinated people.

The rally turned violent in the evening when several hundred protesters blocked exits from the parliament building and started throwing bottles and stones at police officers. The police used teargas against the crowd.

Later, activists distanced themselves from the violence, saying that there should be a distinction between the peaceful rally and the riots. But the outbreak of violence was not spontaneous, according to information gathered by the LRT Investigation Team.

Outbreak of violence

The August 10 rally was the largest since the Big Family Defence March (Didysis šeimos gynimo maršas) in Vilnius Vingis Park in May.

The Lithuanian Family Movement (Lietuvos šeimų sąjūdis, LŠS), which was born after the Family Defence March, planned another grandiose event on September 10 coinciding with the Lithuanian parliament’s autumn session.

But at the end of July, the MPs decided to meet in August for an extraordinary session to consider amendments granting additional powers to the military during an emergency situation.

The August rally was hastily organised by Astra Astrauskaitė, a teacher notorious for her radical actions, as well as Kęstutis Tamašauskas and his public institution Patriotic Lithuanians. LŠS said it was not among the event organisers.

“However, we support the aims of the rally and invited people to attend,” LŠS said in a statement after the August riots.

But the collected data suggested that some LŠS leaders were active in the August 10 events, while Astrauskaitė also acted on behalf of the movement.

At the LŠS congress in Kalvarija on August 7, Astrauskaitė was invited on the stage where she announced to the audience that she had joined the movement.

She also agitated people to come to the August 10 rally and talked about the action plan.

“I’m in charge from 08:00 to 17:00. From 17:00 onward, I’m not responsible anymore. People will be able to slowly surround the Seimas because then I won’t be prosecuted,” she said in Kalvarija.

On August 10, Astrauskaitė announced the official end of the rally at around 15:30. Then, people were invited to join hands and surround the Seimas.

She also urged people to gather at the Seimas early in the morning, when parliamentarians convened for the extraordinary session.

"If you want to talk to your elected MPs, you can also gather from 08:00," Astrauskaitė said.

On August 10, after the end of the official rally, people gathered at Seimas exits, where they waited for the MPs.

But instead of talking to politicians, some chased away the former Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis. Others called the conservative Andrius Navickas a "fat pig" and surrounded his car. The car of another MP Sergėjus Jovaiša was strewn with leftover food.

Green armbands

Although Astrauskaitė and Patriotic Lithuanians were the official organisers of the August 10 rally, other people actively contributed to making the event happen.

One of them was Nendrė Černiauskienė, assistant to MP Valdemaras Valkiūnas and member of the controversial informal movement Susitelkimas.

On the eve of the rally, Černiauskienė said that although the organisers had official permits, Susitelkimas and several other groups had reserved “separate corners” for smaller protests.

“Astrauskaitė has a permit for up to 1,000 participants, but we think that there could be up to 10,000 people or more,” Černiauskienė said.

In fact, the Vilnius municipality had initially granted a permit for 1,000 people to protest, but before the event, the number was increased to 5,000.

In a live stream before the rally, Grafas Liutkevičius from informal, nationalist parties Apsauga Geležinis Vilkas and Patriotiški Lietuviai (Patriotic Lithuanians), also mentioned that people wearing green armbands will be responsible for order during the event.

But such armbands marked not only the order guardians but also people who instigated violence and participated in the riots.

LŠS at centre stage

LŠS leaders Adelina Sabaliauskaitė and Vitolda Račkova were active participants in the events that ended in riots on August 10. The women were live streaming the events until they were arrested.

On her broadcast, Sabaliauskaitė called for a long campaign.

“We can stand guard here all night. We can sleep in tents, in cars, or in the open air,” she said. “Because if not today, then never.”

A member of the LŠS council Antanas Norvydas, who was wearing the green armband, was also in the crowd from early morning.

The LRT Investigation Team has reviewed footage that showed Norvydas next to the people attacking officers during the riots. He was one of those who threw stones at the police.

Disturbances outside the Seimas started right before 21:00 when police reinforcements arrived.

“Move children out of this area. Please, parents, move your children out of this area,” Račkova told the crowd at that time.

Then, people started putting on masks or otherwise hiding their faces. They ran towards the Seimas. A scuffle with the officers ensued, and the gas was released.

Some rioters ran away but others put on gas masks and pressed the police against the wall. Bottles and stones were thrown at the officers.

The next clash occurred a few hours later. The crowd was angered by a bus that was leaving the Seimas area. The protesters were convinced that MPs were on the bus. In reality, it was taking the Public Security Service officers to a migrant camp in Rūdninkai, where unrest also broke out that night.

Antanas Kandrotas-Celofanas, a controversial activist who has been convicted several times for financial crimes, was also at the centre of the events. He agitated people to join the riots outside the Seimas.

“Anyone who can, come to the Seimas,” he called on the people.

According to Kandrotas, he urged people to gather because he saw “that the authorities would provoke riots.”

“And then the authorities and journalists gathered. I wanted as many witnesses as possible,” he told LRT.lt.

The rioters themselves filmed and distributed the violence and the harassment of officers on the night of August 10. It has become clear from these videos that several organisers of the “peaceful” rally were among the aggressors.

Among them were Tauras Jakelaitis, the leader of the Lithuanian People’s Party, and Gintaras Alenčikas who often shares pictures of him in the SS uniform of Nazi Germany. Both men were wearing green armbands.

During the rally, Astrauskaitė thanked Dmitrijus Vinogradovas for helping to organise the event. Later, the man was seen picking up stones amid clashes with the officers.

Žydrūnas Patašius was also seen on the video footage from the riots. He was among a group of men digging metal blockers out of the asphalt. Patašius threw metal pieces at the police.

"Without warning, I was gassed for standing huddled together with people. [...] I served in the military, so my self-defence instincts kicked in. […] You can see on the video that I did not injure any officers,” Patašius told LRT.lt.

Laura Leščinskaitė was another active rioter seen in the videos. She worked for MP Petras Gražulis during the previous parliamentary term.

“I didn’t attend the event. We were passing by and stopped because of curiosity […]. I used to work for Gražulis, and there were people I knew from the party. I was just chatting,” Leščinskaitė told LRT.lt

“Well, I shouted something, I mentioned something about Putin in Russian, and I gave an interview to Russian television. Then, I was beaten and locked up,” she added.

On the night of the riots, Leščinskaitė was arrested. She left the detention centre together with Račkova and Sabaliauskaitė. Outside the centre, they were met by MP Gražulis and his adviser Naglis Puteikis.

Viktoras Matesovičius was another protester arrested during the riots. Video footage showed him taking a bottle out of his backpack and throwing it at the police in front of the Seimas. He refused to comment on his behaviour.

Unrepeated scenario

LŠS organised another rally on September 10 that had to be even bigger than the August event.

According to the organisers’ plan, participants had to gather at the Cathedral Square, and from there, march along Gediminas Avenue to the Seimas, where the event was expected to continue until 10 pm.

Later, LŠS leaders agreed to limit the rally to Cathedral Square. In the end, the event was much smaller than the August 10 protest.

The police also barred Černiauskienė, Sabaliauskaitė, Račkova, Kandrotas-Celofanas, and other controversial figures of August events from participating in the September rally.

Nevertheless, Astrauskaitė and some representatives of Patriotic Lithuanians showed up at the Cathedral Square on September 10.

But officials were prepared for this event. During the unauthorised march towards the Seimas, 20 people were detained. Several hundred protesters arrived at the Seimas, which was surrounded by barriers. The crowd lingered until sunset and later dispersed.

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