The event took place at a time when thousands of Lithuanian Russians marked the Day of Russian Culture in a nearby park.
“Several weeks ago, Vilnius City Council named this space after Nemtsov and today this is a symbolic first event for unveiling the symbolic plague and marking the hour of democracy,” Valdas Benkunskas, elder of the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats‘ political group at Vilnius Municipality, told BNS Lithuania on Saturday.
Holding Lithuanian flags, several dozen Vilnius residents, representatives of the TS-LKD and the party’s honorary chairman and the first head of independent Lithuania Vytautas Landsbergis attended the event.
“We know that the park of Vingis is now hosting an event with a slightly different theme, with Soviet symbols and singers who usually are not allowed into the European Union. Our events is aimed at commemorating hope and belief that our neighbor Russia will reach that day when democracy and freedom will be the same open values there as they are today in Lithuania,” Benkunskas said.
Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador to Lithuania Alexander Udaltsov called the municipality’s decision to name the square outside the embassy after Nemtsov “incorrect, to put it mildly” as the space is situated near the embassy and, in his words, it would be politicized, which could cause inconvenience for the embassy’s staff as well.
“It’s Lithuania’s and the city’s matter after whom, where and what to name but I don’t like the fact that it’s outside the Russian embassy. They could have chosen some other place, not necessarily near the embassy. (…) It’s a nice recreational place, ducks swim there, children play, why do we need politics there,” Udaltsov told journalists on Saturday.
The Russian ambassador on Saturday attended the 16th Day of Russian Culture in the park of Vingis as the Russian Embassy supports the event, just like Vilnius Municipality.
Around 10,000–15,000 people attend the event every year. But it also raises controversy due to its program and invited participants from Russia. This year, several popular artists from Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad were invited, including Oleg Pogudin who went on a tour in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, occupied by Russia, last year.
A statement from Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius was read out during the event.
“Vilnius is a city where Russian culture and the free thought can develop without being forced into a propaganda framework, where we honor the memory of Russia‘s great sons and daughters, like Andrei Sakharov, Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov and other fighters for democracy. Vilnius is a city of our common freedom, built on the foundation of common Christian and Lithuania’s history,” the Vilnius mayor said in the letter of congratulation.
Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador Udaltsov, speaking on a stage decorated with Lithuanian and Russian flags, noted that Russians are divided into the Kremlin’s and Lithuania’s Russians.
“I believe that you can choose without any prompting what Russian you are. I’m Russian by birth and believe that Russians should, first of all, be Russians, irrespective of where they live,” Udaltsov said.
He also called on the crowd not to forget Russia, promising his state’s care for its countrymen.
Also attending the event, Lithuanian MEP Viktor Uspaskich said the Day of Russian Culture is not a political event but attempts are being made by critics to politicize it.
“Our radicals politicize it, making that fuss, and also promoting that event this way. I’m probably the one who’s doing the majority of politicizing from that stage, and those who come to perform, they even mix Lithuania and Latvia as there’s no difference for them where to perform,” Uspaskich told journalists on Saturday.