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EU removes 'hammer and sickle' poster after protest

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(VILNIUS) - The European Commission has removed a poster displaying the communist hammer and sickle symbol from its Brussels headquarters after former Soviet-ruled EU member Lithuania expressed outrage, an official said Monday.

Arunas Vinciunas, Lithuanian ambassador-at-large in Brussels, said the poster was part of a campaign part-financed by the executive body of the 27-nation European Union.

"After we started seeking explanations, we received information that it was a poster contest with the theme 'Europe4all', and it was part-financed by the European Commission," Vinciunas told AFP.

"European Commission officials promised it would be removed," he added.

The commission denied funding the contest, but said it had taken action after Lithuania's complaint.

"The poster is not a European Commission poster. It was part of a series of posters hanging in a corridor which were made by artists in the context of a competition by the Czech Council on Foreign Relations. This competition was not funded by the EU," Giedrius Sudikas, spokesman for the commission's office in Lithuania, told AFP.

"As soon as the controversial symbol was pointed out, the poster was immediately removed. The building managers of all the Commission's buildings have now been asked to check if this poster is being displayed anywhere else on Commission property and remove it."

The offending poster showed the hammer and sickle alongside the symbols of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other religions, forming a pentagram above the caption: "We can all share the same star. EUROPE4ALL".

"The sign was put together with old religious symbols. The hammer and sickle is a modern symbol, related to an ideology based on violence," Leonidas Donskis, an EU lawmaker from Lithuania, told AFP.

"It symbolises the suffering of Eastern and Central Europe. Doing things like this means ignoring the tragic experience of a large part of Europe," he added.

The hammer and sickle is illegal in Lithuania, a nation of three million which in 1990 was the first republic to secede from the Soviet Union.

Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004, has also tried to convince Brussels to push for an EU-wide ban on denying communist crimes. The Baltic nation itself bans the denial of Soviet crimes and those of the Nazis.

Lithuania was seized by the Soviets under a 1939 pact with Nazi Germany, and tens of thousands of Lithuanians were killed or deported to Siberia and Central Asia.

The Nazis invaded in 1941 after turning against the Soviets. Their occupation saw the near-total destruction of Lithuania's 200,000-strong Jewish community by German troops and local collaborators.

The Soviets returned in 1944, and again cracked down.

Lithuania estimates that it lost 780,000 people at Soviet hands between 1940-1941 and 1944-1952, as people fled to the West, were deported to Siberia, or killed battling communist forces.

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