Baltic pagans ask pope for help over religious status battle

Latvian and Lithuanian neo-pagans have called on Pope Francis to end local Catholic opposition to their quest for religious recognition in the Baltic states, ahead of the pontiff's visit to the region Saturday.

Baltic pagans ask pope for help over religious status battle
Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP

Latvia's Dievturi congregation and Lithuania's Romuva community expressed respect for the pope in a joint message.

But they said that some in the Catholic hierarchy have been blocking their bid for the official status of a religion.

“We sincerely hope that, while you visit, You will urge the brothers and sisters of Your religious beliefs to respect our own religious choice and cease impeding our efforts to achieve national recognition of the ancient Baltic faith,” the groups said in a letter to the pope seen by AFP on Friday.

Ramunas Karbauskis, a farming tycoon and leader of Lithuania's governing Peasants and Green Union party, is widely regarded as having masterminded moves to accord Romuva legal status in the predominantly Catholic country.

The move would give pagan marriages and baptisms the same civil status as Christian, Jewish or Muslim ceremonies.

But the Lithuanian parliament has postponed examining the issue, a move some commentators attribute to the pope's visit.

The Romuva community numbers more than 5,000 followers, according to the 2011 census — more than the 3,000 Jews who enjoy legal status. 

There are no equivalent statistics available for the Latvian pagan community. 


New army scandal: Germany vows to punish soldiers caught singing anti-Semitic songs

Germany's Defence Minister on Tuesday vowed to severely punish soldiers stationed in Lithuania who were accused of singing racist and anti-Semitic songs, if the allegations turned out to be true.

New army scandal: Germany vows to punish soldiers caught singing anti-Semitic songs
German soldiers training in Saxony-Anhalt in May. credit: dpa-Zentralbild | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

“Whatever happened is in no way acceptable,” said Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Those implicated would be “vigorously prosecuted and punished”, she added.

The Spiegel Online news site had on Monday reported that German soldiers in Lithuania sang racist and anti-Semitic songs during a party at a hotel in April.

One had also sought to sexually assault another soldier while he was asleep, a scene which was caught on film, said Spiegel.

According to Spiegel Online, the scenes took place at a party at which soldiers consumed large quantities of alcohol. They are also alleged to have arranged a “birthday table” for Adolf Hitler on April 20th and to have sung songs for him.

It is unclear to what extent more senior ranked soldiers were aware of the incidents.

Three soldiers have been removed from the contingent stationed in the Baltic country and an investigation is ongoing to identify other suspects, said the report.

The German armed forces have been repeatedly rocked by allegations of right-wing extremism within their ranks.

Kramp-Karrenbauer last year ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

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