Europe

Vilnius and police in row over whether to keep LGBT rainbow crossing

Vilnius and its police force are set for a court battle over whether to keep a rainbow-coloured pedestrian crossing in the Lithuanian capital.

The city council wants to keep the artwork to support LGBT rights, but the police say it goes against traffic rules.

The crossing in Pylimo Street was first painted in LGBT colours in 2018.

But earlier this year a viral social media video — posted by liberal MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevicius — appeared to show the crossing being painted over.

Police say two people have been fined over the incident.

What does Vilnius city council say?

“(The crossing) reflects Vilnius’ positioning as a tolerant city and the colourful element does not hinder or pose any threat,” said Paulius Vaitekenas, a communications specialist at Vilnius city council.

He said the police’s bid to have it removed questions — in an unfounded manner — the city’s right to support the LGBT community.

Vaitekenas said that similar symbols, depicting rainbow colours, are common on streets across Europe and beyond.

What does Vilnius police say?

The police argued, in a lengthy response sent to Euronews, that the crossing did not conform to several Lithuanian laws and regulations.

“Pedestrian crossings on streets must be installed in accordance with the rules on pedestrian crossings on the roads and streets, approved by the Minister of Transport and Communications of the Republic of Lithuania in 2020,” said Julija Samorokovskaja, head of communications at Vilnius County Chief Police Commissariat (VCCPC).

The police also referred to further road legislation and specified what paint and other materials can be used on road markings. They also specified the sizes of the rectangles and the spaces between them.

What do others in Vilnius think?

For some locals, this case speaks more about attitudes within the police department than the rules and regulations.

“Our policemen know little about educational equity,” said Tomas Kirsa, who says he was the victim of a homophobic assault in 2019, which he claims was only investigated by police after it got media attention. “You just cannot expect that several cycles of training will change everyone’s mentality.”

The success of law enforcement “should be assessed not by (data) in Excel but by the real decisions (they make),” he said.

“The same could be also said about the crossing,” said Kirsa, before adding that LGBT rights in Lithuania should not be used for political ends.

Raskevicius, who shared the video of the crossing being painted over, said he hopes the court battle will have wider ramifications.

“Let the court decide,” he said. “I wish that the battle over the rainbow-colour symbols on streets is transformed into fruitful discussions in our parliament while debating the partnership law.”

The painting over of the crossing happened just a day before the start of Pride month, celebrated globally throughout June, and days after a bill to legalise same-sex partnerships in the country failed to clear its first parliamentary hurdle.

The bill, which aimed to grant LBGT couples access to certain benefits including joint ownership of property and inheritance rights, provoked protests with thousands taking part in a “Great Family Defence March” in Vilnius last summer.

Although Raskevicius has vowed to introduce the bill again in the autumn, its adoption has been postponed to the spring.

When will the court case take place?

A spokesman for the regional court hearing the case told Euronews all the supporting documentation had been submitted and that proceedings are likely to get underway in November.

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