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Human rights for the Kremlin: sometimes a bogeyman, sometimes a friend on demand

Article by: Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis

Pro-Kremlin news sites have an ambiguous view of international organizations (especially those related to human rights) and their recommendations. When these organizations stand up for LGBT rights they are accused of destruction of “true European values,” but sometimes their recommendations are utilised to discredit the Republic of Lithuania, its legal institutions and in this way to spread the mistrust in the country.

For example, some articles with similar headlines appeared online a short time ago: “UN brought Vilnius down to earth. Can Grybauskaite continue to pretend to be a democrat?” The UN Human Rights Committee issued a statement of closure of findings on the state of civil and political human rights in Lithuania. It should be noted that this is nothing special in itself: Lithuania submits reports to this committee every five years, just as the rest of 168 UN members that have signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Also, the UN Human Rights Committee should not be mixed with the UN Human Rights Council, probably the most significant human rights organization in the international context.

The statement of findings itself looks just like in any other country: the committee gives a brief overview of Lithuania’s progress in the field of human rights and dedicates most of the document to the aspects to be improved upon by suggesting specific recommendations. Here are some of the flaws of the Lithuanian legal system that are purposely picked out: first, the suspension of Rolandas Paksas, an impeached former President of Lithuania; second, human rights violations in antiterrorist operations; third, the decision of the State Security Department to name specific persons, activists, organizations or associations as “threats to national security” while not providing clear threat assessment criteria. Not only are these remarks stressed by the pro-Kremlin news portals, but also the fact that this, according to them, document of great significance has not been translated into Lithuanian yet.

Pro-Kremlin sources utilise these findings in order to portray Lithuania in a bad light: it is a country where the dissentient and the weak are allegedly victimised and abandoned by the political and legal system, and the members of the government are only pretending to be supportive of human rights and democratic values. Would the human rights committee of an international organization otherwise dedicate this many pages to Lithuania’s various violations?

In such cases, Lithuania is being pushed into a corner: to acknowledge that there is an abundance of problems in Lithuania means to give in to an apocalyptic interpretation where Lithuania becomes the systemic violator of human rights, but to deny the problems means to call in question the findings of an international organization. In the pro-Kremlin black-and-white worldview, it is almost impossible to see a complex picture where Lithuania would be understood both as a country that faces specific challenges (like any other country in the world) and also as a free country that ensures basic human rights. When you look at the well-established facts, Lithuania is ranked one of the highest (1st) countries in the Freedom House rating (one of the most recognised civil and political rights rankings), that is, one of the freest countries in the world since 2006. However, this does not prevent Freedom House from annually paying attention to concrete occurrences that require criticism in Lithuania.

People who think in black and white are undeniably more vulnerable and are targeted in disinformation campaigns. Thus, it is not strange that the Kremlin’s propaganda mechanism seeks to spread the all-or-nothing, either-or mindset as far as it can go. It is much easier to criticise a country for not being perfect than to try to constructively understand why it is the case and how it would be possible to change that.

The Vilnius Institute of Policy Analysis is an independent organization in Lithuania which proclaims its goals as increasing freedom, transparency, democracy, and civic awareness in Lithuania and Central and Eastern Europe. This publication is part of a project aimed at strengthening democracy and civil society as well as fostering closer ties with the EU Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) by spreading independent information with the help of contemporary solutions. The project is implemented by Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis. It is financed as part of Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs‘ Development Cooperation and Democracy Promotion Programme.
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