Many of us students are quick to judge. Whether it’s a boring professor or the sometimes questionable food at the Crous, rarely do we hesitate to complain about daily matters. When it comes to more dramatic questions, however, the vast majority of Sciencespistes are quite open-minded. For example, we are generally more than well acquainted with and accepting of the modern concepts of gender and sexuality. One might even suggest that tolerance has become an integral part of our identity as Sciences Po students; hence it’s natural for us to feel shocked when stumbling upon phobias among the people of our home countries. 

To illustrate this, I’d like to introduce you to my motherland of  Lithuania. Amidst the recent news in the country covering snowstorm-induced problems and a protest involving angry farmers in tractors, an unusual situation has occurred, dividing the country in two. After a 9-year-old girl was kidnapped in one of Lithuania’s major cities, one had to either align with the folks trusting the police or the transphobic “private detectives.” The shocking nature of the situation was even further exacerbated by the public response scarce of critical thinking skills.

The story I’m going to cover concerns a kidnapped girl, her abductor, and a third person falling victim to the situation. From the very start, attention was drawn to a sketchy garage believed to hold the whereabouts of the girl. Someone then quickly discovered a series of YouTube videos filmed in that exact location. They contained a 30-year-old-ish  man dressed in women’s clothing, posing in a rusty, shabby garage space. Despite there being no actual evidence of wrongdoing, an army of “civically responsible” individuals rushed to inform the police about the suspected kidnapper, proud of their work. 

As a reader, you might have already connected the dots. The YouTube person turned out to have had nothing to do with the crime. His only “crime” was deviating from behaviour deemed socially acceptable (shoutout to Cousin). A multitude of people lashed out at him, judging his ways of self-expression and blaming him for a series of crimes spanning decades. It was almost as if their happiness depended solely on using him as a scapegoat for all the wrongdoings in our society.

With a swift response from the police and volunteer rescuers, the kidnapped girl was found unharmed two days later. However, the key aspect of her return was yet to be revealed. “Who’s the kidnapper?” wondered everyone, on the edge of their seats. (Un)expectedly, the criminal was then proven to have been a conventional-looking, white middle-aged man with no connection to the person in the videos whatsoever. 

And here is the core of the problem: a solid proportion of those condemning the innocent man were not convinced by the official police report. Instead, they continued to analyze filmed recordings with the highest scrutiny, dwelling on their private investigations – or speculations, I dare say. The poor guy’s personal life was shamelessly made public, and people were relentless in degrading him under his videos, manifesting their appallingly transphobic views. 

After the arrest, numerous self-appointed investigators were devastated by the failure of their endeavors. Many went as far as to question the competence of the police,  desperately searching for possible ties to the YouTube man days after the events. His unconventional behavior worked as bait, awakening people’s deeply rooted transphobia and utter lack of tolerance. It was tragicomic to observe the criminal gaining less blame than his innocent counterpart with no connection to the situation. 

Let’s talk from a legal standpoint. In Lithuania, demeaning commentary is forbidden and is followed by administrative or even criminal charges. However, those responsible for the man’s public bashing have yet to receive a retribution. Essentially, not only did the video person receive explicit comments and threats, but he was also met with ignorance from the authorities as well. 

Scrolling on Lithuanian social media has been rather wary for me in the past few weeks.  The close-mindedness of my fellow countrymen felt so out of touch with the public policies proclaimed to turn my country towards Western liberal examples. While Latvia now has an openly homosexual president and is actively advocating for LGBTQ rights, Lithuanian society has clearly made scarce progress in this direction, as evidenced by the recent events. I only wonder what kind of nudge it will take to catch up.  


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