Baltic Pride 2013 _ Hearts on Fire // some personal impressions
When I started writing these lines I was on sitting in the bus on my way back to Germany and we were driving in a thunderstorm. I didn’t hear anything but I saw the lightings dancing over the fields.
In springtime this year I found a nice surprise in my email account – an email telling me about the first queer zine fair to be hold in Vilnius and the question whether I want to participate. Of course I wanted! I asked a friend who has the distro heavy mental distro and together we made our way to vilnius on a 18 h bus ride with heavy backpacks full with zines. The queer zine fair was part of the Baltic Pride 2013.
It was the second pride which happened in Vilnius. Lithuania is according to surveys a quite homophobic country. There’s not such a thing like civil partnership, there hardly is support for transgender people. Instead there’s hate speech by high politicians in the mass media. Most of the people stay in the closet. There’s one lithuanian NGO – Lithuanian Gay League which tries to bring chance and they organized the Baltic Pride this year. Baltic Pride takes place every year in another Baltic country and it’s impressive to see how the NGOs and activists work together across borders. The last and first pride in Vilnius happened in 2010 – but they were only allowed to have a walk in a heavily guarded territory outside the city. This time the March for Equality took place in the main street in the centre of Vilnius – this was a really back step for Lithuania’s LGBTQ*-community. Although LGL hat to fight for this right for months in different court cases up to the chief administrative court which gave the go at the tuesday before the march was supposed to take place. Different embassies supported the pride as well as several NGOs. Amnesty International not only came with more than 4o activists to secure the pride, but also sponsored a poster campaign allover Vilnius – rainbow-hearts and the very true sentence “love is a human right”. We saw a lot of antigaystickers on these posters as well as at a lot of other spots. It was a good moment for the pride to take place because in this week lithuania got the presidency of the council of europe so there was a lot of media attention.
LGL had to face other problems – as part of the program that accompanied the Baltic Pride they organized an International Human Rights Conference: ‘Towards a European Roadmap for LGBT Equality’ for which they asked the parlament to give them a room – the parlament denied this request. But they worked out this problem as well and the conference took place at the Tolerance Center.
There was an amazing program around the pride. There was the queer zine fair aiming to show that reading and writing queer zines opens a strongly needed room of positive LGBT*representations. There was also a queer film festival which took place for the second time with a diverse and interesting program, free entry and a lot of visitors. Besides there were several LGBT*related exhibitions taking place – e.g. “From Dusk till Dawn – 20 years of LGBT freedom in Lithuania” at the Contemporary Art Center. The exhibition not only documented 20 years of LGBT history but also presented queer art. There was also a reading by the us-american poet Eileen Myles which can be summed up by this: “I thought well I’ll be a poet what could be more foolish and obscure I became a lesbian.” During my week in Vilnius I experienced more LGBTQ*-culture than in any other week of my life before.
The pride. I only attended the TCSD in Berlin 2012, I never went to a pride parade before, because I always felt like it’s not my thing, not my subculture. Nevertheless I felt really different about the Baltic Pride because in this country it really is important to march down the streets with pride and show the people queers are human beings and feeling proud to be the way we are (which is a very different thing for everyone). Beforehand I was really excited and nervous about the Pride, because nobody knew what would happen and if we could walk down the street in peace. We were told not not to wear things that may let us look queer on our ways to and away from the pride. We all knew violence might be an answer to the first pride without fences. After we arrived at the official meeting point we got a lot of rainbow things and balloons – to look “bright and shiny” and we were guided to our place in the parade. The front was reserved for different celebrities, politicians and activists and they had two busses with music. We were at the end of the pride without music and it really was different to what i’ve seen from prides in germany and other countries – it was much more like a demonstration than a party. We were many people – more than 700 and beside us walked a heterosexual couple with their baby and I also saw other heterosexual couples. We only marched 8oo meters but they felt really really long. On the street sides counter-protesters, supporters and other people were standing. Between them and us a little bit space, volunteers, policewomen and policemen. I saw people waving rainbow flags and smiling, but I also saw the counter-protestors carrying their undoubtedly homophobic messages, some of them screaming at us, some playing religious music, a neonazi with his son, young people, old people, people with masks of the most homophobic lithuanian politician, who by the way got arrested during the pride. The counter-protestors were really diverse. Fortunately I didn’t understand what they were screaming at us. I saw the traces of the eggs someone had thrown at the parade and I heard afterwards that people were also spiting at the participants of the pride and counter-protestors tried to occupy the stage at the square where the pride ended. 28 people have been arrested. When we arrived at the end point of the march we were a kind of surrounded not only by police, but also by counter-protestors. Nevertheless everybody seemed really happy that the pride went well. Despite most of the media coverage it really was a good and successful event. There were so many people attending the parade and you could see that there was a lot of support from the people on the sidewalks and we were also told that the media coverage is more friendly than three years ago.
There’s much more to say about the Baltic Pride, that’s why we will do a zine about our adventures in Vilnius. For now I want to end with two things: Firstly, thanks to our amazing host and the people we stayed with – you made this week really special and I am glad we could have such interesting conversations, rainbow pancakes and fun together. Secondly, while finishing this article I just got the news that neonazis in russia torture gays systematically feeling encouraged by the latest homophobic laws and russian police raid without any reason the vostok social forum. Freedom and security for queers (as well as for a lot of other people) is missing in a lot of countries (check this map if you want to know more) – so i feel like marching the streets should be marching in solidarity with oppressed queers worldwide and marching with love and rage.
p.s.: while rereading this post after speaking with people who read it and told me that they find it shocking to read about the counterprotest i am wondering if writing in such a neutral way about it is right. of course i felt anger and rage beating in my chest and it also felt frightening to see the counterprotestors. i think every single one of these feelings has a right to be there. sometimes i am wondering: how can i transform my rage and anger in power rather than feeling unable to breath. and i want people to stand up and speak up about all this inequality. i want people to go on the streets and i want people to be solidary with other people. i wish that nobody accepts that we are living in a world where the freedom and possibilities of so many people are limited because they are considered to be part of an identity category which is valued less.