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2021.11.24 08:00

Trumpism, SS uniforms, and pandemic populism: key actors behind Lithuania’s August riot – LRT Investigation (II)

Indrė Makaraitytė, Mindaugas Aušra, Jurga Tvaskienė, Jurgita Čeponytė, Rūta Juknevičiūtė, LRT Investigation Team, LRT.lt2021.11.24 08:00

Who are the people behind a string of rallies in 2021, which culminated with the August 10 riot outside the parliament? The LRT Investigation Team reports.

The data shows that individuals involved in the recent unrest, as well as the organisations they represent, can be divided into three main blocs.

Lithuanian Family Movement (LŠS)

The first block consists of members of the Lithuanian Family Movement (Lietuvos Šeimų Sąjūdis, LŠS). The organisation was born in June after the Big Family Defence March (Didysis šeimos gynimo maršas) and is headed by Raimondas Grinevičius.

One of the main organisers of the Family Defence March was Marius Gabrilavičius-Maksimalietis. He runs the minfo.lt website and a Facebook page called Family Movement, which is full of radical calls for protests.

But Grinevičius renounced any ties to Gabrilavičius-Maksimilietis.

“There are 12 or 13 pages called Family Movement [on Facebook]. Gabrilavičius has stopped participating in our activity on May 15,” Grinevičius told LRT.lt.

Another person renounced by LŠS was Antanas Kandrotas-Celofanas, a controversial activist who has been convicted several times for financial crimes. He is one of the suspects in the investigation into the August 10 riots outside the Lithuanian parliament Seimas.

Kandrotas-Celofanas runs a Facebook page Knygnešys. He was also among the initiators of the Family Defence March and was called its media sponsor.

Kandrotas-Celofanas is not officially involved in the LŠS activities but broadcasts about them because, as he claims, he participates in all “patriotic events”.

LŠS has recently set up its own broadcasting platform. On September 22, public institution People’s TV (Tautos TV) was founded by Antanas Norvydas, the member of the LŠS council, who participated in the August 10 riots.

Lithuanian Public Council (Lietuvos Visuomenės Taryba)

The Lithuanian Public Council (LPC) is the largest grouping of informal organisations and actors. It is an association founded in November 2018 in Vilnius. According to LPC, its aim is to fight against "the corrupt system of Lithuania’s governance".

In June, Zigmas Vaišvila was re-elected chairman of the LPC board. He was among those who signed the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania in 1990.

A report by the State Security Department (VSD) on threats to national security mentioned Vaišvila as an actor seeking to consolidate the forces of pro-Russian movements in Lithuania.

In total, LPC has around 200 members. Among them are Vitolda Račkova, one of the LŠS leaders, Tauras Jakelaitis, leader of the Lithuanian People’s Party (LLP), as well as Kipras Valentinavičius who is active on Knygnešys Facebook page.

According to Vaišvila, LPC was not involved in the August 10 riots.

“There were no riots, there is no need to use false terms. When there were two hundred people left, the riot police arrived and the provocations started,” he told LRT.lt

In 2019, LPC initiated an informal grouping called Mobilisation of the Nation (Tautos susitelkimas) to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

According to Vaišvila, however, Mobilisation was an informal organisation, while LPC “does not have any subsidiaries”.

The current aim of Mobilisation is to unite non-systemic parties in Lithuania. Its leadership consists of Nendrė Černiauskienė, as well as the People’s Party leaders Tauras Jakelaitis and Aras Vyturys Sutkus.

The People’s Party was founded more than a decade ago by former Prime Minister Kazimira Prunskienė. Under her leadership, in 2011, the party entered into an agreement with Vladimir Putin's United Russia.

In June 2020, Jakelaitis became the party’s temporary leader. In autumn 2020, it passed its right to run in the parliamentary elections on to the Mobilisation of the Nation party.

Then, Černiauskienė became the leader of the list. The former employee of the Special Investigation Service (STT), the country’s anti-corruption watchdog, is now an adviser to the MP Valdemaras Valkiūnas.

Mobilisation’s main objective is a referendum to establish the right to pass decisions in Lithuania by collecting 100,000 signatures instead of the current 300,000.

Patriotic Lithuanians

The Lithuanian Public Council and Mobilisation are also linked to another informal movement called Patriotic Lithuanians (Patriotiški lietuviai). Its leader is Kęstutis Tamašauskas, who, along with Astra Astrauskaitė, was the main organiser of the August 10 rally.

Tamašauskas founded Patriotic Lithuanians in January this year. Before that, in October, he erected a large sign that said “Trump” on the Gediminas’ Hill in central Vilnius in support of US President Donald Trump.

In spring, Tamšauskas, along with Dmitrijus Vinogradovas and Saulius Gavėnas, organised a “march” to paint over a rainbow flag in one of the underpasses in Vilnius.

Grafas Liutkevičius and Gintaras Alenčikas, who participated in riots outside Seimas, also took part in the painting “march”. Alenčikas’ Facebook profile contains photos of him posing in a Nazi German SS uniform.

Another informal grouping, actively fomenting unrest, consists of informal movements, including the so-called Lithuanian Resistance to Occupation Centre (LROC), founded in early July, Samogitian Resistance, as well as Dawn (Aušra) and Nobody Wanted to Die (NWD), established this summer. These organisations call themselves Resistance Squads.

The NWD declaration states that its main value is humanism, but also calls to amend the Lithuanian Constitution, to revise the Lisbon, EU, and NATO membership treaties, as well as to "come to an agreement with Lukashenko and to wrap up the razor wire".

The movement is associated with the public institution Ekspertai.eu. Since 2014, it has been headed by Audrius Nakas, a former MP. NWD also runs the ekspertai.eu website, which is mentioned in the VSD report as favouring Russia.

Ekspertai.eu also manages another channel called PressJazz TV, founded by a public institution Homeland Conductors (Tėvynės Konduktoriai), the shareholders of which include Nakas and Kazimieras Juraitis, also mentioned in the VSD report as posing threat to national security.

Algirdas Paleckis, who is on trial for spying for Russia, is closely cooperating with Nakas, Juraitis, and their channels.

On June 10, Paleckis announced on Facebook that he has become “a host of one of the best TV channels – ekspertai.eu”. On June 15, he was already covering an unauthorised rally outside Seimas, presenting himself as a PressJazz correspondent.

In July, Paleckis founded the informal movement called Dawn. Its goals are to recall the Seimas, to hold a new referendum on Lithuania's NATO and EU membership, and to avoid disputes with Russia and Belarus. It also opposes restrictions on unvaccinated people and is in favour of a family, based on marriage between a man and a woman.

Dawn is associated with the so-called Lithuanian Resistance to Occupation Centre (LROC). According to the leader of LROC, Eduardas Vaitkus, their goal is "to resist the occupiers of Lithuania".

Another informal movement, Samogitian Resistance, is also part of LROC. Its leader Vaidas Žemaitis Lekstutis has been convicted of anti-state activities, although he said that the data in his case was falsified.

The ideas of the Samogitian Resistance are disseminated through a website and a YouTube channel, where it regularly speaks out against NATO and the EU, as well as expresses favourable opinions about Putin and Lukashenko.

On August 28, informal Lithuanian organisations agreed to form a Nucleus of Mobilisation. The Lithuanian Public Council said it was the main initiator of the grouping which had two main objectives – the implementation of the 100,000 signatures referendum and a joint investigation into the events of August 10.

Imported unrest

On August 18, a week after the violent events outside Lithuania’s Seimas, a rally took place in Riga. At first glance, it seemed that the Latvians were replicating the symbols used by the Lithuanian protesters.

But an investigation into Latvian movements has shown that in the neighbouring country, protests against the Covid-19 restrictions were already taking place at a time when Lithuanian activists cultivated discontent about the alleged destruction of traditional families.

The motifs of fascism, totalitarianism, as well as marking the unvaccinated with the Star of David, appeared in Lithuania before the August events. In Latvia, such symbols were put into use in spring.

In late May, Roberts Raimo, a Latvian fringe politician, uploaded a picture of the Star of David with the words "Nevakcinets" (non-vaccinated) on social media.

Valentin Jeremeyev, a founder of the People’s Power Front (PPF) party, was another active spreader of such rhetoric.

PPF denies the pandemic and claims that vaccines are fatal. At the beginning of this year, Jeremeyev was detained for the spread of false information, while PPF’s activities were banned. The movement is still active on Facebook.

Raimo and other Latvian protesters participated in Lithuania’s Big Family Defence March. The events prompted closer communication between Lithuanian and Latvian radical movements. Social media analysis revealed that Raimo is in close contact with leaders of the Lithuanian Family Movement and Patriotic Lithuanians.

On August 7, Kandrotas-Celofanas also participated in a family celebration in Riga, organised by Aivars Smans. The latter is a Latvian businessman and founder of the movement called Servants of the Nation. He participated in the August 10 rally outside Lithuanian Seimas.

The video footage also showed that members of Patriotic Lithuanians participated in Latvian rallies.

Recently, the Lithuanian and Latvian radicals have been luring Estonians to join in. After the August events in Lithuania, the Baltic Peoples’ Front was established. Here, Lithuania is represented by LŠS leaders, Grinevičius and Sabaliauskaitė, Latvia by Jeremeyev, and Estonia by businessman Veiko Huuse.

Kandrotas-Celofanas is also active in this organisation. After the August riots, he travelled to Latvia and Estonia, met with local activists, and discussed the need for joint action.

Asked about connections in neighbouring countries, LŠS leader Grinevičius vaguely said that “we found some and others found us”.

“We will think of something for joint work,” he told LRT.lt about the Baltic Peoples’ Front.

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