O, my offense is rank, it smells to heaven,
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murther!
–Hamlet, act 3, scene 3
Violations of fundamental human rights and the mistreatment of human beings are not a new aspect of humanity. Stalinist murders, the deportation of millions to Siberian gulags, and USSR-annexed countries is only one painful example in human history. Lithuania has certainly experienced it all, including fifty years of Communist dictatorship. As the Soviet Union collapsed, Lithuania was also the first to declare independence—on March 11, 1990.
On January 13, 1991, thousands of unarmed Lithuanians stood against Soviet tanks after the country’s declaration of independence, protecting their parliament and TV tower, which did not stop translating the news to the world. Fourteen died and hundreds were wounded, because Lithuanians refused to retreat under the attacks and sporadic gunfire continued for at least ninety minutes. Just before the radio station shut down, an announcer said: “We address all those who hear us. It is possible that (the army) can break us with force or close our mouths, but no one will make us renounce freedom and independence.” The Soviets backed down.
Lithuanians’ awareness of a challenging neighborhood—that is, the close proximity of Belarus and the Russian province of Kaliningrad—remains. Thirty years on, Lithuania has blossomed into one of the world’s most innovative economies. The country has the highest level of education in the European Union, with 92 percent of the working-age population having secondary or higher education and one of the fastest internet speeds in the world. In 2017 Forbes ranked Lithuania fifteenth globally on its annual Best Countries for Business List.
And yet throughout the last year of covid pandemic, some holdovers from the old Soviet system have surfaced: the cult of personality, or rather the cult of indisputable government. Nothing but paraphrased Shakespeare comes to mind: “Something is rotten in the state of Lithuania.” The Lithuanian government is exploring new ways of restricting the human rights of the almost 50 percent of Lithuanians who are nonvaccinated citizens.
On August 10, as many as six thousand Lithuanians from around the country traveled to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and gathered near the parliamentary palace, where the government was discussing amendments to state legislation designed to deny nonvaccinated people, including school-age children, access to public transport, primary and secondary care medical institutions, statutory sick pay, employment, any trade or service in which the human contact lasts more than fifteen minutes, and admittance to schools, universities, libraries, museums, concerts, theatres, and all nonessential shops and shopping centers with an area larger than fifteen hundred square meters.
The protest has united citizens of all ages and ethnicities, including some who have been vaccinated. This is because this fight is not against vaccination, but in favor of freedom to make one’s own health choices choice and have them respected without losing one’s dignity and legal rights.
Already, the government has had to partially abolish the restrictions on public transport, completely repealed bans of the nonvaccinated from the medical institutions and schools, and softened some minor restrictive measures.
The projected changes to employment law and statutory sick pay have yet to be reviewed.
Realistically, very few protests remain absolutely peaceful when thousands gather. But Lithuanians kept it peaceful for almost twelve hours, when special public security service forces were summoned.
Supporters of vaccine mandates, however, have shown a willingness to portray antimandate protestors as enemies of Lithuanian independence. For example, Lithuanian interior minister Agne Bilotaite called the riots outside the Lithuanian parliament (Seimas) a hybrid attack, connecting it to the acute situation with illegal migrants coming to Lithuania via Belarus.
(The perpetual emphasis on danger from Russia and Belarus would be understandable, given the country’s history. Luckily it does not apply on a personal level: the father of Lithuanian parliament speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen was on the reserve list of KGB officers.)
Minister Bilotaite went as far as to suggest that some MPs should not have come out and talked to the protesters. According to her such legislators are perpetrating acts against the state.
Fortunately, in this age of cameras and social media, the direct translations, recordings, and images from the event made aforementioned suggestions of collaboration with foreign powers rather questionable. Since when is politicians talking to concerned people or disagreeing with the cabinet of ministers a threat to the state?
Meanwhile, the principal officers and staff at Lithuanian parliament who are nonvaccinated had their entry ID cards deactivated on Friday, August 6, and will not be allowed to attend sessions. Will the opposing MPs be next?
Sanctimony can easily drift into the territory of hate speech. Member of the European Parliament Rasa Jukneviciene has recently urged Lithuanians to cease all contact with nonvaccinated people, who are “the danger to our health, state economy, business and life.” Ironically, Jukneviciene is a medical doctor, and surely should be ahead of the curve on the news that vaccinated people can be covid spreaders too.
Another member of the European Parliament, Andrius Kubilius, went even further, saying that nonvaccinated should get their graves ready in advance. Does he realize that it’s almost 50 percent of Lithuanian people that he is talking about?
Vitriol seems to be trendy among Lithuanian members of the EU parliament: Aušra Maldeikiene said that “defenders of traditional families (including the cardinals, bishops, priests, and sacristans) are primitive and lustful.” Strange words from the member of the Christian Democrats Party.
It does not come as a surprise that Lithuanians are getting more and more concerned and united on many levels rather than submitting to being segregated. The August 5 polls showed that only 24.8 percent of the population trusts mainstream media, the lowest since 1998.
The statistics are pliable, and at this point Lithuanians are looking at the facts and elementary mathematics. Why is it, for instance, that the country with 4,451 total deaths spread across almost twenty thousand settlements throughout the entire period of the pandemic, is planning further restrictions rather than lifting them? After all, there was one death per five settlements for the entire period of the pandemic. One death is always one too many, of course, but has anyone heard calls for restricting the human rights of carriers of hepatitis or the flu? Such questions need to be asked.
We must also note that the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that both vaccinated and nonvaccinated can be carriers and spreaders, in which case both groups are an equal danger to the society, although only one gets privileges—apparently for no other reason than their conformity.
Legal questions over governmental agreements with vaccine providers must also be raised. The Lithuanian government, like many other European states, has entered into a wide variety of big-spending contracts with vaccine providers like Pfizer. Perhaps not coincidentally, Lithuanian legal expert associate professor Vaidotas Vaičaitis in his analysis of the EU-Pfizer vaccine contract suggests “a direct link between the [contractual] obligation to use these vaccines” and quarantine or “other special legal regimes restricting human rights and other constitutional values” in the European Union’s member states.
The Lithuanian government may rewrite entire constitution, but they should remember the Council of Europe Resolution 2361 (2021), the Oviedo Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to start with.
The brave nation which once broke the USSR is now becoming subject to a homemade unjustified repression. It may seem more convenient for a dictatorship to quickly and quietly germinate in a little country, but the smaller it is, the less likely people are to be apathetic bystanders. A predictive model of dictatorship does not exist, but warning signs and predisposing factors should not be ignored.