June 22, 2016 Tas Britas

Brexit? I’m proud to be a British immigrant in Vilnius, Lithuania

Kissing as a public protest in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Dear fellow Brits, especially those contemplating Brexit,

I am a British immigrant in Vilnius, Lithuania, and I don’t like the smell of Brexit. I arrived in Lithuania the day before she joined the European Union in 2004, and I moved here permanently soon after that. Under EU Citizenship laws I qualify for election to the City Council anywhere in the Union. I know this, because I won a seat in Vilnius, the capital city, making me the first foreigner to be elected in Lithuania. This is the kind of thing you can do whenever you want, because European Union.

Councillor Mark Adam Harold at Baltic Pride, Vilnius 2016. Photo: Maryte Paneriene

I’m proud to be European, regardless of many reasons to be annoyed with governments. I voted “remain” by post without hesitation. As a politician in New Europe, despite having seen huge bureaucratic silliness and millions of wasted Euros, I support a united European Union containing the UK as a leading player. Using British understatement I would say that destabilising things and handing Britain over to a bunch of populist gangsters would not be my recommendation at this time.

Counterprotestors suggest "Leaving the Pederast Union" at Baltic Pride 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Auris Jarasunas

Counterprotestors suggest “Leaving the Pederast Union” at Baltic Pride 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Auris Jarasunas

City Councillor Mark Adam Harold flies a rainbow-coloured Vilnius flag at Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Audrius Dzimidavicius

City Councillor Mark Adam Harold flies a rainbow-coloured Vilnius flag at Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Audrius Dzimidavicius

I apologise for Godwinising my argument so early, but as a Belgian student said to me in a workshop about Holocaust victims – “I don’t like the EU, but I like the decades without war”

Lithuania, for example, was in a different Union a few decades ago, it was called the Soviet Union and it totally sucked. Without human rights protections and guarantees of rule of law, Lithuanians suffered decades of post-war oppression during which minorities and “enemies of the state”, including homosexuals, were packed off to Siberia in livestock trains that killed many of them before arrival.

Thousands of marchers fill the main street of Vilnius, Lithuania for Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Thousands of marchers fill the main street of Vilnius, Lithuania for Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Now, under the “oppression” of “Brussels”, Lithuania is an EU and NATO member where a huge and very peaceful gay parade just happened, attracting more than 2000 participants, twice as many as expected, blowing away all stereotypes about Eastern Europe.

Representatives of all three Baltic States take to the stage at Baltic Pride. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Representatives of all three Baltic States take to the stage at Baltic Pride. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

City Councillors Ausrine Armonaite and Mark Adam Harold at Baltic Pride 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Vincas Alesius

City Councillors Ausrine Armonaite and Mark Adam Harold at Baltic Pride 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Vincas Alesius

There were only a handful of counterprotestors, carrying a sign promoting Litexit, shouting “Let’s leave the pederast union”. Only six arrests were made, for minor offences such as trying to sneak eggs in, or shouting naughty things in public. Almost the entire counterprotest can be seen in the video below.

Things have changed since May 1st 2004. Vilnius is now a city whose inhabitants come from all over the world, they elected a Brit to the Council, and the Mayor greets the Pride parade and declares the City open to all, regardless of race, orientation or religion.

He even found time to #hugabrit. Two Brits actually.

And when a Councillor made some off-key remarks about Catholics being offended by rainbow flags, the Catholic Mayor warned him not to make homophobic comments, and the British Protestant Councillor Mark Adam Harold asked for the guy to be thrown out of the room. That’s Vilnius, because it’s 2016.

It’s happening

If only you could see the transformation of Vilnius, you would understand why I think the EU is, overall, not such a bad idea. It’s easy to sit in your British armchair and waffle on about the insanity of the Common Agricultural Policy, but let’s consider the fact that the EU and NATO have enabled millions of Europeans to get on with liberalisation and democratisation of half a continent, and it only took 25 years to get this far.

EP Vice President and Swedish Culture Minister at Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

EP Vice President and Swedish Culture Minister at Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Mark Adam Harold and Romas Zabarauskas at Baltic Pride. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Mark Adam Harold and Romas Zabarauskas at Baltic Pride. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

The people threatening this dream are ethnic nationalists, sore losers of Empire, pompous “Britain uber alles” drumbeaters, Putin the dictator and oppressor of Russia, some guy called Trump, and a bunch of opportunists who see the chance to seize personal power cheaply by jumping on board.

By doing this, they are disrupting and perhaps reversing the process that has enabled millions to move and work where they want, fastening economic links and family connections that, to put it bluntly, reduce the chances of war. By destabilising the EU, Britain would be helping to increase the chances that I might have to fight for my house with a gun. I don’t care if it’s only a small chance that I am going to have to do that, I don’t want to do it at all. The EU is one of the main reasons I don’t have to do it right now.

The British Embassy at Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

The British Embassy at Baltic Pride 2016. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

I know the EU isn’t NATO, but without the social and economic parts of our grand peaceful “experiment”, the military part isn’t so pretty. And some very politically ugly people seem to love Brexit, for some reason.

Even if I can agree with many Brexit arguments, I am not sure those are the people to whom I wish to hand the future of Britain. If they feel “held back” by supranational agreements and human rights, perhaps they are best held back. If they don’t agree with Winston Churchill on the link between union and peace, perhaps they shouldn’t claim to be his descendants and flagbearers. If they don’t like paying for peace in the East, and they would rather rewind time and retreat to their island bunkers, maybe let’s not give them the nuclear button?

Last weekend, instead of piling up sandbags around my balcony in the street previously known as “Red Army Avenue”, I put on an RAF jacket and a Union Jack skirt and flew a Vilnius flag in rainbow colours, got on a big gay discobus in the square previously known as “Lenin Square” and drove down the street previously known as “Stalin Avenue” shouting “Lithuania for everybody!” with 2000 brightly coloured people. And none of us are being shot in prison for that. And we’re not being sat in tanks, given vodka and pointed in your direction.

Soho nightclub's bus at Baltic Pride. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

Soho nightclub’s bus at Baltic Pride. Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis

These changes would not have happened in Vilnius without the EU’s help. You start loving the EU pretty fast when you compare being “held back” by Moscow to being “held back” by Brussels. And stability here is beneficial to the UK, obviously.

I’m proud to be a Councillor in an open and welcoming city that is making huge steps forward, not giant leaps back. I’m sad that some of my fellow Brits don’t seem to know how awesome, and yet fragile, this progress is. I’ll be disappointed if Brits vote against the European dream and make their own British nightmare on the basis of xenophobia and greed. If that happens, with all due respect, I’ll have to seriously reconsider which heraldry I want on my passport.

Baltic Pride 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Audrius Dzimidavicius.

Baltic Pride 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo: Audrius Dzimidavicius.

Long live Europe, united by rule of law and respect for universal human rights. Come and visit us in peaceful European Vilnius. See the awesomeness you helped us to build here while you were moaning about bent bananas.

Mark Adam Harold

Vilnius City Councillor
Chair, Councillors’ Group “City for LGBT Equality”
markadam.harold@vilnius.lt
https://www.facebook.com/markasftw/
http://markasftw.com

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