Two Lithuanians have responded defiantly to a series of arson attacks against the LGBT+ community in Vilnius—by buying 500 rainbow flags to wave around the city.
Filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas and LGBT+ rights activist Tomaš Ilja decided to fundraise thousands of euros to buy the flags after arsonists targeted the office of the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL)—the country’s only non-governmental organisation representing LGBT+ people—on August 10.
And, on September 2, arsonists set fire to the corridor outside Zabarauskas’ flat on fire in a possible homophobic incident, after the director hung a Pride flag on his balcony.
Speaking to PinkNews, Zabarauskas said that, following the arson attack outside his flat, a police offer had told him to take down his Pride flag.
“The next morning, after the initial shock, I realised that not only I won’t take the flag down, I need to do something more to send a strong message and not to give in into fear,” he explained.
“So I made this story public, emailed some people and we quickly raised enough funds to buy 500 flags.”
Zabarauskas said that supporters of his and Ilja’s initiative are posting their own Pride flags on social media using the hashtag #LGBTdraugiškaLietuva, which means “LGBT+ friendly Lithuania.”
The first 400 Pride flags were handed out for free to LGBT+ supporters at the gay-friendly Paviljonas jazz club on Friday in the city.
A further 100 flags will be distributed for free during the queer festival Kreivės in Vilnius.
The initiative has been supported by politicians across the city, including Vilnius city councillor Mark Adam Harold, who attended the event on Friday and hung the Pride flag on the Vilnius City Municipality building. He has also supported the campaign on social media.
Zabarauskas also said that Vilnius city mayor Remigijus Šimašius has expressed support for the campaign. PinkNews has contacted Šimašius for comment.
Zabarauskas continued: “Taking down a flag and hiding your true identity never makes you feel safer. Freedom of expression and acceptance do. I’m currently surrounded by rainbow flags—I can see one in each of the three buildings around mine. That makes me feel great.”
“Lithuania is a free country and we’ll defend our freedom with Pride,” he added.
“I care about LGBT+ visibility. I truly think it’s the main way to go if we want to achieve equality in our region. And it feels better to live your true life.”
Zabarauskas explained that he could not be certain that the arson attack outside his flat was a homophobic incident, but added that it “deserves to be investigated.”
He said, however, that the attack on LGL was “clearly a hate crime.”
PinkNews has contacted the police in Vilnius over the arson attack on LGL, and was directed to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Lithuania, which has also been contacted for comment.