Rainbow flags and arson in Vilnius

Vilnius inhabitants decorated their balconies with rainbow flags after someone tried burn down the apartment building of openly gay film director Romas Zabarauskas, even though the police maintains that the attack was not a hate crime.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Rainbow flags and arson in Vilnius - NewsMavens
Romas Zabarauskas, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Publicity has helped -- or so it seems -- to speed up investigations into hate crimes in Lithuania lately. Some ten years ago the pro-LGBT+ response of the public in this case would have been unimaginable.

Yet after a recent arson attack that was allegedly homophobic, Romas Zabarauskas, a film director and LGBT activist, was soon out of the rainbow flags that he set out to distribute around Vilnius.

Many LGBT supporters posted photos of their rainbow-adorned balconies on social media and called for the police to investigate the crime as soon as possible. On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced that he, too, had inquired about the investigation, and the police assured him that the suspects will soon be found.

On Friday, the suspects were caught. According to the police, both have an extensive police record for thefts, drugs and various other offences. The official report states that they were targeting landlords and short-term tenants in the building rather than the director. There is still no information about whether or not the arson incident involving the Lithuanian Gay League, which occured some weeks before, is related.

In a Facebook post following the announcement from the police, Zabarauskas wrote that whatever happened, nobody should lecture him about taking his rainbow flag down. He had submitted an official complaint against the police officer who advised him so, and, although she was not sanctioned, she received a reminder "to defend and respect every person's honour and dignity, as well as fundamental human rights and freedoms."

Details from the story:

  • On the night of the 2nd of September, a door was set on fire in a large apartment block in Vilnius. Romas Zabarauskas, an openly gay film director who lives in the building, posted an image of the burnt area on Facebook to inform his followers about what he believed could be a hate crime.
  • Some weeks before, the building of the Lithuanian Gay League was also targeted by an arson attack, and Zabarauskas placed a rainbow flag in his balcony in solidarity.
  • A "policewoman told me repeatedly to take down the flag 'before the whole house burns down'," he told Gay Star News and Lithuanian media.
  • The director and his partner started fundraising for 500 rainbow flags to distribute to LGBT+ allies around Vilnius to express solidarity.
  • Two more arson attacks took place in the same house.
  • In a press conference on Friday, the police announced having arrested two suspects, who were known to the police for various crimes.
  • According to the police, the arson was meant to intimidate the landlords in the building who were offering apartments for short-term rental and their tenants. Some of them had earlier been sanctioned for prostitution.
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