Democracy & Justice

Lithuanian Pride March Goes Ahead Despite Local Efforts To Restrict Freedom Of Assembly

A court order finally allowed Kaunas Pride to take place, after the municipal government repeatedly refused to approve organizers' plans.

by Human Rights Monitoring Institute

On 4 September, for the first time in history, a pride parade took place in Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, attracting around 2,000 participants. Unfortunately, not all was well: the final route of the Kaunas Pride had to be settled in court, since the Kaunas City Municipality repeatedly refused to approve it, and several hate crimes were carried out during the event.

The Kaunas Pride parade began at Kaunas Independence Square (Nepriklausomybės aikštė) near the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, continuing to the end of Liberty Avenue (Laisvės alėja). The event was watched over by a large police force, as hostile locals were expected. Kaunas Pride ended with the participants proclaiming a manifesto detailing the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community.

Difficulties in getting the route arranged

In Lithuania, you don’t need a permit (or permission) to organize a gathering, but its route and time must be arranged with the city’s municipality - in other words, the organizers must give notice of their intentions. The organizers of Kaunas Pride asked Kaunas City Municipality back in June to arrange a route of the 4 September parade through the central pedestrian street of the city (Liberty Avenue), but the municipality refused to cooperate. The administration argued that the city center would see infrastructural works at that time, and that the parade itself would disproportionately inconvenience the locals, impeding access to outdoor cafes or shops.

The organizers of the parade appealed this decision to the Regional Administrative Court, which in August ordered the Kaunas municipal administration to arrange a route for the parade through Liberty Avenue. The municipality, in turn, appealed this decision, countering that by offering the organizers a different, more remote venue, it sought to ensure that freedom of assembly was "exercised in an appropriate and safer manner", as the planned parade could provoke public outrage.

With only a single day left before Kaunas Pride, the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania ordered the municipality to arrange a route, with no possibility of appeal. The court held that the arguments of the Kaunas municipal government were too abstract, without any specific evidence or data on how and why the event would cause disproportionate difficulties or problems.

Not without hate crimes

Even before the event had the chance to start, the organizers and participants of Kaunas Pride had received hostile and threatening messages. Invitations with "Kaunas IS NOT A COCK ROOST" (“Kaunas - NE GAIDYNAS”) were spread throughout the city, encouraging people to protest against the parade and, according to the invitation’s authors, to unite against the "globalist infection".

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On 4 September, during the event, there were incidents with those hostile to the LGBTQ+ parade - according to the police, 22 aggressive people who violated public order were arrested. Five pre-trial investigations have been launched and two victims have been reported. During the parade, hostile protesters shouted "shame" and “we stand for traditional families”, throwing eggs at the Pride participants. A two-hour prayer was also organized, with the gathered Catholics asking for the Lord’s forgiveness for the sin and an insult to God that was the procession.

The Kaunas Pride Manifesto

The motto of the march, “We are everywhere”, seeks to highlight the fact that people in the LGBTQ+ community are not distant, strange, or invisible - they are already among us, in all walks of life, but face tremendous inequality in both the legal system and society. The organizers of Kaunas Pride emphasized that the time had come for change to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The Pride parade is meant to emphasize equality, respect, justice, courage and love, it is a commitment to a safer society for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In order to make their words a reality, the organizers presented a manifesto to Viktorija Čmilyte-Nielsen, the Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, setting out 14 demands relating to LGBTQ+ problems. The document stresses the desire to legalize same-sex partnerships, marriage, and adoptions, as well as establish an administrative procedure for the legal recognition of gender identity.

Photo: Pexels

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