Lithuania defies EU to promote family values

Sidestepping critics, Baltic nation strengthens family-friendly law on public information.
Bryan P. Bradley | Dec 27 2009 | comment  

the Lithuanian parliament buildingLithuania lawmakers ended their year by amending a law on the protection of minors that had been condemned as “homophobic” by the European Parliament and other international bodies. But they did so in a way that strengthens and clarifies legal restrictions on public information which is out of synch with human dignity and family values. The small Baltic nation thus once again stands out for boldness among European states, such as Ireland and Italy, which are resisting the imposition of secularist policies by European Union bodies.

The new legislation, adopted by the parliament in Vilnius on December 22, eliminates a clause banning the promotion among minors of “homosexual, bisexual, and polygamous relations”, replacing it with a ban on public information “that encourages [any type of] sexual relations among minors that denigrates family values or that promotes any concept of marriage and the family other than that defined in the Lithuanian Constitution and Code of Civil Law” (which states that marriage is between a man and a woman). The amendments also make clear that the legal restrictions apply to education, the media, advertising and all other types of public information.

“Lithuania is a European state that holds to traditional ethical values which it has no intention of abandoning.” ~ Irena Degutiene, chair of Lithuanian parliament

The law, first adopted in July, limits a wide range of public information considered harmful to young people, including graphic violence, instructions on how to make explosives, presentation of drug use in a positive light, pornography, ridiculing and discriminating against people or groups on the basis of their race, religion, social status or sexual orientation, and “the encouragement of behavior that degrades human dignity”.

Its original text – with its specific reference to homosexuals – drew swift accusations of “homophobia” and human rights violations by Amnesty International and some EU diplomats. This led in September to a resolution of the European Parliament which condemned the law as discriminatory. They even proposed sanctions against the Baltic EU member state.

Lithuania responded by asking the European Court of Justice to declare that resolution null and void, as an unlawful intrusion into a democratic country’s legislative sovereignty. Surprisingly, the court agreed that the European Parliament had overstepped the bounds of its competence.

The chair of the Lithuanian parliament, Irena Degutiene, hopes that the values on which Lithuania has chosen to base its family and social policy might become an example for other European nations. “Lithuania is a European state that holds to traditional ethical values which it has no intention of abandoning,” Degutienė said in a statement. “Going against the flow of strict cultural and ethical libertarianism in the European Union is not popular. But I am convinced that by resisting the sometimes insistent pressure to forsake principles and values with a proven ability to guide the life of society, we in fact will come out the winners.”

Other European countries have also made the news recently for efforts to defend their values against EU institutions. Ireland, for example, in June forced EU leaders to guarantee in a series of written “assurances” that the union’s new Lisbon Treaty, which increases the weight of EU law relative to national legislation, would not override pro-life clauses in the Irish Constitution nor prejudice Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality.

Nonetheless, shortly after Irish voters approved the Lisbon Treaty in an October referendum, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg agreed to hear the case of three women seeking to overturn Ireland’s laws defending human life from the moment of conception. The women, who say they were forced to go abroad for abortions, argue that Irish law violates the European Convention on Human Rights by jeopardizing their “right to health and well-being”. The court is expected to rule on the case within the next 12 months.

The Italian government, meanwhile, is appealing a November ruling by the same European court which ordered the removal of crucifixes from public school classrooms in the country on the grounds that such religious symbols “restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions, and the right of children to believe or not to believe.” At the same time, the Italian Constitutional Court has issued a decision of its own stating that where rulings by the European Court of Human Rights conflict with provisions of the Italian Constitution, such rulings "lack legitimacy" and will not be enforced.

Russia, while not a member of the EU, has also been speaking out internationally in defense of moral values in public life. As MercatorNet reported, at recent United Nations meetings the Russian government has promoted pro-natalism rather than population control and resisted attempts to get “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” language embedded in human rights instruments. The Russian Orthodox Church, for its part, is campaigning actively to defend traditional values against modern liberalism in Europe, inviting the Catholic Church form an alliance for this end.

“It is a matter of concern that morality is emasculated in the theory of human rights, while interdependence of moral principles and human rights is not put into question by the authors of the concept, which is reflected in universal and European documents,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow stressed in a letter this month to Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland. “It is our conviction that neglect of moral aspects in implementing human rights threatens to undermine the very concept of rights and freedoms which has become one of the achievements of modern history,” Kirill continued.

In this context, Lithuania’s daring defense of moral values in public life could be seen as a promising international trend. The revised Law on the Protection of Minors, which was based on proposals by President Dalia Grybauskaitė and the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, even won a few opposition votes. The government is also currently working to revoke a rule that, since Soviet times, has required all medical students specializing in gynecology to learn and practice how to perform abortions.

Interestingly enough, the generally critical media coverage of such issues and conversations with the man in the street all suggest that there been no major shift in society’s views. The change rather, seems to be, that people with values are getting tired of being silenced and excluded from public debate, and they are learning to make their voices heard and felt. Naturally, those voices are coming to the surface, and attracting media attention, in some places more than in others. But the trend is growing and offers hope that the days of the “dictatorship of relativism” in public policy may well already be numbered.

Bryan P. Bradley is an American-born freelance writer based in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he has lived and worked since 1994. He has reported on economic, political and cultural issues in the Baltic region for a number of international news agencies, including Bloomberg and Reuters.

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