O P I N I O N
by Anna Shepherd
Westerners looking at the political landscape of Lithuania should not be duped into thinking, as has been stated on this site before, that those sitting on a board for Jewish cemeteries are necessarily in it for their dedication to the Litvak heritage, or, as I am about to illustrate here, that those sitting in committees for defending equal rights are necessarily in favor of universal equal rights.
The question we need to examine is why someone opposed to equal rights would aim to become a spokesperson of those same rights. Membership of such a committee or board can in fact be a good opportunity to hijack a concept in order to hide certain failures and shortcomings and to tailor its meaning to fit certain political goals. This is what in my opinion is happening in the appointment of Leonard Talmont as Chair and Mantas Adomėnas as Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.
Talmont and Adomėnas have in their rhetoric managed to twist the term “human rights” to mean something that can be applied “moderately,” in other words selectively, and in some distinct “Lithuanian” or “Catholic” way defined by them. To illustrate this, back in 2010 Adomėnas, defending a piece of worryingly homophobic legislation protecting “family values,” answered international criticism by saying:
“We have different notions of family”
— and by using “we” in this way conveniently ignored the relationships, family lives, needs and demands of the Lithuanian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. And being appointed to a high position in a parliamentary committee makes it even morep ossible to sweep issues under the carpet like this.
Leonard Talmont was appointed Chair of the Committee on Human Rights of the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) in November 2012. Talmont has been a member of the Seimas since 2008, and was reelected for a second term in the parliamentary elections of autumn 2012. Talmont represents the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, the smallest coalition partner in the current Government. Talmont’s appointment received criticism from committee member Ona Valiukevičiūtė, who stated that “there are more suitable candidates for this post, such as Dalia Kuodytė, a liberal representative of the opposition.”
The position of Deputy Chair of the Committee on Human Rights was taken over by Mantas Adomėnas of the Homeland Union. Commenting on his appointment, Adomėnas stated that his views on human rights differ from those of Kuodytė and Valiukevičiūtė, his approach being “more moderate” and expressed concern over a situation where only a “left-libertarian” notion of human rights would be tolerated in the Committee.
Regarding the Committee’s take on LGBT rights, in an interview given to alfa.lt (translation available in the Lithuania Tribune), Chair of the Committee Talmont said he is “skeptical about gay marriage” because of his own Catholic views and the majority opinion in Lithuania, stating that:
“It has to be noted that our society does not perceive these issues [marriage equality] in a positive light. The claims for legalizing same-sex marriages exist, but I, as a Catholic, am a bit skeptical about it. The majority population in Lithuania shares this opinion with me.”
Talmont’s own religious beliefs do not, however, constitute grounds to infringe upon the rights of others, in this case the equal treatment of Lithuanian LGBT people before the law. Nor can the grounds for denying any group equal treatment be that it is against popular opinion.
A look at the track record of the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Committee on Human Rights confirms their views on LGBT rights.
Adomėnas contributed to the Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, and was the initiator of a 2009 resolution signed by 55 Lithuanian MPs calling to overrule a European Parliament resolution requesting that Lithuania revise the law. The law finally came into force in March 2010, and classifies any information which “denigrates family values” or
“encourages a concept of marriage and family other than stipulated in the Constitution… and the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania”
as detrimental to children and consequently bans such information from public places accessible to children.
Denying LGBT People Freedom of Assembly
This law was immediately used in an attempt to deny LGBT people freedom of assembly: a petition seeking to ban the first Gay Pride march to be held in Vilnius on the basis that the march would “denigrate family values” was signed by at least 50 members of parliament, including both Talmont and Adomėnas, the current Chair and Deputy Chair of the — Committee on Human Rights!
In the alfa.lt interview, Talmont states that with regard to human rights,
“in the European context Lithuania looks quite good.”
Considering that in recent years Lithuania has passed legislation such as the Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information and ignored an obligating ruling of the European Court of Human Rights as well as UN Human Rights Council recommendations; that there is no equal marriage or civil partnership legislation; and that certain Members of Parliament have made repeated attempts to ban “homosexual propaganda” and used homophobic hate speech in Parliament, I would respectfully disagree with Talmont’s evaluation.
It is of great concern that the Committee on Human Rights is being chaired by members of parliament who clearly have such a low regard for and understanding of LGBT rights.
Fundamental rights and freedoms must be applied equally to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender and sexual orientation, and it should be a priority of parliamentarians in such positions to ensure that the human rights of all Lithuanians, including LGBT people, are protected.