Last week, clashes broke out between protesters and law enforcement in Vilnius, the insurgents tried to break into the parliament building, and people were injured. Would a similar course of events be possible in Estonia as well?
What happened in Lithuania?
On Tuesday, August 10, about 5,000 people gathered in front of the Seimas, or Lithuanian parliament building, in Vilnius for a registered protest against the coronavirus restrictions and related new bills. The event went peacefully, although there were also provocative slogans. For example, the Lithuanian government was called fascist and coronavirus restrictions were compared to Nazi concentration camps.
The demonstration was to end at 5 pm, but some protesters did not leave the square. Around 9 pm, the first clashes with law enforcement officers took place, they tussled, stones were thrown at the police, and some people started to break into the Seimas building. Police used tear gas to disperse the attackers and the square was emptied at around 2 a.m. 19 people needed medical care, but no one was seriously injured. 26 people were detained, nine of whom are still in custody.
Who was behind the demonstrations?
The initial demonstration was convened by an organization called the Lithuanian Family Movement, which stands for traditional family values. The call to protest was eagerly spread and followed by various groups: conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccine activists, anti-restrictions activists, members of the political opposition, and Kremlin-related figures. The Lithuanian press has provided an overview of the most colorful people who took part in the protest, but there are no individuals with criminal backgrounds.
It is not clear who initiated the brawls and the invasion of parliament. The organizers of the protest have stated that they are not behind the clashes and have condemned the violence. Lithuanian police have asked the participants of the rally to share their video and photo material in order to get information about the perpetrators and more information involving the circumstances of the event. The investigation will probably reveal the insurgents. It appears that the police initially assessed the risk of the protest becoming a riot as low and that the turn to violence came unexpectedly.
Were the clashes planned provocations from behind the border?
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has said that the signs point to the uprising having been organized from abroad. The events in Vilnius were speedily and coordinately covered in the propaganda media of Russia and Belarus. Lithuania was accused of using excessive force. Labeling opponents as fascists is one of the most common techniques used by Kremlin propagandists.
Coordination is also indicated by the unrest on the same day among refugees from Belarus in Rudninka, about 30 km from Vilnius. However, these are indirect suspicions; so far, Lithuania has not provided direct evidence of a foreign-led insurgency.
Is a similar uprising possible in Estonia?
Undoubtedly, there are preconditions for large protest rallies in Estonia. Organizations and activists have the will and capacity to organize protest actions. Propastop has produced a map that includes various rhetorical views on the coronavirus crisis. In various demonstrations that have taken place in Estonia since the autumn of 2020, these different activists have joined forces. In the spring of this year, the protests developed into opposition with the police. The readiness to come out in protest remains, the last time a protest took place was only a few weeks ago, on July 24, in Vabaduse (Freedom) Square in Tallinn.
In Estonia, however, some components are missing that seemed to give impetus to the clashes in Lithuania. We are not under active hybrid attacks from a neighboring country like in Lithuania. The influx of refugees from Belarus raises the general level of anxiety in society and creates a fertile ground for provocations. The police help to keep the threat of insurgency lower in Estonia. They gained their first experience in this matter when restraining coronavirus protesters in April, but they may also be able to learn from the recent experience of their Lithuanian counterparts.
Pictures: screenshots from the Lithuanian publications Delfi. lt and LRT about the attack. The photos have the copyright of these publications.