Lithuanian culture minister applauds those speaking out about sexual misconduct

Julija Steponaitytė, Šarūnas Bartas

Culture Minister Liana Ruokytė-Jonsson on Monday voiced her support for women and men who come forward about sexual abuse as public accusations of sexual misconduct were made against Lithuania's internationally-known film director Šarūnas Bartas.

"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.

The minister's comment came after Lithuanian actress Julija Steponaitytė and artist Paulė Boculaitė publicly accused the award-winning film director of sexual misconduct.

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

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.

"Let's wait for the results before speaking about any measures," Ruokytė-Jonsson said.

Rolandas Kvietkauskas, director of the Lithuanian Film Center, told BNS that "there is too little information to make any judgments", adding they were waiting for Bartas' explanation.

Steponaitytė said on Facebook last Friday 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 website on Monday, 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 rumors about other girls having been abused by Bartas.

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

Bartas has offered no public explanation so far. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Paulė Boculaitė, 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 Moletai. 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.

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said on Facebook that he would move for "a review of the film director's cooperation with the local authority".

Aleksandras Zubriakovas, the mayor's spokesman, told BNS that the city leased premises for Bartas' Kinema studio on preferential terms. According to the spokesman, the lease agreement has already expired and the city council will have to decide on whether or not to renew it.

"In the mayor's opinion, the agreement should not be renewed," he told BNS.

Bartas, 53, is a Lithuanian National Culture and Arts Prize laureate and a multiple winner of the Lithuanian film industry's Sidabrine Gerve (Silver Crane) awards. His films are presented in Cannes and other festivals.

Source: BNS
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