From Rally to Riot

Unrest ran deeper than vaccine passport issues

The rally at the parliament buildings in Vilnius on August 10th, initially purported to be a protest against the Lithuanian government‘s plan to initiate a vaccination passport and its infringement on the rights of the anti-vaxxers, became a forum for extremism, according to reports on various news sites. Gallows were erected for “traitors” (the government, specifically parliamentarians) and stars of David were posted behind barbed wire, likening exclusion of the non-vaccinated to Nazi treatment of the Jews. Speeches by organizer Astra Astrauskaitė and others incited the crowd to demand the dissolution of parliament and the removal of the “Landsbergis clan”, calling those in power thieves, cowards, rats and fascists.

 

The protesters produced resolutions, with 93 pages of participant signatures, demanding the dissolution of parliament, clear information about COVID-19 vaccines and their effects, free choice regarding vaccination and testing, equal rights to various services for the non-vaccinated, and retraction of the government’s “extreme” position regarding a “seasonal virus”. According to an hour-by-hour report from alkas.lt, the protest, which had begun at 8 AM, to greet parliamentarians coming to a special session on illegal immigration legislation, was still in full force at midafternoon, and although Astrauskaitė announced the end of the rally shortly before 4 PM, the crowd did not disperse, but encircled the parliament buildings, blocking the parliamentarians‘ exit to the parking area. One parlamentarian attempted to speak to the demonstrators, but their noise was too great, and police reminders that the rally permit was to expire at 5 PM was also ignored.

At 7:45 PM, President Gitanas Nausėda sent no spokesperson as in previous protests but posted on his Facebook page that he disagreed with the blockade and asked the crowd to let parliamentarians leave the premises. An hour later riot police arrived on the scene with tear gas. Further reinforcements were called out by 10 PM, and by 11:30 bottles and rocks were being thrown at police vehicles. An hour after midnight more protesters arrived, and the violence escalated, until officers managed to expel the rioters and continued guarding the area all night. Eighteen officers were injured, 29 participants detained, and an investigation has been launched.

The demonstration raised questions about outside influences, the president‘s leadership and further polarization of the population. A backgrounder on the emerging protest culture in Lithuania can be found at: https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1472661/deep-dive-into-lithuania-s-emerging-protest-culture.

News from Alkas.lt and LRT.lt