What actually lies beneath the menacing flag of protest: a look at the real faces of the Movement of Families

Movement of Families demonstration in the Front of the Seimas. Foto V. Balkūnas from 15min

What links the active participants of “marcher” protests: a businessman from Marijampolė, the son of the signatory of the March 11 Act, large families, pro-Russian figures and members of the criminal underworld? Lietuvos Rytas tried to take a closer look at the Movement of Families, Birutė Vyšniauskaitė writes in lrtyas.lt.

“The main line of action for the Movement of Families is the family. It is families and children who are suffering due to all the current problems. Why are children suffering? How can’t they if there’s no contact teaching at schools?

Parents who don’t vaccinate are threatened with dismissal. Thus, everything collapses on the family.

The demands regarding the Istanbul Convention are also important to us. They are key,” the movement’s leader, a 55-year-old businessman from Marijampolė Raimundas Grinevičius, told Lietuvos Rytas.

Sees himself as a social activist

Having been in the transport business since 1993, R. Grinevičius has various previous party affiliations. He has tried to enter Seimas with them a number of times but without success.

He has sought a Seimas mandate alongside the Civil Democracy Party, the Christian Union, which belonged to the party Order and Justice for more than five years. He withdrew from the latter due to disagreements with the policies of the party’s former leader, a member of Seimas Remigijus Žemaitaitis.

However, R. Grinevičius assures that he is no politician: “My activities are civic in nature. I have been involved in it for around twenty years now. Meanwhile, you can also run for election if you are looking to help other people. I no longer belong to any party right now.”

The Marijampolė resident does not view himself as the Movement of Families’ ideologue either – supposedly, all decisions are made by a council.

“The perspectives of politicians do not matter at all. We are satisfied with Hungary’s policies. We are also satisfied with the policies of Germany’s Alternative for Germany, as well as the policies of French and Spanish parties that hold similar views.

All these European parties signed a decree on the reformation of the European Union.

We sent them greetings regarding it. In support of the Hungarian parliament’s policies, we sent a petition and received thanks for it. This is how we made friends,” R. Grinevičius explained the movement’s ties to various European radicals who participated in the protests at Vingis Park and next to the Seimas.

He assured that there are no links right now to Russian radicals but did not dismiss the possibility that these could develop in the future.

Preparing for a strike

R. Grinevičius did not deny that the Movement of Families is still on the lookout for a leader: “We are beginning to seek one only now. We have received quite many good proposals. We are currently holding meetings and discussions with potential candidates. They are currently not politicians.”

With rumours spreading that the Movement of Families will transform into a political party by 2024, the Marijampolė resident asserted that the association’s council has drawn a red line: “Our core goal right now is to force the government to work for the people, regardless of whether it includes the Conservatives, the “Farmers” or the Labour Party.”

When asked how they plan to make the current government “work for the people”, R. Grinevičius explained that they are preparing for a general political strike: “We are in discussions with trade unions and civil organisations. An association of 150 small and medium-sized enterprises is being formed in Šiauliai, it is also due to participate in the strike.

We have maximum demands. Either the Seimas or the cabinet must resign. There’s no other way.”

Wants to be an active citizen

The so-called “marcher” protests also included the head of the Lithuanian Association of Markets and Marketplaces and board member of the Lithuanian Council of Small Entrepreneurs and Traders under the Ministry of Economy and Innovations Vytenis Butkevičius (36 years old). He is the son of Lithuania’s first post-restored independence minister of national defence and March 11 Act Signatory Audrius Butkevičius.

“I, of course, also participated in the protests as a citizen because I support the Movement of Families because it supports small businesses, which gravely suffered during both lockdowns. And overall, they have been oppressed since the restoration of independence.

On the other hand, I stand by the position that we must all be active in the life of society and the state.

The people gathering under the flag of the Movement of Families are expressing their discontent with how the government is unwilling to talk with them, discuss the most painful problems.

They decided that Lithuania needs the Istanbul Convention and that’s it. But there weren’t any serious discussions with the public regarding its adoption. The fact that the government tried to impose the convention on society was their biggest mistake.

The same was done in regard to the accumulated problems small businesses face.

When business issues or how the pandemic-induced crisis was to be resolved were being discussed in government offices and corridors during the quarantine, no representative of small businesses was invited. Neither ex-Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis needed it, nor does his replacement Ingrida Šimonytė.

I also cannot comprehend how the Seimas and executive government are looking for even the smallest pretext to antagonise the public. When massive gallows were built next to the Seimas during the August 10 protest, there was a massive uproar. If similar gallows were built for some theatre play’s decorations, would the government also be outraged?” V. Butkevičius told Lietuvos Rytas.

But the protests also included various anti-Semitic symbols. Wasn’t this taking things too far?

I think that by wearing yellow hexagonal stars, the people wanted to show the government that the passport of opportunity has divided society, split it apart akin to the Nazi regime’s time when the Jews could only walk on sidewalks.

Should then the ones with a passport of opportunity be compared to Aryans and those without one – to Jews? That was the thought behind the hexagonal stars.

The Movement of Families protests included controversial figures such as Algirdas Paleckis, members of the criminal underworld, pro-Moscow Hungarian and German radicals.

I do not have detailed information on this and neither do I have friends at the State Security Department who could probably explain why these figures appeared in the Movement of Families events.

On the other hand, there are significant quantities of publicly available compromising information in Lithuania on former President Dalia Grybauskaitė, as well as Seimas Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen. Couldn’t the Kremlin make use of this information?

Furthermore, just look at what German Chancellor Angela Merkel is doing, hugging Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is acceptable to her that two gas pipelines were laid down at the bottom of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. US President Joe Biden didn’t oppose it either. Is this not political corruption? Is this not the betrayal of Western geopolitical interests?

Do you not think that the “marchers” are also making the same mistake?

It is well known that various civil movements have surfaced in Europe in support of traditional family and national values. Perhaps this is why political figures from Germany or Hungary, who support such ideas, participated in protests in Lithuania.

However, I believe that the organisers of the protest next to the Seimas made a massive mistake in allow pro-Russian and anti-state figures such as A. Paleckis and Vaidas Lekstutis to speak in it. During their statements, I whistled loudly so as to express my civic position.

But is your participation in events that include such figures not compromising the aim of supporting small businesses?

Protests and other events will definitely include mistakes because such governments to object to the government were essentially never organised over the thirty years of restored Lithuanian independence.

There could be various provocations because we have unfriendly states nearby, but we shouldn’t make ourselves their target.

Lithuania should learn from Israel how to defend the state and its interests.

This country is constantly living on the edge of a volcano, but it is always able to defend itself from its enemies and neither in the face of danger nor in peacetime does it divide its society.

What do you think led to the riot after the August 10 protest next to the Seimas and did this not serve to antagonise society even more?

That riot left me with many questions. I personally saw how one provocateur threw a Tricolour at member of Seimas Sergejus Jovaiša. Afterwards, he attacked the public security officers who were assisting a woman, kicked the officers’ shields.

Why he was never restrained or detained is entirely unclear. Perhaps this was a flaw in the officers’ work or perhaps they were enacting someone’s order to not get involved with the riot.

I sent my description of the protest to Prosecutor General Nida Grunskienė. I would like to be questioned, but I have yet to receive any such call.

Are you aware of who is financing the Movement of Families events?

When I began to participate, I immediately asked the organisers the same thing.

I was told that it is regular people donating funds. Perhaps it’s true because if, say, a hundred thousand citizens belonging to the march gift one euro each, this already forms a significant sum.

I think that the protest at Vingis park could have cost around 50-60 thousand euro.

There have been talks that Labour Party leader, MEP Viktoras Uspaskichas, is supporting the “marchers.”

It could be. If I were a millionaire, I wouldn’t mind spending a million here or there for a good idea. Especially if it were to encourage people to unite and be more civic-minded.

I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that there are numerous businesses in Lithuania that support the Movement of Families.

It is clear that the movement currently does not have an appealing flagbearer. Its leader R. Grinevičius admits this himself. Who do you think could undertake this mission? Perhaps you?

I think that some large families could become the face of the Movement of Families – a young mother and a young father. These people wouldn’t have to be the leaders of the movement, but they should be trusted with announcing the movement’s ideas, the content of its actions.

I would definitely be unsuited for this. My goal as the representative of small businesses is to fight against the major retail chains that have taken over Lithuania because I am unwilling to live in a country where young people work as security guards or janitors in major stores, while those who find it unacceptable choose to emigrate.

I am and will continue to aim to ensure that instead of leaving, people would be able to create their own small businesses here. This is why I attend protests.

It is nevertheless unclear as to what the protests’ true goal is. They speak against the Istanbul Convention and the partnership law, and homosexuals, and the passport of opportunities, while you protest over the problems of small businesses.

I too see this problem. There is a lack of a constructive outlook and professional skills in the organisation of the protests.

I am neither against the partnership law nor against sexual minorities. What is disappointing and concerning is that those people’s problems are exploited and they are used as a foundation for creating a protest ideology, which only further divides and antagonises society.

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