The political “troika” that won the Seimas elections and formed the ruling majority seems serious about demonstrating Lithuania’s strong will and leadership to defend Lithuania against the instrumentalisation of the East and the West. Determined to enshrine in law the possibility of turning away migrants at the border, they did not stop even after Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, urged them to refrain from such a step, which would be detrimental to Lithuania’s reputation. Having previously pushed back the migrants at the behest of the Minister, they will now do so ‘legally’, and it does not matter that international organisations have not stopped repeating that Lithuania must respect its international obligations to protect human rights.
Similarly, the ruling majority is not in a hurry to amend the law prohibiting the promotion of a different concept of marriage and family formation than that enshrined in the Constitution and the Civil Code, even after the European Court of Human Rights ruling. The Court ruled that Lithuania had violated an article of the European Convention on Human Rights defining freedom of expression when the Vilnius University of Education, which published the book, applied the provisions of the law on the Protection of Minors against Negative Effects of Public Information by suspending the distribution of the book, which was described as “propaganda of homosexuality” and then distributing it under the label “Information may have a negative impact on persons under the age of 14 years”.
By launching a crusade against migrants, Lithuania is, in fact, continuing the tradition of illiberal states, the fight against otherness, i.e., gays, lesbians, transgender people, migrants, women, those who speak out for the bodily integrity, for reproductive rights, all those who deviate from the norm, understanding the norm in a way it was cherished in the times we were occupied by the Soviets.
The ruling majority, while declaring its respect for democratic values, dissipates Western instrumentalisation by refusing to adopt the Civil Union Law, which recognises unions of homosexual and heterosexual couples, and to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), because it is Western propaganda; yes, the same as Vladimir Putin in Russia, Aliaksandr Lukashenko in Belarus and Viktor Orban in Hungary is talking about.
We are defending ourselves against the instrumentalisation of the East. Still, we are, in fact, perpetuating the traditions that the Soviet occupiers introduced to us: questioning international commitments by interpreting them in favour of our own political interests, applying them selectively, denying them, disregarding respect for otherness, rejecting our own citizens, ignoring them, questioning their equal rights; and securitising a person’s quest for protection in a foreign country. Furthermore, stigmatising citizens by branding them as enemies of the state when they question authority, persecuting them when they criticise it, and finally, instrumentalising democratic institutions.
Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink (1999), who developed a five-stage spiral model of human rights change, note that the primary process through which this change occurs is norm socialisation, defined as the process by which existing core ideas become norms of a collective understanding of appropriate behaviour, leading to changes in identity, interests, and behaviours.
One of the fundamental principles of this model is that the diffusion of human rights and change within a country depends not only on international human rights pressures and policies but, more importantly, on the strength of civil society, the functioning of democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law, and the participation of citizens in the governance of the state by engaging in meaningful democratic processes.
In liberal democracies, citizenship plays a crucial role in shaping the political system, ensuring representation, and maintaining social cohesion, which is critical to creating the preconditions for society’s resilience to external and internal threats. Marshall defines citizenship as political, civil, and social rights (1992). The legal aspects of citizenship have been the focus of liberal theories of citizenship that emphasise individual freedoms and legal equality. This concept focuses on the individual in relation to the state (Westholm et al., 2007), with an emphasis on the role of the citizen in participatory democracy (Barber, 2003). As Kymlicka and Norman note, the quality and stability of modern democracy depend not only on its structure but also on the participation in democratic processes and the attitudes of its citizens (1994).
The 2023 Lithuanian Civic Empowerment Index survey revealed that only 4.1 per cent of respondents fully support the Baltic pride march in Vilnius in 2022 and the LGBT march in Kaunas in 2021. Furthermore, only 22.3 per cent of the respondents fully agree that civil movements and actions have the right to take place in Lithuania, that is, the right to freedom of assembly enshrined in the Constitution is respected.
Regarding civic activism in the protection of civil rights, only 13.6 per cent of the respondents answered that they had participated in the activities of public organisations or movements; 13 per cent – in a demonstration, a supportive action, a rally, or protest. Regarding the potential for participation in civic activities, only 5.6 per cent of respondents would take action if faced with a political problem (e.g., the President would introduce direct rule by abolishing the Seimas).
This survey revealed no serious public opposition to the strategic “human rights” political agenda of the ruling majority. The public is apathetic to the processes taking place in the country and submits to the narrative of national security created and perpetuated by the government, which justifies the non-compliance with international obligations in the field of human rights protection and the pursuit of foreign and domestic policy of defence against external and internal enemies.
In Lithuania, those who have exercised their freedom of speech are increasingly associated with serving the East, their professional reputation is questioned, and democratic institutions are used to demonise, persecute, and punish them, forcing them to justify themselves and argue that the protection of the values enshrined in the Constitution applies equally to supporters of the political forces in power and to their opponents.
In Lithuania, we increasingly hear politicians praise the “right” judicial decisions and criticise the “wrong” ones, thus implicitly sending messages, hints and warnings about how justice should be performed in Lithuania, forgetting that this is the kind of political discourse that is typical of countries in the twilight of democracy.