by Geoff Vasil
Afunny thing happened on the way to the neo-Nazi march. I saw a man walking towards me, and thought I knew him. Apparently he thought the same thing, and we both said hello in Lithuanian as we passed one another. As I pondered how we might know each other, it came to me: I had seen him at an earlier neo-Nazi march, probably the one in Kaunas a month earlier. He thought I was a fellow marcher, apparently, or at least not an enemy to the cause.
But what is their cause? What does staking out a Lithuanian place in history, or taking pride in a mythical genetic complement, or taking pride in a language to which they have made zero contributions actually mean?
I was in a bit of a hurry. The reason was, besides leaving the house a little late, I wasn’t sure exactly when the march was supposed to start. In Kaunas the Lithuanian news portal Delfi.lt (a trans-Baltic phenomenon with URLs made with TLDs for Latvia and Estonia as well) had either been a victim or perpetrator/purveyor of disinformation (and is there a difference?) and had misdirected both the fascist youth and their would-be opposition to attend a march there on February 15th instead of the usual February 16th, the pre-World War II day of Lithuanian independence which, paradoxically, was called and is called the Day of the Restoration of Lithuania, a reference to the mediaeval Grand Duchy thereof rather than to the pre-World War II state of the same name made into a Soviet republic in 1940 and then again in 1945. Is the third time a charm? Time will tell. ANYway. I was in a hurry, because I knew the march had originally been slated for 3, but according to the internet oracle had rescheduled to 4 following official sanction from the city fathers for the fascists to march down the main street of the country’s capital on March 11, Lithuanian Independence Day (independence from the Soviet Union declared in 1990) carrying swastikas and calling for the mass murder of foreigners. What were the chances Delfi might not again be engaging in some disinformation campaign? I decided the chances were small, and 4 was the legit time for it to start, for the neos to assemble for a walk slated to start at exactly 4:15 PM. But there was a complication: I also knew Dovid Katz and Efraim Zuroff, enemies of the state No. 2 and No. 1 respectively, would be there at 3 PM, because Dovid is a man of his word and said he would be, and Efraim would follow suit, generally leaving such organizational decipherments to Dovid’s discretion and erudition. Small secret: Dovid understands Lithuanian, even if, out of a misplaced sense of discretion and humility he might not let on. When I translate for him, it’s usually just so he can be sure he got the precise nuance right the first time around. Anyway, the dynamic duo would be there, but depending on the tides and the position of Jupiter on the ecliptic, whether or not they would be both be assigned discrete body guards by the Lithuanian authorities was an open question. In Kaunas they both had one each, with a third roving agent keeping a general eye out. I could just picture Efraim wandering around the square like a lost sheep as the “patriots” tried to get him to pose for compromising group-selfies or something, or even worse possibilities. Kaunas had that violent vibe this year. There were reasons to suspect Vilnius would be worse: if the Delfi notice were correct, the same item quoted an assistant fascist youth organization director and organizer as saying a large number of foreign skinheads and neo-Nazis would be there. Well, she used different words, but that’s the idea. A different report said there would be no antifa, that they had been thoroughly shamed and routed by some exposé of their funding or something, and therefore called the 2015 neo-Nazi march a family affair, a fit place to bring the children. Reading the tea-leaves, I split the difference, planning to get there sometime after three and before three-thirty, during which time I would hope the ninja assassins hadn’t taken out the last Nazi hunter. Say what you like, but this isn’tUkraine, after all. Unpopular figures just don’t disappear THAT fast, not in 15 minutes surrounded by selfie-taking mobs and probably some MSM coverage as well.
In the event, I and Delfi were both half right. I was righter, about two-thirds, and Delfi was wronger, weighing in at about one-quarter truth to three-quarters disinfo, which is about the norm anywhere these days, exclusive of yours truly. The march had been rescheduled to coopt municipal government sanction, but the promised legions of German skins were not to be seen, and there was Efraim, all alone, on the margins, looking dignified, but vulnerable, and completely unguarded. I pulled my best Tonto and silently came up behind him, jumping like a cat onto a small stone bench blocking the path to his vital organs as he stood next to a phone booth. Do people ever use that phone booth? Come to think of it, I only know of two places which have phone booths now in Vilnius, and I’m sure you have to buy a card first. Anyway, I had a clean shot to his kidneys before he noticed me, and appeared beside him facing the same direction, not saying a word. I’m sure I am completely annoying when I do shit like that. It’s all fun and games until your kidneys show up at the organ black market in Marrakech. “Where’s Dovid?” were the first words to emerge from his mouth. Not a good sign. They had come separately, probably at 3 PM, and were isolated because there was a major event going on on Cathedral Square, the exact center of Vilnius (some say the exact center is the courtyard outside St. John’s Church inside the walls of Vilnius University, but this is clearly a minority view), on Lithuanian Re-Re-Independence Day. It was the state-sponsored and -announced joint concert by the wind-instrument military orchestras of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The neo-Nazi youth were supposed to meet at the horse statue, behind the sound stage, completely obscured from wider view this year.
We milled about for a few minutes. Eventually the Dovid delegation emerged from the martial concert audience into view. There was the ringleader cohorted by Simas Levinas, a leading figure in the Jewish community, and several local non-Jewish activists and religious figures. Everything swirled around Dovid, as if he were the axis mundi, the strange attractor of some chaos storm, or shitstorm or probably more accurate if less endearing, presiding over a mad flurry of photo opportunities not foregone. “Where’s Pinchos?” Dovid asked me. Not a good sign. Evidently Pinchos Fridberg, a Litvak’s Litvak and a man who looks like he could wrestle Vladimir Putin without shirt, both men without a shirt, and win easily, had gone off to find Efraim Zuroff. It wasn’t that anyone could take Mr. Pinchos unawares, it was that the wild-goose-running-around-circles routine might seriously ANNOY Mr. Pinchos, which would mean most of the city would be in a certain amount of collateral danger.
Just then, fascist youth leader Julius Panka, looking not so young as in previous years, appeared out of nowhere next to us, between us, the filthy Jews and Jew-enablers, and the horse statue, still turning green after all these years, probably green like the envy of the Estonians, the sculptor having been an Estonian, envious over Lithuania’s long and proud story of statehood while Danes and Germans pretty much treated the Estonians as cocktail waitresses and Shabbos goyim. But I digress. Panka, whose name sounds a lot like “punk” in Lithuanian (and “bank” in Estonian) but who of course is on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum from punks, was there with his daughter, apparently part of the “make it so” school of fascist youth organization prophecy concerning the family nature of the “outing.” He wasn’t JUST there with his daughter, he was posing for pics with her. I assume it was his daughter and not a rental. Anyway, this strange scene was soon replaced by a Mr. Ričardas Čekutis (search Defending History for his sordid tale) standing and posing in the exact same place Panka had stood but without HIS daughter. Or son. Apparently Čekutis took “paternal leave” from his regular job as senior PR specialist at Lithuania’s so-called Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania, but keeping his night job as a fascist youth organizer. Yes, he has done both for years, and no one sees any contradiction or problem at all in this, apparently, even when he praises ethnic and ideological cleansing carried out in Lithuania by the Nazis in public internet and social media fora, and calls for the drawing up of lists of “enemies of Lithuania,” seemingly subjects for future “liquidation.” The Genocide Center was recently mistranslated as the Holocaust Center in a Jerusalem Report piece based on a JTA report which quoted Dovid Katz but got the general gist of the whole situation a little wrong. The Genocide Center is not a Holocaust center and only installed a Holocaust room with a stained-glass Star of David a la a Catholic shrine many years after Dovid began pointing out the anti-Semitic exhibits exhibited there without commentary, and the lack of mention of this Holocaust thing in toto. That a neo-Nazi leader might continue to work at an institution dedicated to obfuscating the Holocaust in Lithuania is not such a surprise, really. I could not figure out why he didn’t bring his child to the “outing.”
While he was posing (is he ever not posing?), Amit, the head of the Lithuanian Union of Jewish Students, appeared behind him, spoiling the photo-op with a sign which read “I [HEART] LITHUANIA” except instead of a heart symbol it was the mógn-dóvid (star of David). None of it made any sense to me personally, except the mischievous smile she was wearing, and all of a sudden I was in love, Amit became the most beautiful person I had ever seen, an oasis in a dry land, and my eyes did drink. It was fairly funny, the whole spectacle, and I took some photos of her and her sign.
It also apparently pissed off some of the neos, who made a poster out of her and her sign, with a caption about her and “a Negro cohort” who “trolled” the patriotic ultranationalist youth, obviously trying to provoke them to illegal action or some such.
About this time Pinchos Fridberg, the retired physics professor, appeared, looking none the worse for the goose chasing. He immediately apprehended at a glance all that happened, a sort of Chuck-Norris-like ability he has, and greeted Efraim and Dovid. By this time some “Russian channel” had started filming the Last Nazi Hunter and he broke off a chat with two younger men who appeared somewhat out of place and perhaps even suspicious to me. Since VAD and VSD had NOT assigned any security detail to Zuroff, I decided to look into them a little. One was a young man who claimed to be from Quebec originally, working in Belgium as a reporter who had done extensive reporting on Holocaust issues, he said. His minion was sort of a handsome younger man with blue eyes and short hair, and an infectious smile. The alleged reporter was taller and didn’t smile much. He became visibly unhinged when we spoke about Ukraine and I said I didn’t believe there were Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine. He tried various means and tactics and arguments, none of them very honest, to dissuade me, doing all the usual appeals to authority, straw man, false analogies etc. stuff, and then said I was behaving as the Germans had during the Holocaust, refusing to see what was going on. I could have said the same of him to him, but I was more interested in his body language at this point. He was on the verge of becoming physical with me, despite maintaining a very cool and reserved exterior for the whole extent of our interaction. Then his partner began to speak to me in Lithuanian. I realized they were probably from the other side, from the Aryan side, and trying to infiltrate our group as erstwhile or seeming supporters or at least reporters. Anyway, the march had started, and I rushed off to join our group on the margins, and did not see the Quebecois Belgian reporter or his Lithuanian fixer ever again.
At this point I did see a representative of the Lithuanian Jewish Community with whom I am personally acquainted photographing the march and merging with our little group of observers/protestors. Did we protest at all? No, but our presence apparently speaks volumes, and judging from the calls made to us from the march and at the end of the march, most of our party are well known to the marchers, if not from liquidation lists, then from the mainstream media reports. But as I said before, this isn’t Ukraine, and most Lithuanian skinheads and fascists are polite people and probably the sort of boy you wouldn’t mind letting take your daughter out to a movie, if circumstances were different and they weren’t involved in their jack-ass chauvinist movements.
The LJC representative was the first such I had ever seen at any of the marches. In earlier years members of the community had on rare occasions attended to observe, but not staff, and not officially. This was a change.
I asked her if she knew what such-and-such flag meant, and she correctly identified it as being from such-and-such movement. I was impressed. She knew more than 99% of the Lithuanian public did about extremist symbols. Whatever they’re paying her, it’s not enough.
Imagine my surprise and how confounded to the point of distraction I was when just a few paces further on and across the street we ran into Faina Kukliansky, the chair of the LJC, observing the procession. She, too, had turned out to witness for herself what was going on here. I had seen her—along with Markas Zingeris, the director of Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum—in earlier years at events such as the Tolerant Youth march held on the same day to protest the neo-Nazis, but I had never seen any staff or executives at the actual neo-Nazi march until today, when at least two appeared. This was a good sign.
At this point it became clear that VAD or VSD or Vilnius police or SOMEBODY had assigned a security man to Dovid but none to Efraim. Dovid ran off ahead to take photos, as he does at these things, and was probably already outside the so-called Vilnius Jewish Library halfway through the parade route by the time we noticed he was gone. I decided to protect Efraim as best I could. I may not be really strong or learned in the arts of combat, but since I quit smoking a few months ago I’ve really billowed at the waste, and could probably block a dull knife blade or take a punch if I needed to. Probably, in the event, Milan Chersonski would save us both, I decided. The bad part about pretending to be Efraim’s bodyguard was that I did at least twice the walking he did, circling around and getting between him and whomever. By the time I got home I had a blister on my right foot, but maybe it sort of compensates for all the weight I gained recently from giving up cigarettes, time will tell.
As I said, the foreign skins never appeared, but up towards the front the “Skinhead Lietuva” (Lietuva is Lithuanian for “Lithuania”) with the swastika in the corner flew proudly, as did for whatever reason a Slovakian flag, and the assorted white-armband-trinacria-swastika flags originally developed by fascist youth leader and Lithuanian historian Marius Kundrotas’s group of idiots, jackasses and disaffected white kids. Our sub-delegation of observers, reduced to three or four people, and then just Efraim and me, didn’t hear “Lithuania for Lithuanians” chanted, but others ahead of us did. Efraim noted the absence of the usual Brazaitis banner at the vanguard, at the cutting edge of the spear, as it were. Brazaitis was a Nazi lackey whose subversive pro-Nazi group announced itself the head of the Lithuanian state when the Nazis invaded in the summer of 1941. “They reburied him,” I joked, and Efraim laughed. Brazaitis was dug up in Connecticut, repatriated to Lithuania and reburied with state and Church honors in Kaunas a few years ago. “WE buried him,” Efraim said. He was also in favor of taking credit for the lack of “Lithuania for Lithuanians” this year, but little did we know what was happening up the street, mere hundreds of meters away from us. We couldn’t know. Until it was too late.
What was happening was Dovid was taking pictures of the Vilnius Jewish Library sign again and noting the absence of any protest at all from the library’s (strictly non-Jewish) staff. We caught back up to him a little ways on from there. The march and we were making our way to what I guess is called Independence Square, the square outside the now-old Lithuanian parliament building where Sajudis and the Lithuanian people stood on guard for thee back in 1990, awaiting an invasion by Soviet tanks and troops there. There’s a large Soviet-era fountain there, shaped like a pyramid, and recently I think converted to some sort of large map, the pool turned into a giant planter box. The old parliament was the Supreme Soviet parliament building the Soviets built for Soviet government in Lithuania after World War II. The march was supposed to conclude there with some brief speeches and then disperse, according to the fascist youth organizers quoted by Delfi.
A funny thing happened on the way. Efraim, Dovid and I ran into Emanuelis Zingeris, Lithuania’s Jewish Holocaust “fixer” and a major proponent and founder of Communist-Nazi equivalency in the form of the Prague Declaration (he was the only Jew in Europe to sign it). Dovid thought that Emanuelis lives not far from where we ran into him, and he did have that look of being overtaken by history or something as he was just trying to get to the corner shop to buy some coffee. We all shook his hand, adding to the historical dissonance in fractal forms modern science is powerless to trace. He was friendly enough, but really did not want to be there, probably because of the march more than because of the three or two of us, and the conversation in Yiddish, barely comprehensible above the roarings of the maddening crowd, ended abruptly when someone suggested a photo of the threesome, he excused himself politely and went off, widdershins the direction of the marchers, on the sidewalk, though our comrade-in-arms Julius Norwilla managed to capture a photo of the awkward threesome.
“He seemed somewhat catawampus,”I declared. “As if he had just woken up from a long winter’s nap.” Dovid cautioned me about using words whose definitions I don’t fully understand, and the marchers began chanting “Neither for the East nor for the West, Lithuania for Lithuania’s children!” Someone said it was a line from a famous Lithuanian writer. Someone said “Venclova.” Efraim said he liked Tomas Venclova and had met him personally, and praised his work. I wondered out loud, “what about the North, and the South? Can Lithuania be for those directions?” Efraim said the main thrust was along the East-West axis, to which I asked, somewhat but not entirely rhetorically, whether it were possible or not to actually move a country a little bit east, or a little bit west, and would it be the same country, or would it be like that river which is never the same, or would it be like that Australian dog, the dingo… Mercifully, the fascists interrupted me at this point with their little speeches on a podium placed between the street and the little patch of grass in front of the Mažvydas National Library right next to the parliament. The “Skinhead Lietuva” flag with a stylized SS single “S” and its little corner swastika (upper right corner, which is all wrong in any system, but no one ever accused Lithuanian skinheads of being heraldry experts) flew in all its nylon glory for the entire hour with the Lithuanian parliament as a backdrop. The speakers were varied, but began with Panka, who told us “We are cooperating closely with Right Sector” in Ukraine, and said something about sending widows and orphans there canned goods, and probably moved on through Čekutis, although I couldn’t see properly, the Nazis were too thick in front us, the land lay heavy with them as they chirped into the eventide. One funny flag I hadn’t seen before appeared, a St. George’s Cross I guess it is, from England, with ENGLAND written in white on the red horizontal brace, just so no one would be confused, or worse, misidentify it as some sort of Soviet naval ensign or something.
And here is where the promised foreign fascist support entered into the Spanish civil war, oops, I mean into the Vilnius neo-Nazi march of 2015. First it was a Latvian fellow who spoke in Latvian, which was followed by a translation in Lithuanian. None of it was very audible or interesting. Next an inaudible England-first lad spoke or mumbled, but above it all was heard his words about the BBC: “Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation.” The Lithuanian translation which followed was both audible and boring. Then it was an Estonian fellow who spoke in English of inroads some new pseudo-fascist Estonian party had made in the Estonian parliament. Efraim knew exactly what he was talking about and was able to tell me without hesitation when I asked that the party had won seven seats out of Estonia’s 101. The Estonian fascist probably made the best case for fascism of the three foreigners, but it was jarring to hear his accented English, sort of a self-caricature or a Swedish-cook character from the Muppets or something, and I found myself longing for English fascism and its speaker, if only the volume had been turned up to 11. Not really. The Englishman had delivered his one line, that was enough. His organization was National Action, of which no one in our group had heard prior to this family outing.
As Skinhead Lietuva waved and reminded us all why were there, Petras Gražulis, Lithuania’s most beloved homophobe and general opponent of anything ethnic, appeared as if from the midst of a whirlwind invisible to mortal eyes, and began photo-opping like mad. Fascist youth leaving the event greeted him on a first name basis, and he greeted them back, although he didn’t know their names.
Dovid thanked his assigned security guard, wished everyone a happy Independence Day, and told me he knew his watcher from previous years, he was a regular security guard assigned to Dovid. I informed him no one had thought of Efraim in Vilnius. We went for coffee with a local Polish Protestant pastor and spoke of bachelorhood, family, keeping Jewish families Jewish. This last topic was brought on by the pastor’s quip that his eligible son might want to marry Efraim’s daughter to which the reply was uttered in a friendly but resolute voice: “Buddy, it’s not gonna happen.”
Looking back on this March 11th, I guess the main events were the leavings, the embarkation and disembarkation. At Cathedral Square there were perhaps 1,000 fascist youth squeezed in behind the sound stage as musicians all in military uniforms and bearing large horn instruments left in single file. The expressions the martial musicians wore were inscrutable, whether they even realized through what sort of company they were passing I do not know. Then at the parliament, when it was all over, with about 1,500 marchers now dispersing as promised, I again thought about the strange conversation we had had with the Quebecker or alleged Quebecker about Ukraine at the horse statue.
Many years ago I worked for a news agency, over a period totaling several years but with breaks during which I left the country and came back. At one point, probably in 1999 or 2000, I remember watching at work a news item on television, a view from the Ukrainian Rada. What was newsworthy was a fist-fight. This was not long after Zhirinovsky in Russia made a name for himself as a contender for the boxing ring not adverse to flinging water at people with whom he disagreed. As I remember the Rada fist-fight, an impassioned man at the podium refused to give up the microphone, and an equally impassioned MP hurled himself at him, after which everything went to hell like a bar fight in an American western. I had seen some parliament fights before, probably from Italy or South Korea, but it wasn’t commonplace, and it was news. And I remember talking to my boss there, a very intelligent man with a real nose for news and journalism and style in general, a man named Edvinas, who said, thank God Lithuania doesn’t have that. What he meant was, and this is my interpretation of course with a certain amount of educated guessing, OK, we may not be a traditional democracy, we might not be a developed civil society, but that’s not how we pass power, we pass it democratically and in a civilized manner, without physical violence. Now, and these are my words, not Edvinas’s at all, since 1990/1991, when Lithuania declared independence, went through economic blockade by Gorbachev and emerged victorious and independent, “people power” revolutions such as Lithuania’s have grown into a science, the “colored revolutions” the Western powers try to foist on the Eastern world. Maybe it was always art, maybe Gorbachev’s dismantling of Communist Eastern Europe and then Yeltsin’s “knifing” of the Soviet Union were all part of such a choreographed project, and there are some reasons to think they were (even the most skeptical observer of the fall of the Communist East tended to believe the Romanian revolution was “the real thing,” but even Romania’s coup d’etat turns out to have been planned for decades and staged). Maybe it’s all the same as it always was, but there is a difference between what happened in Lithuania in 1990 and 1991, and what is happening in Ukraine now, despite any convergence of Great Power geopolitical interests in both cases.
Perhaps the boy who greeted me as I rushed to Efraim Zuroff’s side before the march didn’t care on which side I stood, perhaps that wasn’t his main consideration in greeting or snuffing me. Perhaps the Skinhead Lietuva people are simply misguided rather than actively evil. Perhaps civilized behavior trumps the possibility of extremist violence in Lithuania. I hope so, but I don’t think so. Still, “our” Lithuanian neo-Nazis are much different from the skinheads I’ve known in America, not nearly so violent, and not nearly so idiotic and blind in their belief-systems. “We’re cooperating closely” with Right Sector, Panka says, but then goes on to talk about canned food for widows and orphans, rather than the guns, tanks, heavy artillery and fighter jets Canada, the USA and Great Britain are actively seeking to insert into the Ukrainian civil war in the completely misguided notion that it is a good idea to poke the nuclear Russian bear with a stick, and that the bear will roll over and pretend he isn’t nuclear, isn’t Russian and isn’t even alive.
While I’m certainly no apologist for the neo-Nazis and their marches—I was the one who subtitled filmed material from their first march in Vilnius a few years ago which went bacterial but not viral on youtube—I do find myself asking that age-old question, “who is the animal, who is the most dangerous beast?” If the genetic-linguistic pride neo-fascist youth of Lithuania are dangerous, how much more dangerous are Cameron, Harper, Obama, Abbot and the others who may be capable of provoking Russia to thermonuclear war? If war does break out with Russia, I’m going to remember people such as Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė as one of the responsible parties. I’m going to blame Canada, and NATO, and the UK. As usual, the fascist youth are being used as patsies by the industrialists, bankers and powerbrokers to wage street-war and serve as cover for the takeover of the gold, resources and powers of sovereign states. It’s all happened before. It’s happening again.
And where WERE the antifa people this year? There was no protest at all this year of the Vilnius march except for Amit’s little sign. The rest of us were all technically observers (we had no signs, we chanted nothing, what Dovid Katz calls our “annual silent protests”). There were no gay rights groups on hand, or tolerant youth protests. This was a very bad sign. The dog didn’t bark. I think someone threw him meat laced with phenobarbital.