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Ambassadors see Baltic Pride as good opportunity for Lithuania to show its progress

Baltic Pride 2010 akimirka
Baltic Pride 2010
Šaltinis: BNS
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An LGBT pride march scheduled to be held in Vilnius in July is an opportunity for Lithuania to get positive attention from Europe and to demonstrate its human rights progress, Vilnius-based ambassadors of some Northern and Western European countries have told BNS.

The embassies of the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland say that they are supporting the Baltic Pride events aimed at advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and some of them plan to observe the march.

Leonidas Donskis, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament, and Kęstutis Girnius, a political observer, believe that if courts' decisions were unfavorable for the parade, if there were "homophobic reactions", or if the police failed to ensure the security of the marchers, that would negatively affect the image of Lithuania, which is taking over the rotating EU presidency on July 1.

The ambassadors interviewed by BNS said that such events always get much attention from the public and the media.

Swedish Ambassador Cecilia Barbro Ruthstrom-Ruin thinks that the kind of attention, positive or negative, Lithuania will receive in Europe after the Baltic Pride march will depend on how the country's authorities respond to it.

"Of course it all depends on how it develops, what kind of attention it will get. I think it will also depend very much on how the authorities respond and what we can see is that if the authorities support and protect the rights for LGBT persons and LGBT activists who demonstrate, that can be positive attention. This year is also an important year for Lithuania to get attention for the fact that Lithuania is now celebrating 20 years since homosexuality was decriminalized. So I do not necessarily think that it needs to be negative attention, but also a good opportunity to show how much progress Lithuania has made in this area," she said.

Ruthstrom-Ruin said that Swedish cities are competing with one another to host LGBT pride events.

"The city of Stockholm counts on around half a million visitors to this summer's Stockholm Pride, which is a very big and festive event. I counted that in Sweden this year at least 12 different cities are planning pride parades, because they get good attention," the diplomat said.

French Ambassador Maryse Eveline Berniau also believes that the march to be held during Lithuania's EU presidency will be an opportunity to assess the country's progress in the field of human rights.

"If everything goes smoothly, peacefully and everybody has the feeling that the rights of everybody have been respected, I think (this) could be a very good image for the progress of civil rights in the Lithuanian society," she said.

Berniau said that French diplomats are planning to observe the demonstration in July.

"I don't think it's really our role to take part in the march. But it would be interesting for us to see how it develops," she said.

The embassy of the United Kingdom is also planning to observe the march.

"The protection and promotion of the rights of LGBT people is an integral part of the UK government's wider international human rights agenda. We believe that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people, as enshrined in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," said Stephen Conlon, Deputy Head of Mission at the UK embassy in Vilnius.

"As David Lidington, our Minister for Europe, stated, „Every government has a responsibility to protect and promote the rights of all its citizens, not least those marginalized by society." So the embassy will be observing the march to ensure these rights, including the right to freedom of assembly and expression are respected," he said.

Dutch and British diplomats said that they expect the Baltic Bride march in Vilnius to go smoothly and successfully.

"One of Lithuania's goals for its presidency is to have a more open Europe. Supporting LGBT rights is an essential part of creating a more open society. I hope the event is a great success," Conlon said.

Dutch Ambassador Kornel Willem Spaans said, "We have one in the Netherlands each year and it usually passes without incidents. I think we all should expect that this will go smoothly and will mean positive image for the country."

Meanwhile, Finnish Ambassador Harri Kaleva Maki-Reinikka believes that what is most important is to ensure that the rights of sexual minorities are respected by solving problems through dialogue with the authorities.

"I think the main purpose should be anyhow that the equality, the rights of the sexual minorities are at the level and according to the requirements by international organizations. I hope that the attention as such is not the first priority. I think it should be the first priority to improve the situation. So basically I'm not for that kind of diplomacy that we go with megaphones to the streets. I think it's more important to get good results," the diplomat said.

"If the minorities feel that it's not okay, they certainly have a right to raise their issue. If they feel so, it is good to speak with authorities about that. Personally I'm more in favor of a dialogue, normal dialogue. I'm not the person for marches and parades. Of course, it's nice to have a peaceful, nice, colorful, relaxed parade, but I hope that it will be like that as well," he said.

Maki-Reinikka said that he plans to attend one of the Baltic Pride events, a human rights conference. Other ambassadors also said that their embassies support or help to organize Baltic Pride events, including the creation of promotional videos, a film festival, and the conference.

Donskis and Girnius believe that Lithuania's image will depend on whether the march is held and goes smoothly, without unfavorable court decisions, "hysterical homophobic reactions", or riots.

Girnius said that the LGBT parade in Vilnius will be watched to see "on which side Lithuania is - with the East or with the West."

"It depends on what happens. If some riot broke out, that would definitely worsen (the image). What would make the image even worse would be a failure by the police to ensure security for the demonstrators," the political observer said.

Donskis also said that a calm and smooth march without "hysterical homophobic reactions", like those in Russia or Ukraine, would show that Lithuania is a European country.

"I think that the country would win and look dignified, European, if its citizens were allowed to use their constitutional rights," he said.

What would be most detrimental to Lithuania's image would be court decisions unfavorable to the march, the MEP said.

If there were incidents during the march, Lithuanian leaders could explain to the international community that these were isolated incidents that did not reflect the country's position, he said.

Donskis is a member of the European Parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, whose representatives are planning to observe the Baltic Pride march.

Court proceedings are currently in progress in Lithuania over the venue of the LGBT pride parade planned to take place in Vilnius this summer.

The Lithuanian Gay League asked Vilnius' local government to allow them to hold the parade along on the city's central Gedimino Avenue, but the authorities proposed that they march along a more remote street.

The first gay march in 2010 also took place on a street off the city center. The venue was then cordoned off and protected as around thousand people gathered to protest against the gay march.

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