The Kremlin’s War on Feminism in Europe


by Vilma Fiokla Kiurė

During the 2020 Seimas elections, progressives in our society and human rights activists placed high hopes in the Freedom Party (the Liberals), which included in its program not only the aspiration to legalize same-sex partnerships partnership, but also to ratify the Istanbul Convention. In consequence, not only many LGBTQ+ people voted for the party, but also feminists, as well as activists fighting against various types of violence. The party not only entered the Seimas, but, very surprisingly for some, found itself in power after forming a coalition with the Homeland Union (Conservatives).

Party and Seimas member Morgana Danielė became a prominent leader in the fight against violence against women and children. She initiated important amendments to the criminal code, such as extending the statute of limitations for serious sexual crimes against children, and enacting punishment for sex without consent. However, her initiatives had difficulty finding their way through the system. Moreover, they were even ridiculed by the party’s coalition partners.

The process of ratifying the Istanbul Convention did not progress either, even with the great efforts of the Freedom Party to put pressure on Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda, who must constantly pander to supporters of “traditional values” and various marginals.

As the term of the Seimas comes to an end (the new Seimas elections will be held in Lithuania in 2024), it seems that the Freedom Party (and at the same time the citizens who voted for it) will not achieve any of the important goals in the field of human rights. Additionally, hopes that the Liberals will win anything substantial in the next elections remain scant.

Recently, in Lithuania, trust in human rights activists (especially those of the left wing) has been falling sharply. It seems that liberal and  progressive forces are getting less and less support from the general public.

The migrant crisis cynically organized by Lukashenko regime in Belarus next door, the actual pushing of people across the Belarus-Lithuania border caused some political storms in our society. Most of the population of Lithuania considered “forced” migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a threat to national security, while human rights activists and lawyers widely advocated humane treatment and criticized the policy of turning people back. More radical folks even advocated opening the borders to migrants. In Vilnius, rallies were held with humanistic slogans like “Let’s build bridges, not walls!”

The majority of Lithuanians, as well as the government, characterized this position of human rights activists as irresponsible, and the publicly expressed criticism severely affected the trust in liberal forces and those representing humanism. In Lithuania, even a derogatory term for liberal activists — Leftardas — appeared.

The regimes of Russia and Belarus had at least several goals in the course of organizing migrant journeys toward, and over, the EU border: to overcrowd refugee centers, create feelings of chaos in the state, and discredit democracy and Western values that include the equal value of all people. Politicians who speak about human rights, law enforcement and even the state itself have come to be ridiculed.

Feminists are also shooting themselves in the foot, talking a lot about empathy, but failing to express solidarity and support for the specific victims of violence by Hamas who suffered during the terror attack in Israel on October 7, or by acting as passive observers to atrocities against Ukrainian women perpetrated by Russian invaders and occupiers.

Or, marking International Women’s Solidarity Day on March 8th. Feminists organized a performance and invited artists from Russia to participate in it. Ukrainian women were left only to protest, and frankly,  those who supported Ukraine were disappointed by the choice of featured  Lithuanian feminists.

Viewed against this backdrop, it becomes ever more difficult to talk about women’s rights or even domestic violence, even though a baby is killed every year in Lithuania, and the number of women are victimized by domestic violence seems too frightening to even be subject to a serious count. And it is difficult to speak. No, not because it is forbidden. But because it is difficult to make a voice heard  through the din of informational noise. It is hard to win attention. Folks turn away from non-governmental organizations and politicians who ostensibly represent human rights.

Is this where women’s issues are headed? Collage by the author.

One result is that serious problems —  truly vital societal  issues — are left to the media, which cares more about generating clicks and the direct or indirect monetization, than consistently standing up for, and coming to the aid of those who unjustly suffer.

It is true that several publicized tragedies, particularly of women affected by postpartum depression who committed suicide and/or killed their children, belatedly gave the state an impetus to start thinking and working in the realm of taking care of the mental health of mothers. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Security and Labor have finally prepared an assistance plan for mothers.

However, these are but small wonders in gray everyday life, because the poll numbers of the far right are increasing and it seems that the process of “Urbanization” has accelerated in Lithuania. External forces, more precisely, the Kremlin, are making great efforts so that Kremlin cronies in the mold of Viktor Orban in Hungary  are appearing in our political arena. This is not just an East European phenomenon. Just look at Geert Wilders’ electoral success in the Netherlands.

No, let us not take any of that as a bad omen. But, as they say, have hope for much better, and — prepare for much worse. The new year, 2024, may be a fateful one for Lithuania. We are all uneasily watching Russia and seeing how forces loyal to it are gaining popularity by mocking human rights, democracy and Western values. The spurious voices of the representatives of “traditional values” are raised and there are again speeches in favor of banning all abortion and restricting women’s rights in 2024 Seimas and presidential elections. We have a choice. We can be anchored in Western civilization or we can digress down a road toward darkness.




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