Lithuania’s parliament has approved a bill that would heavily censor the information available to children, as well as sanctioning the media as to what they can depict, with specific focus on materials that could be considered to be “promoting” homosexuality in order to protect the “mental well-being” and “intellectual or moral development” of the country’s young people. The law will come into force next year in spite of the Lithuanian President’s objections that it violates human rights.
What Does the New Censorship Law Do?
Called the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, it identifies nineteen separate topics of information that the Lithuanian parliament deem to be unsuitable for minors.
The list includes any such information that “agitates for homosexual, bisexual, and polygamous relations”. This mandate puts homosexuality and bisexuality alongside other categories of information such as the rendering of explosives, images of heterosexual sex, information on the paranormal and hypnosis, as well as depictions of bad eating habits and also representations of “graphic” violence and death. The law bars these categories from “public dissemination”.
The legislation has been valued by both internal and external political analysts as being reactionary and ill thought out because the measure fails to 1) accurately define the notion of “public dissemination”, and 2) does not set out any punishments for the breaking of said law.
The law has also caused unrest in the Lithuanian legal system.
New Lithuanian President Forced to Approve the Law
Originally, the censorship law passed the Baltic state’s parliament last month. It was then vetoed by former President Valdas Adamkus. This meant that the law was returned to parliament in order to be readdressed.
Instead of watering down the law as might have been expected, parliament made alterations to strengthen anti-gay aspects to the legislation, and then passed it by an 87-6 majority with 25 lawmakers abstaining and the remainder of the 141 legislature choosing not to participate. Parliament needed just 71 votes to override the veto.
During this time, a new President was sworn in, President Dalia Grybauskaité, the former European Commissioner for Financial Programming and the Budget. Under Lithuanian Law, the Presidential Office can not enact a second veto on the legislation (in spite of having a different President) and must pass the law within three days. President Grybauskaité has categorically stated, however, that she will not sign a law that breaches fundamental human rights.
“In my opinion, this law contains homophobic provisions… I promise that I will never sign any law which will contradict fundamental human rights,” she told the Verslo Zinois newspaper.
President Grybauskaité’s public declaration of defiance has been met with international praise by various Human Rights groups including Amnesty International who are now demanding that Lithuania’s parliament uphold the principles it agreed to in signing on to the European Union.
Amnesty International’s LGBT campaigner Kim Manning-Cooper attests, “This is a very bad day for LGBT rights in Lithuania… by adopting this deeply homophobic legislation, the Lithuanian authorities have taken a huge step backwards.”
Manning-Cooper likens the measure to Section 28, a British law that, before its repeal, banned the discussion of homosexuality in British schools in any such way that could be deemed positive, and did so under the guise of “protecting” children. It is now widely regarded as a policy indicative of institutionalized homophobia.
The law has also been labeled “unenforceable”, and criticized for the fact that it places unrealistic and unsatisfactory restrictions on the Lithuanian media. In fact, many are citing Lithuania’s past record of anti-gay policy and saying that this measure was both an opportunistic move to further institutionalize homophobia and also to send a clear message to the new President.
Lithuania, which is predominantly a Roman Catholic, and also former Communist, state, joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. Dating from then, internal concerns have been about the Westernization of Lithuanian culture. As is often the case, renewed resistance to homosexuality has coincided with this phenomenon, as Henricus Mickevicius from the Human Rights Monitoring Institute notes when he classifies the censorship law as indicating the start of a right-wing backlash:
“[Joining the EU has] created a situation where people become concerned, and even scared, that it’s undermined our national traditions, values and so on…”
It may be that EU intervention could occur if it is found that the censorship law’s broad and encompassing nature violates EU policy that demands a standard of freedom of speech and action from its constituent members. However, if a right-wing backlash has really begun, any attempt to intervene in Lithuania’s internal politics made by the EU will not be well received and may even exacerbate the situation, and because child protection does not fall under EU jurisdiction, it is unclear if, beyond formal protest of the measure and the imposing of some limited voting restrictions, the EU can in fact make any significant motion to stop or change the law.
Petras Grazulis of the Lithuanian right-wing Order and Justice Party, disagrees that the law violates any human rights. He told the Associated Press that it was necessary to defend traditional family values, saying:
“We have finally taken a step which will help Lithuania raise healthy and mentally sound generations unaffected by the rotten culture that is now overwhelming them.” Notably, Grazulis is also seeking a complete ban on homosexuality.
It is not yet clear whether Lithuania’s President will attempt to take the censorship law to the Lithuanian Constitutional Court, but as reports have shown, she is currently refusing to back-down on the issue.