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Famous Lithuanian film director suffers backlash amid sexual misconduct accusations

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Lithuanian cinema director Šarūnas Bartas

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Although the list of powerful Lithuanian men accused of sexual misconduct is nowhere to match the similar compilation in the United States, where many women have busted an army of entertainment industry big-names, politicians and other public life celebs, however, the wave of woman revelations of men’s unwanted sexual advancement has reached Lithuania, too.

In fact, some cases of the kind in Lithuania go back a year or so, when the Western world has not yet embarked on the outing of salacious skirt-chasers.

«Indeed, I believe that the Lithuanian women’s coming forward and speaking out of inappropriate sexual conduct against them will not be single cases of the sort in Lithuania. I think the trend (of women speaking out of cases of sexual harassment) is clearly shaping up and that is a good thing,» Vilija Žukauskaitė, director of Kaunas women association, told BNN.

At the cusp of sexual scandals in Lithuania stands Šarūnas Bartas, a 53-year-old Lithuanian National Culture and Arts Prize laureate and a multiple winner of the Lithuanian film industry’s Sidabrinė Gervė (Silver Crane) awards. His films are presented in Cannes and other festivals.

Lithuanian actress Julija Steponaitytė and artist Paulė Bočulaitė publicly accused the award-winning film director of sexual misconduct.

Steponaitytė recounts a sexual assault experience in a studio after a casting session and Bočulaitė claims that she was sexually harassed by Bartas in his country mansion.

The former confessed on her Facebook personal account that she had been sexually assaulted by the film director five years earlier. She was 20 at that time.

In an interview released by the 15min.lt news, the actress said that the incident had occurred in a studio after a casting session.

«We stayed afterwards for drinks. After a few hours of talking when I was really drunk, he took my hands and started repeating a mantra that we were adults and that everything that was happening was good, as he felt I liked him, and that the feeling was mutual. He tried to talk me into this, at the same time touching my hands and trying to get closer. At one point, he undressed me, and from then on it is very difficult for me to talk,» she said.

Steponaitytė said that she had decided to speak out after seeing women share their sexual harassment or abuse experiences under the #MeToo hashtag on social media and hearing rumours about other girls having been abused by Bartas

The actress said that she would take the man to court upon her return to Lithuania.

Paulė Bočulaitė, an artist and stage designer, also claims that she was sexually harassed by Bartas some five years ago.

In an audio recording released on Nanook.lt, the young woman recounts a sexual harassment incident she experienced while working as the art director on one of Bartas’ films in his country house in Molėtai. After having drinks, the film director allegedly began to harass her and threw things at her. The woman called police, who fined the man around 44 euros for petty hooliganism and seized his firearm.

Bartas repeatedly denied sexual misconduct accusations against him by the female artists.

«In my response to the society in connection to the accusations made against me on Facebook, I would like to state I disagree with the accusations,» Bartas said in a statement sent to BNS, a news agency.

The director said he respected his own privacy and that of other people, therefore, would not «defend or make any explanations on social networks or the media.»

In response to the reports, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius of the Liberals said he would propose the municipal council to refuse Bartas’ studio a preferential lease of premises in central Vilnius.

Bartas said on Tuesday he would move out of the premises himself.

«In response to the public statement by the Vilnius mayor, I am stating that if you want to drive us out of the studio amid a scandal that has not been validated by any evidence, I have to say that we will not wait for the consequences and are as of this moment refusing cooperation with the Vilnius city municipality and will hand over the premises to the municipality by the end of the week,» said the director.

In the fallout of the scandal, organisers of the popular film festival Serseliafam have decided to exclude the movie featuring Bartas, the film director under the suspicion of sexual harassment, from the opening night.

The movie «I am Katya Golubeva» tells about Bartas’ late wife and features Bartas in some of the episodes.

Golubeva, who rose to stardom in France, died under mysterious circumstances in Paris back in 2011. After the loss, Vilnius director Natalija Ju decided to make a movie about her old friend.

Ju said she had written to the organizers of the festival asking to withdraw the movie from the festival amid the scandal.

Lithuanian culture Minister Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson has also voiced her support for women and men who come forward about sexual abuse as public accusations of sexual misconduct were made against the internationally-known film director.

«Our society has to applaud (them). We can’t tolerate such things, so I strongly support all women, as well as men, who dare to speak about this problem,» she told reporters.

When asked about the Culture Ministry’s further cooperation with Bartas, the minister said that she would first wait for law-enforcement bodies’ findings and for an explanation from the film director himself.

Rolandas Kvietkauskas, director of the Lithuanian Film Centre, believes that «there is too little information to make any judgments,» adding the Centre was waiting for Bartas’ explanation.

Many Lithuanian celebrities have come in support of the actresses who dared to speak publicly about the famous film director’s sexual escapades. However, Marijonas Mikutavičius, an A-tier Lithuanian entertainment industry star, has cast a doubt on the credibility of the actresses’ accounts, suggesting they told of what happened to them in a fashion «long time ago, one day with no one around…»

The majority disapproved of his stance, however.

Meanwhile, Erika Račkytė, another actress, sued her former boss, Linas Marijus Zaikauskas, director of Panevėzys Juozas Miltinis theatre, accusing him of sexual coercion.

The sexagenarian theatre head, who was sacked by the Culture Ministry in the wake of the scandal, denies any wrong-doing. The case is being heard behind the closed doors.

The actress has told Lithuanian media that Zaikauskas has repeatedly hinted that she can expect success in her career only of she has sexual intercourse after a newly launched performance. Otherwise, she would be forced to leave the theatre. The gal did not give in to the coercion and turned her boss to law enforcement.

This week, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court on Monday has finished hearing the impeachment case of MP Kęstutis Pukas charged with sexual harassment and has a month to finish its conclusion whether the MP’s actions were in violation of the country’s Organic Law.

«The phase of judicial disputes is complete, the court heard Pukas and his lawyers, as well as the claimant’s lawyer, and the court has a month to draw a conclusion or any other ruling. (…) The one-month time period is set by the law, however, if the court manages to agree on the text and accept it faster, things can evolve faster,» Constitutional Court President Dainius Žalimas told journalists after the Monday’s hearing.

He refused to comment on the case, saying the meeting had been held behind closed doors.

Upon arrival at the hearing, Pukas restated the sexual harassment charges had been fabricated but did not state any defence arguments. After leaving the courtroom, he said his final speech stated that he had not violated the Constitution or the oath. He refrained from further comments.

The MP’s conduct is also subject to a pre-trial investigation. Prosecutors say that four women’s testimonies and information gathered as part of the pre-trial investigation provide reasonable grounds to suspect that Pukas between January and February 2017 sexually harassed persons subordinate to him.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.5253


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