Last Friday, August 10, an alleged arsonist attacked the Lithuanian LGBTQ rights organization the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL), as well as the apartment building of its executive director. The fire left the office, located in the capital of Vilnius, with damage to the door and blinds, in the first attack in recent memory for the Baltic country.
LGL is the only non-governmental organization in Lithuania dealing solely with LGBTQ topics, according to its website. It is also one of the oldest rights groups in the country, having been founded in 1993, only a couple of years after Lithuania gained independence from the Soviet Union.
“It was obviously a hate crime,” says Egle Kuktoraite, communications coordinator at LGL. She tells INTO that she and her LGL colleagues found out about the attack on the office when they arrived at their office around nine in the morning.
In the early hours this morning, we found out there were attempts to burn the entrance to our office. The pre-trial investigation is underway to determine whether it had a homophobic bias motive or not. Together we stay strong and will continue to fight for equality, tolerance and human rights for all. 🌈 / Šį rytą prie mūsų biuro patalpų buvo įvykdytas homofobinis išpuolis, kurio metu buvo suniokotas įėjimas tyčinio padegimo būdu. Tikimės, jog Lietuvos policijos pradėtas ikiteisminis tyrimas atskleis tikruosius šio nusikaltimo motyvus. 🔥 #hatecrime #homophobia #lithuania #vilnius #lgl #lgbt #humanrights
The clothing store owner they share an entrance with told them that police had called her when it happened, saying the attack happened around four in the morning. The fire also damaged that store. Police said they called the owner because her number was listed on the shop’s door.
“[The store owner] told us that somebody threw a Molotov cocktail at the door and there was a huge fire, but a taxi driver incidentally passed by and put out the fire with a fire extinguisher,” says Kuktoraite.
The same owner allegedly told the LGL activists that an investigator said she should put more signs up around her shop to deter another attack. It would be important, the investigator said, to make sure they know her shop was there and not just the NGO.
LGL has rainbow flags in its windows and on the crosswalk outside of it.
The group still does not know why authorities did not inform them as soon as the attack was reported.
Police are not treating it, at the moment, as a hate crime. “In the evening we read on local media that a police spokesman said they are not familiar with the concept of a hate crime,” Kuktoraite says. They said it would be investigated as a common crime.
This shouldn’t be the case, she says. Hate crimes are illegal under Lithuania’s criminal code, “but there are problems with the practical use of the law.”
Police often don’t implement it or even know how to report it as such. This leads to authorities downplaying the number of hate crimes that are carried out against the LGBTQ population, Kuktoraite explains.
Besides the attack on the office, executive director Vladimir Simonko’s apartment building was also reportedly attacked. When Simonko got home, Kuktoraite tells INTO, he discovered what happened. The media, Kuktoraite says, only reported that a clothing store and a massage salon had been attacked.
“It’s very unsettling for us,” she says. In order to have attacked Simonko’s home, the assailants would have had to follow him.
Kuktoraite says this is the only such attack in recent memory. The organization is confused as to why they were targets of a Molotov cocktail: “We didn’t do anything that would gain a lot of visibility in the last few months that could have even provoked this sort of incident.”
“This incident clearly indicates that hate crimes on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity remain an important issue in Lithuania. It is disappointing to see that such horrific crimes still take place in 2018 in the heart of our beautiful capital Vilnius,” Simonko said in a statement after the incident.
“We would like to kindly thank the taxi driver who took the initiative to extinguish the fire and saved our offices from more major damages. We hope that the true motives of the incident will be duly clarified.”
In February, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis called for parliament to pass same-sex partnership legislation, according to media reports. However, international LGBTQ human rights group ILGA-Europe ranked Lithuania 37th out of 49 in their latest annual Rainbow Europe map with a score of 20.73 percent.
This post has been updated.