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HRMI Foreword

 2013-2014 were marked by Maidan events and unconventional warfare. We found out that we live in a world where it is possible to almost matter-of-factly occupy a part of another European state and wage war with "little green men". When the nation of Ukraine rose to fight for its freedom to choose and de jure join EU geopolitical space, most states saw it as something very far off at first;  its struggle seemed romantic and exotic, having very little to do with everyday reality. It looked as though pragmatism, embodied as it were in the arguments for "butter" and "gas pipes", would prevail in the end.

Were Western civilization as mature as it liked to think it was, its pragmatic desire to create an illusion of "Good Russia" would have started to crack back when Putin and Medvedev, working in tandem, began to progressively violate the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and liberties in the Russian Federation, when they revived the doctrine of "near abroad" and tried to suffocate civil society with "foreign agent" laws. 

The last two years can be rightly called an awakening. It took a downed passenger plane and thousands of lives lost in Eastern Ukraine for the West to finally listen to Lithuania's position: that democracy in Europe was under a very real threat and that the posters in the hands of protesters, claiming that "War in Ukraine = War in Europe", reflected our very own shocking reality. 

This wake-up call came at just the right moment, for Russia's radical assault on human rights and liberties also had an enormous impact on Lithuania, whose legislation was quickly adorned with anti-human rights initiatives that would make even the most loyal Kremlin crony blush. The assault on the European Court of Human Rights, human rights defenders, the European Union and especially the Nordic States had reached such intensity that it became a part of mainstream politics.

The awakening was abrupt, full of heated debates about the red line between the Kremlin and the West, with a gradually dawning understanding of what our real choices in the face of information warfare were. It is good to know that even those politicians who have fully embraced populist anti-human rights rhetoric seemingly avoid the Novorussiya project, understanding full well that the restored Soviet empire would probably not bless them with the freedom of speech or movement, the right to free elections and all the other privileges that we now take for granted.

"The Soviet Union is back – it’s here once again and people are again put behind bars for sharing news from the free world," said Vira, sister of Nadya Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot who was kidnapped. "The only difference is that nowadays this happens not through leaflets printed by the underground, but through sharing on Twitter and Facebook; the price, however, is the same – freedom..."

A survey commissioned by HRMI and carried out by Vilmorus in December 2014 revealed that we live in an unprecedented situation – public faith in the ability and willingness of the authorities to remedy rights violations had hit rock bottom. 95% of people who thought that their rights had been violated did not go to any institution for help – they were convinced that it would not change anything. I have no doubt that this is partly a result of the constant influence exerted from without by our eastern neighbour – supporting our own loudmouths when it is convenient, denigrating the "rotten", "perverted" European Union and trying to prove that the authorities nowadays think nothing of the average citizen.

However, there are signs that the authorities, politicians and officials at the highest level of government are starting to understand the priorities in strengthening national security, as well as the fact that the first and last line of defence is drawn in the minds of our citizens. Just as intelligent parents raise their children by example, it is time for our country to understand that we can no longer afford the luxury of not having a human rights policy, that the comments of high-ranking officials leave a tangible mark on public opinion and that only a real, honest and transparent approach to old problems can solidify confidence in national human rights protection mechanisms and create a society that is significantly more resistant to manipulation.   

It is my hope that the coming year will be marked by real, everyday, practical human rights work that integrates the understanding of our fundamental rights and freedoms into all levels of state activity and ensures that each person is able to access information in a way that he or she understands – thus, ultimately, building a state that no one wants to leave.

 Dovilė Šakalienė

Executive Director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute

Acknowledgements

 We would like to sincerely thank the experts who contributed to this Overview: Dainius Pūras, Deividas Velkas, Donatas Glodenis, Dovilė Gailiūtė, Dovilė Juodkaitė, Eglė Samuchovaitė, Gintautas Sakalauskas, Inga Abramavičiūtė, Jurgita Poškevičiūtė, Karolis Granickas, Laima Vaigė, Mindaugas Kiškis, Ugnė Grigaitė, Vilana Pilinkaitė-Sotirovič, Virginija Pleckevičienė, Vytautas Mizaras, Jūratė Guzevičiūtė, Mėta Adutavičiūtė, Natalija Bitiukova, Karolis Liutkevičius. We would like to thank Kristina Mišinienė, Aušra Kurienė and Ieva Daniūnaitė for the consultations they provided.

We are also really grateful to those Human Rights Monitoring Institute interns and volunteers who collected information for this Overview or otherwise contributed to its creation in 2013-2014: Alisa Grebinskytė, Darius Buinauskas, Fausta Šimonėlytė, Indrė Urbonavičiūtė, Ingrida Juozulynaitė, Izabelė Nebilevičiūtė, Jurgita Nemeikšytė, Laura Matelionytė, Marija Fedotovaitė, Martynas Šilgalis, Radvilė Laucytė, Rasa Mikalaičiūnaitė, Svajūnė Sirvydytė, Tomas Reves, Vytautas Klimas and others.

We would like to thank the European Economic Area and Norway Grants National Bilateral Fund as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania for providing financial support for the publication of this Overview.


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