Marching with Pride in Lithuania

Prides differ a lot across the world, as they have over time. The march and festival in London, now more of a celebration than a protest, the lower-key, more community-based festivals in other cities of the UK, the great march down 5th Avenue in New York, the wild abandon of Christopher Street Day in Berlin and the commercial hedonism of Madrid, all reflect something of the societies which host them and the role and status of LGBTI people in those societies.

What, then, are we to make of cities in Europe where prides are still under threat? There are many prides, mainly in cities in the centre and east of the continent, where the local authorities won’t permit a pride march, or where such marches have come under attack from people who want to campaign against equal rights for LBGTI people. Amnesty has been supporting prides in Europe which are at risk of cancellation and attacks for a number of years, sending a team of observers who can monitor prides where attacks might occur, in order to record accurately what has happened, and any police response.
 
Amnesty’s involvement with Baltic Pride (which moves between the Baltic states) is quite a long one, going back at least to 2007, with a contingent of Amnesty supporters from many countries travelling to support local activists. In 2006, Riga Pride in Latvia, was attacked by protestors throwing eggs and stones. In 2007 and in several subsequent years, I’ve been part of the Amnesty delegation to support Mozaika, the Latvian LGBT organisation, at Baltic pride. I’m pleased to say that, by-and-large, it’s been a story of progress from the situation in those days to the present time, but there’s still a long way to go.
 
Last year in Riga, for the first time, pride participants were able to march down an open street. There were not many anti-pride protestors, and I, for one, felt safe. This differed greatly from the situation in earlier years where pride participants were sequestered in a park surrounded by riot police separating from a baying mob of protestors. One year pride participants had to be bussed to the outskirts of town after the event to avoid possible confrontation with the protestors.
 
This year, Baltic pride has moved to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. It was last there in 2010, and the anti-pride protestors were out in force. It was a  worrying experience. But the authorities have a duty to protect Pride marches, and to maintain public order, in the same way as any other kind of gathering. More must be done to protect the LGBTI community as we peacefully protest.
 
On 27 July Amnesty members from all over Europe will again be marching with members of LGL and Mozaika at Baltic pride in Vilnius. The local authorities have a responsibility to keep them safe from protestors who may wish to attack them. And I for one hope the march goes proudly – and peacefully - down Gediminas Avenue!

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