Although Lithuania has one of the highest levels of public trust in the EU among its member states, it is one of the few EU countries still proudly stuck in the cultural muck of the “Soviet farm” – where sex between a man and a man was punishable by up to three years of imprisonment or buying and reselling goods for profit was punishable by up to two years in jail.
On Europe Day, as if they were members of the Young Communist League dressed in the right colours, the nobility gathered at Vilnius Town Hall to celebrate Europe Day, as if with muddy boots to a celebration where the glass should be raised for equality, respect for human rights, coherence, and the security of all persons, without even thinking that for twenty years now, in Lithuania, some of the values have been a fantasy, not a reality.
“It’s hard to be a noble” when from a hovel where traditional values are upheld get to the EU castle, where equality is spoken, of the implementation of international commitments; then, no matter how European you behave, supposedly setting an example for others, and calling on the rest of the world to observe the European values, the rustic nature comes through once you have to observe and maintain those values yourself.
On the occasion of Europe Day, the European Parliament approved the accession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women. However, Lithuanian politicians are saying that the “strange interpretations” of rustic people should be dispelled so that current Seimas could try to ratify the document, implicitly saying that Lithuania accepts only European values that are not controversial in society. On the contrary, Lithuania tends to abstain from other ones because politicians have neither the will nor the desire to take the lead in the name of European values.
Academic literature emphasises that international organisations can influence the political agenda of their member countries by defining issues of concern and setting priorities. While the EU has unambiguously outlined the priorities for its members by adopting the 2020-2025 Strategy for Equality for LGBTIQ People, Lithuania prefers to create strategies and visions for Lithuania’s progress rather than taking real action to implement what should have been Lithuania’s mission long ago: equality and respect for human rights.
The European Parliament is sending a serious signal to EU countries, including Lithuania, by ratifying the Istanbul Convention. However, Lithuania is the master of interpreting signals from EU institutions and officials. In dealing with migration flows, Lithuania has shown the world and Europe that it can interpret the decisions and actions of international and regional institutions. This time, the signal is also likely to be sent to everyone else, but not to Lithuania, about the need for the EU member states to ratify the Convention. Of course, international and regional organisations have more serious leverage to influence the political agenda of an EU member state. For example, by freezing Hungary’s funding for non-compliance with the rule of law and seeking judicial reforms by increasing the independence of the judiciary, the EU has forced the Hungarian government to undertake reforms in the hope of EU funding.
Whether the equality and well-being of LGBTIQ people in a country in the EU would be an issue that would lead the EU to impose real sanctions against Lithuania to influence the political agenda of the state is an open question. However, it is necessary to put it on the EU political agenda, as Lithuania, like Hungary and Poland, tends to take an illiberal approach to human rights issues, so it is unlikely that political forces in Lithuania would independently address LGBTIQ equality issues without EU intervention.
In fact, Lithuania’s membership in regional mechanisms is more effective than its membership in international ones. Lithuania’s participation in the United Nations Human Rights Council has shown that countries such as Saudi Arabia or Lithuania can belong to the highest human rights body in the United Nations and yet disregard human rights. However, the international court of the Council of Europe, which interprets the European Convention on Human Rights (the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR), is a more effective mechanism for forcing Lithuania to put on the political agenda issues of human rights policy that the state is reluctant to tackle. For example, after the ECtHR ruling, to be precise, more than a decade later, Seimas started to amend the Constitution to implement the ECtHR ruling in the case Paksas v. Lithuania.
Although there is no law on gender reassignment in Lithuania (ECtHR case L v. Lithuania), national courts have addressed the provision of the gap in the legal framework by referring to the Civil Code on the right to “change sex” when changing a person’s sex record (or, where appropriate, name and surname). The same role of the national courts is expected with the registration of partnerships, based on the provision of the Civil Code that obliges the Government to establish a procedure for the registration of partnerships once the cases brought before the Lithuanian national courts have reached the European Court of Human Rights, which will oblige Lithuania to comply with its obligations to its citizens, i.e., to turn the possibility of the law being introduced (legitimate expectation) of a partnership into a reality.