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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 13:48 GMT
Lithuania flowers sprout race row
By Laura Sheeter
BBC News, Riga

Tarp Geliu website
The florist offers white delivery hussars at a cheaper rate
In the Baltic state of Lithuania a complaint about the delivery price for a bouquet of flowers has led to the country's first official investigation into alleged racial discrimination.

The Lithuanian Ombudsman's office says it received a complaint that a florist in the city of Kaunas was charging different rates for flowers to be delivered, depending on the colour of the delivery man's skin.

A spokesman for the office says most of the complaints they receive are about age or gender discrimination, and that they are taking this, their first investigation into an allegation of racial bias, very seriously.

Lithuania is among the 10 countries which joined the European Union in 2004 - bringing the former Soviet republic into line with EU legal standards.

The flower shop in question, Tarp Geliu (Between Flowers), was advertising a Valentine's Day offer, charging 40 litas (12 euros or 8) for its black delivery man dressed up as a hussar to deliver a bouquet of flowers.

However, the same flowers delivered by a white man wearing a similar uniform only cost 25 litas.


The Lithuanian Ombudsman says that a resident of Kaunas complained to them that, as the only difference between the two offers was the colour of the delivery man's skin, it amounted to racial discrimination.

The flower shop's owners say they were surprised to hear about the investigation - and they do not believe they have a case to answer.

The "black hussar" is a Somali man called Thomas Amaikar, who moved to Lithuania six years ago and has been working at the shop for the past four years.

In that time, the owners say he has become well-known in Kaunas, as a symbol for their firm: he is featured in all the shop's advertising and even pictured on the company calendar.

The flower shop says it charges more for Mr Amaikar's celebrity and because he is in high demand, not simply because he is black.

Customer satisfaction

In any case, they say, this is not discrimination; they are simply asking different prices for different services.

Lithuania's population of nearly 3.5 million people is almost exclusively white. Black people are a rarity even in Kaunas, the country's second largest city.

That could make it hard for the Ombudsman to decide whether the florist is indeed charging more for the delivery man's celebrity, or if this is racial discrimination. If they decide that it is discrimination, then the florist could face a fine of more than 1,000 euros.

But the shop's owners said they would not change the price for deliveries, as there were plenty of customers keen to book the "black hussar" to deliver flowers to their loved ones on Valentine's Day.

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