January 19, 2014

STOP: Roma and Arabs Not Permitted

‘NO, it’s a private evening.’ ‘NO, the club’s full.’ ‘NO, your dress code is not right.’ Or just a simple ‘NO’. Why? ‘No entrance for gipsies and Arabs – with such words foreigners are greeted at the doors of night clubs and bars in Vilnius. The journalistic experiment shows that people of different ethnicities are not permitted to enter places of fun.

By Evelina Talandytė, Justė Kudžmaitė, Juta Liutkevičiūtė, Rimantė Steponavičiūtė

discriminationAt Friday night life in the Old town of Vilnius is boiling – doors of night clubs just won’t close, bars are fully packed, and people stand together shoulder to shoulder. There’s a magic mixture of sound, lights and scents in the air. A group of people stop in front of the night club security: ‘May we enter?’

A group of journalists decided to analyze what seems to be an invisible and untouched problem in the city – racism at night clubs. Different groups of people, including two Roma, an African and three Arabs tried to go out to different night clubs in Vilnius Old town for two weekends in a row. But the fun ended before evening even started – the foreigners didn’t  hold up to a strict look of the bouncers.

Living in Roma Encampment should not be a reason for discrimination

The group stops at the first club on their way – Cocainn – and Zita, a Roma, is immediately stopped by the bouncer. He doesn’t explain to Zita why she can’t enter the club. At the same time the young journalist Rimantė, who’s still a minor teenager, is admitted with no problem. It is enough for her to show her student ID card and explain that she doesn’t carry any other form of identification and she’s granted the permission for a night of fun.

Zita’s story repeats the other night as well. She together with her brother are not allowed to enter clubs of Paprazzi and Seacret. After hearing a short phrase ‘A private evening’ Zita is about to turn around and try her luck elsewhere, but she sees the other participants of the experiment getting into the club with no problem. Zita asks for explanation, she says she has the same rights as other guests. ‘I am telling you one more time – the club has the right not to admit people without any explanations’, a woman hears the blunt sentence from the security of the club.

Zita is not surprised by the turn of events. Having been born and raised in Lithuania, she knows the explanation – she’s the Roma. According to the woman, social minorities are discriminated in Lithuania. ‘I’ve met some security guys who are short of words to even try to explain why they treat me differently from others. It’s really not the first time when I am not allowed to enter a club just because of my ethnicity. This is the reason why I agreed to participate in the experiment as well. I always wanted to do something like that, just didn’t know how,’ says Zita.

Doesn’t have to explain

Three out of four owners of night clubs don’t want to see the Roma people as their guests, the experiment shows. ‘First, you have to look at the Muslims and Roma themselves. We don’t categorize people according to their ethnicity – it simply means we set other criterion as a priority,’ the representative of Paparazzi, who didn’t want to give his name, explains the reasons why some foreigners are left behind the door of the club.

At the door of Paparazzi:

BouncerGood evening. We can’t let you in (…) You can enter only if you’re 23 or more.

ZitaI can show you my passport (…)

BouncerWe can’t let you in.

ZitaBut we have the papers.

BouncerYou can’t enter.

The director of the Cocainn club, Benas Adriūnas, is more specific. ‘What’s there to comment on? It’s obvious why they weren’t allowed into the club. We don’t have to give explanations to anyone. It’s our club, our private space and we choose our guests. You ask questions that everybody knows the answers to. What’s there to discuss about? Roma people describe themselves as thieves, how can we invite them in? We don’t have to tell why we do things the way we do it. It’s the policy of the club and that’s it,’ says the manager of the club.

At the door of Cocainn:

Bouncer[to the journalist] Your ID. [to Zita] You won’t enter.

ZitaGood evening, you’re not letting me in again? Can you tell me why?

JournalistCan’t we come in together?

BouncerNo.

ZitaBut why?

Bouncer: I don’t have to explain it to you.

The research of the societal attitudes conducted by the ‘Baltic Surveys’ also reveals the fact that superstitions about the Roma community are still strong. According to the research, seven years in a row the Roma is the mostly disliked ethnical group in Lithuania. Six from ten people surveyed – more than half – would not like to live in the same neighborhood with the Roma.

Egyptian: this has happened for the first time

Ehab from Egypt is currently living in Vilnius. He has been discriminated at night clubs. Ehab is always around foreigners – he’s working as a consultant for the newly coming immigrants. However, he says it’s the first time in his life when he was not allowed to enter a club in Vilnius – Ehab and his friends were stopped by bouncers at Paparazzi club. ‘I felt really bad. Even if I wanted to party at this particular club, as all normal people do, I have the right to choose where to go,’ says Ehab. He thinks the main reason why his friends and he were left behind the doors is their origin. ‘The bouncer didn’t know where we are from. At the moment I really didn’t understand what was happening. Apparently, it all depends on how you look: dark hair and skin. We just look different,’ says Ehab.

Even though the Egyptian was surprised by the results of the experiment, he says that not very friendly attitudes of Lithuanian businessmen towards foreigners are no news to him. The following weekend a friend of Ehab also couldn’t get into a night club.  ‘I am 100 percent sure this happened because of his ethnic looks. Maybe he was mistaken for Roma, even though he’s from Georgia. The bouncers, of course, didn’t reveal him the reasons why he was not allowed to enter,’ says Ehab.

Doors open to Africans

Jite, a Nigerian who’s a volunteer at the same Migrant Information and Consultation Center PLIUS as Ehab, also took part in the experiment. A former student of Mykolas Romeris University has more luck. He says he hasn’t got any problems getting into bars and clubs in Vilnius. The experiment reveals the same – bouncers were friendly with Jite and didn’t disturb his evening in all the clubs.

‘Everyone talks to me, both old and young,’ says Jite. However, he thinks Lithuanians are still very careful about foreigners. ‘They don’t discriminate, Lithuanians are just a bit more reserved and communicate more carefully with you,’ says Jite, ‘for example, Caucasian girls are a bit afraid of African boys. I guess their opinion is formed by articles or movies.’

 No hurry to complain

People of all ethnicities are guarded from discrimination while purchasing goods or services by the Lithuanian law of equal opportunities. The advisor of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson Laima Vengalė-Dits says that those who break the law are punished. ‘If we deduct the violation, the most severe sanction is a fine from 100 to 2000 Litas. We can also warn the infringer or order to stop the illegal actions,’ says the specialist. ‘But the fine doesn’t always provide the most efficient results, because businessmen pay it and continue their discriminatory actions,’ says Mrs. Vengalė-Dits.

After evaluating the results of the experiment, the specialist says the clubs might have indeed broken the law. ‘It seems people were not allowed to enter without any substantial reason. We may guess it happened because of their ethnicity that was judged by their looks,’ says the equal rights specialist, ‘if this is really the case, it’s a violation and you can’t do it.’

However, Mrs. Vengalė-Dits says people do not complain about such cases of the discrimination to the Ombudsperson office often. But she has heard of similar cases in other European countries. ‘I’ve heard of cases in United Kingdom when Africans weren’t allowed into clubs or bars, also, similar examples from Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia.’ According to her, in other countries mostly Muslims and Africans experience such forms of discrimination.

Surveys show that Lithuanians have negative attitudes not only towards Roma people, but also other ethnic and religious groups like Chechens and Muslims. But these groups usually don’t report incidents of discriminations, confirms Ramūnas Matonis, the representative of the Police Department.

Birutė Sabatauskaitė, a lawyer at the Lithuanian human rights center, explains that people who are discriminated because of their language, ethnicity, origin, race and religion usually do not file complains due to several reasons. ‘First, they can’t always identify discrimination. They also don’t believe they might get help from police or the Office of Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson. From the conversations we have with minorities, it is clear people don’t believe anyone will pay attention to their complaints. They also have actually encountered ignorance or heard about it from their friends,’ says Sabatauskaitė. According to the lawyer, some people avoid complaining because they are affraid to lose their jobs. ‘They’re afraid it would cause negative attitudes towards them.’

Sabatauskaitė says the results of the experiment might be very well explained by society’s attitude towards the Roma community. ‘Despite the fact that the Roma community is rather small, it is one of the mostly isolated in Lithuania,’ says Sabatauskaitė. But the attitudes towards Muslims vary: some members of the community say they don’t experience any kind of discrimination, others feel the negative attitudes.

The lawyer says the results of the experiment definitely show cases of discrimination. ‘The complaints to the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson must be filed,’ the lawyer advices.

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