The minister said that public criticism and calls for boycotting "On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God" by director Romeo Castellucci were understandable but, he underlined, violence and bans were characteristic of and acceptable in non-democratic regimes.
"It is acceptable to issue public letters, call on the public to pay attention, boycott, not to buy tickets in a democratic society," the minister, representing the ruling Liberal Movement, said.
"But when protests lead to violence and demands to censor the festival, to ban, to nail down the doors, I think we are going outside the framework of a democratic and civil society and moving to societies we wouldn’t like to follow. I am talking about Belarus, about Iran, about North Korea as well as certain actions by the Russian authorities against activists and artists," Gelūnas said.
The culture minister said he saw similarities in terms of criticism and public reaction between the performance and the Muhammad cartoons as "in both cases we are dealing with religious objects, holy persons who are important for wide communities."
Gelūnas also rejected criticism regarding state funds allocated for the festival, saying that the authorities did not interfere with the festival's content.
"I would like to make a distinction between politics and art. The politics is that we allocated funds for the festival Sirens. It’s one of the most respected and acknowledged festivals, and we do not interfere with its internal contents. We leave it to the public to judge whether it's acceptable or not," the minister said.
Gelūnas said he had not seen the performance himself but as far as he could judge from one of Castellucci's interviews, humiliating believers is not the Italian director's goal.
"I have not seen the performance myself but I have read one of Castellucci's interviews where he speaks about this performance. In my opinion, he probably shocks with its expressive artistic means which have been used to shock the public since Dadaism for almost 100 years. We should not easily give in to this provocation and turn to some hysterical methods. I believe this performance is more about many other things but not about the wish to humiliate believers," the culture minister told BNS.
The performance had sparked protests form the Catholic Church.
Earlier on Monday, Vilnius Archdiocese called upon believers to oppose desecration of God's portrait and other religious signs.
Signed by Vilnius Archbishop Cardinal Audrys Juozas Bačkis, the letter condemns the use of a Renaissance painting Salvator Mundi in presentation of the international theater festival.
Bačkis said the poster highlighted the play, which both the director and organizers presented as “a play and a sacrilege."
"The marginal attempts to draw attention at any cost sacrifices human decency and insults many people; they are not stopped by the ongoing global discussions about the tragic consequences of the provocations that infringed upon the feelings of believers," the archbishop said.
Alfa.lt news portal said on Monday that the Renaissance painting Salvator Mundi picturing Christ's face by Antonello da Messina would be tainted with faeces during the performance of "On The Concept Of The Face, Regarding The Son Of God" by director Romeo Castelluci at the National Drama Theater this weekend.
Conservative MP Vilija Aleknaitė-Abramikienė also issued a statement on Monday, calling for "defending rights of Lithuanian citizens for beliefs of the majority and the traditional religion not to be degraded."
Results of the general census published on Friday showed that 77 percent of Lithuanian residents identify themselves as Roman Catholics, 4 percent are Orthodox, while another 6 percent said they were not members of any religious community.
The festival's website says that Jesus is "a symbol, an icon, provocation into thinking about human condition. Castellucci uses a gigantic Renaissance portrait of Christ as a backdrop for his exposure of the contemporary Golgotha of old age."
"A son takes care of his infirm father. The luxurious white interior is no protection against the excrement that the ailing man keeps producing. Even the audience can smell the stench. Jesus’ face on the huge picture nearly comes to life, lashed by the deafening music," the organizers write.