Last summer, in a dank underground car park in the middle of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, three women staged an art performance.
It ended with them singing their country’s national anthem with a couple of changes: the word “fatherland” becoming “motherland”, a line praising the country’s “sons” turned around to praise its “daughters”.
As a feminist protest, it was a world away from Pussy Riot, and it received little more than polite applause at the time.
But this year, a far-right group stumbled across a YouTube video of the performance and complained to the police. And now – madly, unbelievably – the three women are being investigated for “desecrating state symbols”. They face a maximum two years prison.
This is in a country that belongs to the EU. This is in a country with a female president.
“It’s absurd,” Aira Leonidovna, 25, says by email, somewhat understating the situation. “I wanted to show our anthem does not mention women, and it’s evidence our traditions are still misogynistic in a way. But it’s clear ultra-patriots here want to censor us.
“It seems strange that the anthem’s protected by law. It’s like it’s a six-year-old girl who’s so sensitive one word can insult her.”
Aira and her friends have been made to give statements to the police and told to get a lawyer. The person prosecuting them is also trying to get Lithuania’s Language Commission involved – an official body that can apparently confirm whether changing a few words in the anthem is a crime.
I mentioned the case to Canadian senator Nancy Ruth recently. She’s the politician behind an ongoing campaign to get women mentioned in Canada’s national anthem. She couldn’t believe a modern country would carry out an investigation like this. I mentioned Lithuanian’s president was a woman. “It’s not just genitalia that defines how people think unfortunately,” she said.
I’m hoping Nancy gets involved next time Canada has trade talks with Lithuanian. Although if anyone reading this has influence in the country, please sort it out!
You can read more about Aira and her motivations for the performance here at Open Democracy. I expect I’ll be writing more about it here soon enough though!