By Leonidas Donskis
July 14, 2009 – an historic date that indicates two hundred and twenty years from the beginning of the French Revolution. One would expect a celebration of the date, trying to embrace the new reality of Europe, first and foremost, its unique and historically unprecedented solidarity. One would think that that day marked the reconciliation of Europe, the Old and the New, to use Donald Rumsfeld’s parlance – especially in the light of the election of the Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek, the former prime minister of Poland and one of the heroes of the Solidarity movement, as President of the European Parliament.
A unique chance opened up to put many things behind us, including frequent clashes of the moral and political sensibilities of “two Europes,” meaning the Old Europe’s liberal and tolerant attitudes to human diversity, and the New Europe’s old-fashioned infatuations and reactive conservatism. Yet this was not to be. It would have been too good to be true.
How ironic that on that same day, when the newly elected European Parliament opened the plenary session, the Seimas, that is, Lithuania’s parliament, adopted the law which turned down, almost overnight, everything that present Europe is standing for and what it is all about. The new Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors from the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, adopted on July 14, 2009, struck human rights defenders and media people, both in Lithuania herself and in the EU, as overtly homophobic and profoundly undemocratic. This law was vetoed twice by the former President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus, yet overruled by the Seimas. In addition, the law was severely criticized by the present President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite.
More than that, the law has just recently been assessed in vigorous terms by the Lithuanian media, political commentators, and several civil liberties and human rights defenders who stressed its homophobic substance along with its dangerous political implications, such as censorship and self-censorship. Needless to say, this law has little, if anything, to do with the protection of children. Instead, it is against gay and lesbian citizens of the country. Whatever the case, the equation of homosexuality with physical violence and necrophilia is morally repugnant and deeply disgraceful.
Still, it is difficult to believe that the adoption of such a law was possible in an EU country at the beginning of the twenty-first century. One can take this law as an unfortunate move and as a profound misunderstanding, to say the very least. Changes to Articles 310 in the penal code, and 214 in the administrative code were debated in the Seimas that would criminalize – with the threat of a fine, community work or imprisonment – anyone involved in the “promotion” of homosexuality in “any public space.” If this is not the slide to state-sponsored homophobia and criminalization of public expression of Lithuania’s gay and lesbian citizens, what is it? A sad reminder of the cycle of abuse in a country that suffered isolation and humiliation for more than five decades?
This law is a disgrace, but even more so would be an attempt to obfuscate, trivialize, and, in effect, justify it. This is why a sort of deja vu appeared on hearing how some conservative politicians in the EP tried to depict the EP Resolution on this law as a blow allegedly dealt by the EP to the national parliament of a sovereign country. In their understanding, the idea to ask for the Human Rights Agency’s expert opinion on whether this law contradicts fundamental rights would jeopardize the independence and sovereignty of Lithuania.
Well, what can I say on this issue both as a Lithuanian and as an MEP? If we apply double standards, refusing to react to the violations of human rights within the EU, yet simultaneously engaging in verbose assaults on Russia, China, or Iran, are we not at the peril of closing ranks with those profoundly undemocratic countries? What would the dividing line between the EU and Russia be if we had adopted the principle of non-interference with national parliaments on such matters as human rights? This would signify the end of Europe the way it is now. If so much sound and fury comes defending the “holy” rights of the national parliament to criminalize diversity, are we not at risk of transforming the EU into a merely amoral trading bloc, to use the words of Joseph Galliano (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/14/gay-hate-laws-lithuania)?
All in all, the European values, norms and solidarity prevailed, and the EP sent a powerful message reminding of a simple truth that civil liberties and human rights can never be confined to domestic affairs. They are not a property of the state, no matter how just and democratic that state might be. And they never will be so as far as the EU is concerned.
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