“Amber Heart” – Forbidden Love in Lithuania?

Date: 26 March 2015

Country: Lithuania

Amber_Heart_IllustrationWould you read a book of fairytales to children? Would you read it if it tells a story about a brother falling in love with a black male dressmaker, or if it is about a princess falling in love with the shoemaker’s daughter?

The children book “Amber Heart” was banned in Lithuania as harmful to minors and because “it encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution”.   The freedom of expression in cases such as “Amber Heart” was discussed at the international conference in Vilnius organised by the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights. The Media Diversity Institute (MDI) representative debated modern media challenges in the field of human rights and freedom of expression.

Lithuania_Dasha_Ilic_2“Modern media include social media networks and depending on input given by ‘the people formerly known as audience’, we can talk either, about their positive or negative effect,” said MDI Communications Manager Dasha Ilic at the conference held on 26 March 2015. She gave an example of Charlie Hebdo attacks and almost immediate circulation of graphic images and videos on social media.“Editors of mainstream media and responsible journalists have to be careful not to reproduce an inflammatory language or hate speech,” said Dasha Ilic. Her second example on how social media can improve freedom of expression, inclusion and diversity in the mainstream media, was the movement of African-Americans, #BlackLivesMatter.

According to Attorney-at-Law Algimantas Šindeikio, the online space is thriving in bullying and privacy violations. “In many instances it goes beyond not only legal, but also cultural boundaries”, stressed the Lithuanian media law expert.

Swedish Chancellor of Justice and former judge, Anna Skarhed, gave an example of a priest in a small Swedish village who was preaching that homosexuality is a cancer for society. Although this priest was punished by the first instance of the Swedish court, he was acquitted by the Appeal court. “The court has concluded that although a priest has probably promoted hate speech against homosexuals, his words also needed to be considered in the light of freedom of expression. Swedish court explained that his potential criminalisation could lead to the violation of freedom of expression, which is forbidden by the EU and Swedish law,” said Anna Skarhed to the audience in Vilnius.

Many of the participants at the conference organised by the Lithuanian Centre of Human Rights expressed their concern about the representation of others in public and in the country’s media. Some of the non-profit organisations working in Lithuania raised their concern about homophobic and xenophobic views, not only held by some public figures, but balso contained in some of the legislative and legal recommendations in Lithuania which is the EU member since 2004.