VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania’s parliament, the Seimas, has once again rejected state recognition of Romuva, the nation’s traditional native Baltic pagan religion.
The day before the vote in the Seimas, Krivė (High Priestess) Inija Trinkūnienė, addressed the Lithuanian government and the nation in a public letter, urging “Lithuanian citizens, religious denominations and politicians to sincerely respect human rights in freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
After deliberating on Thursday, September 29, 2022, the Seimas returned the decision to the Romuva community. Thirty-four members of the Seimas voted in favour, 19 against and 18 abstained. In the Seimas, abstentions are counted as “against” because they do not suggest any support.
The Seimas vote comes after the Romuva community’s initial rejection on Thursday, June 27, 2019, after which on June 8, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Lithuania had violated Romuva’s human rights in not recognizing the religion.
Recognition of Romuva by the Lithuanian state would give the group various legal rights, including the ability to receive property tax credits, operate as a charity, provide social insurance coverage to its clergy, and to obtain legal recognition of marriages performed by its clergy. They would also get the right to airtime from national broadcasters to present religious services.
Currently, in addition to the nine state-recognized traditional religious communities sanctioned by the Seimas which receive exclusive rights and state funding, there are 4 non-traditional religious communities recognized by the Seimas: Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals and the New Apostolic Church. All other religious communities, whether officially registered or not, are considered “unrecognized by the state”.
“Romuva respects traditional and other religious communities registered in Lithuania, emphasizing their desire for peaceful coexistence. We invite you not to create religious discord between people who profess different religions, not to return to the Middle Ages and to value the ancient Baltic faith as part of the ancestors, the historical, spiritual and social heritage of the Lithuania,” Trinkūnienė said in a press release.
Previous votes on recognizing Romuva have been met with opposition from the Lithuanian Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. In its opinion, the ECHR wrote, “the Seimas refused to grant the status claiming that the members of the Seimas had not relied on the conclusions of the competent authorities, but had based their decision on their own religious beliefs and political interests: they had invoked the applicant association’s alleged threat to Christianity, cited the arguments presented by the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference in its letter to the members of the Seimas and made baseless allegations that the applicant association had links with the Kremlin.
Despite the ECHR’s warning, the Seimas again heard the same arguments against Romuva. Conservative MP Vilija Aleknaitė-Abramikienė quoted Russian political philosopher Alexandr Dugin and linked the Baltic community to the Kremlin. Dugin’s comment has often been called fascist ideology and some have called him a “mouthpiece for Putin”. She claims that the Kremlin supports anyone who does not support Christianity and extends this belief to the Romuva community. Dugin commented that one of the Kremlin’s biggest enemies is the Catholic Church and anyone who opposes the church should be supported.
“I remember a book – the 1995 book by Alexander Dugin, the now oft-mentioned Putin ideologue, published the book “The Geopolitical Future of Russia”. As a young politician, I have read and have not forgotten this page where it is written that one of the biggest enemies of the Kremlin in Lithuania is the Catholic Church,” said Aleknaitė-Abramikienė, adding that these were attempts to weaken Christianity in Lithuania.
Romuva has nothing to do with Christianity, Catholicism or anti-Catholic prejudice.
Uģis Nastevičs, Ph.D., a researcher in Latvian and Baltic studies with specific expertise in comparative religion, said The Wild Hunt that the allegations are baseless. He said, “This is deliberate misinformation to deprive the Romuva of their rights. He noted that legal scholars have said the ECHR’s ruling nullifies and exposes the policy.
Indeed, a conservative member of the Seimas, Kęstutis Masiulis, said: “I have no sympathy for Paksas or Romuva, but the decisions of the ECHR must be respected.
Nastevičs noted that even the basic history presented by the Seimas curators is messy. “Under the Soviet regime, there was only state atheism. Every religious community was the target of KGB investigations and persecution. He noted that believers were identified and then sent to be “corrected” or “offered” choices like becoming an informant against their religious group.
Some members of the Seimas went further by questioning Romuva’s religious identity by questioning their practices as true elements of faith. Paulius Saudargas, a member of the Seimas, said: “The Romuva community is more of an ethno-cultural phenomenon, not a religious community.
“These are their gods, these are their rites, this is their faith. Members of the Seimas cannot discuss it. In fact, we are the real tradition bearers, the real traditional ones,” Trinkūnienė said.
Nastevičs called the comments strange and a lie: “They don’t have to question or discuss the nature of the beliefs.”
“We feel insulted and humiliated. There is a war going on, and in the face of the war, one relies on the arguments of Putin’s ideologue,” Trinkūnienė added; they are “very strongly influenced by the Catholic Church”.
Nastevičs said his contacts within the Romuva community see this as another step in formal recognition that exposes the structural religious hypocrisy of some Seimas members.
Indeed, despite the result of the vote, the resolution was sent back for further development and to be presented again to the Seimas.