Geoff Vasil

Lithuania and Tolerance



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

2010 was an astonishing year for human rights in Lithuania. Toward the beginning of 2010 there were public demonstrations in the capital by self-designated patriotic youth, decked out in various paramilitary costumes, in plain clothes bearing variations on swastikas and wearing white arm bands. These Lithuanian neo-Nazis marched across the main streets and squares in Vilnius on independence day (March 11th), made a showing to protest against a silent march of people from the main square to a cemetery to honor the dead on Soviet Victory Day (May 9th), and most spectacularly managed to outnumber 10 to 1 Lithuania’s first gay pride march (May 8th) with a violent mob throwing objects, hurtling insults and proudly waving flags with pseudo-swastikas behind police lines. The gay pride march almost didn’t happen, as it hadn’t many years in a row, because of bureaucratic impedance from the Vilnius municipality over issuing a permit and from law enforcement and the parliament. The neo-Nazi marches, on the other hand, had support from within parliament, MPs who personally asked for, and got, permits from the city for a march. Several MPs also came to the anti-gay pride protest with bullhorns, stormed police barriers and generally foamed at the mouth, caught on camera.

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Baltic Media: Covering the Fascist Marches, or Covering Them Up?


 


O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

This year Lithuanian neo-Nazis organized by Marius Kundrotas, Ričardas Čekutis and Julijus Panka with Lithuanian MP Kazimieras Uoka as their mascot marched in Kaunas on February 16 and through central Vilnius on March 11. February 16 is the old, pre-World War II national day of independence while March 11 is the date in 1990 when the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet voted to restore national independence and exit the Soviet Union.

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How to hold an academic conference in a Soviet (and occasionally, in a post-Soviet) milieu



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

1. Line up the names of people who agree with you and are ideologically reliable or beholden to you for their ticket there and back. Best to use locals as far as possible with a big-wheel foreign invitee or two, provided they’re safe.

2. Do some stuff, make a program, maybe provide a tour to foreign academics, get them sauced. The program of events can be created on the fly, tailored to meet the needs of attracting the right set of people, using up funds allocated, etc. Be creative.

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Lithuanian Fascists Checking Lists of Citizens who Oppose Fascism



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

Ričardas Čekutis, an organizer of the March 11th 2011 neo-Nazi march through central Vilnius and the head of public relations at Lithuania’s Genocide Research Center, an institution nominally tasked with (and paid for by the taxpayers) to promote genocide research and education, recently answered some criticism of himself and his ideas, a neo-fascist political party and neo-Nazi marches, questions that were posed by Darius Kuolys.

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Eyewitness Report: ‘March of the Living’ at Ponar Killing Site near the Lithuanian Capital



E Y E W I T N E S S   R E P O R T  / O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

I attended the March of the Living today at Ponár (Polish Ponary, Lithuanian Paneriai), the mass killing site outside Vilnius, Lithuania. It is Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. I had been to Ponár only once before, because a friend of mine was afraid she would get lost taking the city buses there and back.

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What Happened when Holocaust Survivor Joseph Melamed Did Exactly what Historian A. Liekis Suggested?



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

The following is a reprint, with the author’s permission, of his article in London’s Jewish Chronicle this week.

Wreaths Laid, but Doubt Hangs in the Air

Today is Lithuanian Holocaust Day. This is the day the Vilna Ghetto was “liquidated” in 1943, but is not generally known among Lithuanians. It does not even appear on the Wikipedia list of Lithuanian holidays, although Molotov-Ribbentrop Day, August 23, does. September 23 usually receives a few minutes on the evening news — after it’s over.

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Nationalists’ Roundtable Discussion Invites Jewish Community Chairman to ‘Speak about Lithuania’



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

Medieval Lithuania was a colonial power in Europe stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. After the sixteenth-century union with Poland and the eighteenth-century partitions by other European powers that reduced Poland to nothing, Lithuania reemerged as a modern state in the aftermath of World War I based largely on the ethnic boundaries of the Lithuanian population. Then there was the contested region around the capital, Vilnius, the majority of whose population identified themselves as Poles (or Jews, or Belarusians, and others).

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No Limits to ‘History Shenanigans’?



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil (Vilnius)

According to a recent report on Delfi.lt, Lithuanian MP Gintaras Songaila, who has expressed support for the neo-Nazi marches through central Vilnius on Lithuania’s Independence Day, has recently begun disseminating a brochure to his fellow Lithuanian parliamentarians about alleged Polish atrocities against Lithuanians from before and during World War II. The brochure is based on a book by Algimantas Liekis called Black Pages in Lithuanian History.

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Is it Science, or Football?



E Y E W I T N E S S   R E P O R T  /  O P I N I O N  /  B O O K S

by Geoff Vasil (Vilnius)

A few friends asked me if I could attend a book presentation in Kaunas, since they couldn’t make it. The book is called Undigested Past: The Holocaust in Lithuania by Robert van Voren. It was published in English first as part of a series by the Rodopi publishing house on Eastern Europe. I’d never heard of van Voren, but people told me he was known for his books on psychiatric abuses in the Soviet Union. The poster for the event proclaimed boldly in Lithuanian that the conference’s official language would be English, which made me smirk, but an English-language version of the poster became available on the morning of the event.

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A Conference for Tolerance Day


 


O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

On Wednesday, November 16th 2011, the Tolerance Center in Vilnius hosted a conference called: Tolerance and Totalitarianism. Challenges to Freedom.

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Main Lithuanian Paper Caves In to Antisemitic Sentiment as Economy Sours



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

A colleague sent me a link to an article on the webpage of Lietuvos rytas that appeared in their Sunday edition during the first week of December, 2011 (PDF of the print version; full English translation;  report in Defending History.com). The heading on the email said the article was antisemitic.

Lietuvos rytas (“Lithuanian Morning”) has been Lithuania’s main newspaper pretty much since independence from the Soviet Union. The quality of the newspaper has varied over the years, but they at least usually refrain from printing overtly antisemitic material, whereas competing newspapers and their editors-in-chief have made this their bread and butter at certain periods, especially Lietuvos aidas and Respublika, although Lietuvos aidas has all but disappeared as a real newspaper and Respublika appears to have turned into an advertising-driven newspaper distributed for free.

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Petras Stankeras Rides Again: Rehabilitating Fascism for the Lithuanian Mainstream



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

Petras Stankeras appeared on the pages of DefendingHistory.com in late November 2010, after publishing on 14 November 2010 in the mainstream Lithuanian weekly magazine Veidas an article in which he called the Holocaust “a myth”, described Ribbentrop’s hanging as a lamentable case of “victor’s justice” (also praising the Nazi foreign minister for conducting himself heroically), and called the Nuremberg Trials “a farce”.  A full translation of the article is  available  here. A subsequent comment piece appeared in this journal early this year.

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Some Worrying Slippage at ‘Bernardinai.lt’?



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

Andrius Navickas, a religious studies expert and editor-in-chief of the Bernardinai.lt website, published a rather strange editorial at the end of 2011 taken from a speech he gave over Lithuanian Radio.

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Some Psycho-Sexual Undercurrents of the Lithuanian Independence Day Nazi March



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

 

Back in 2008 a friend and I put subtitles to the march by Lithuanian neo-Nazis through the capital, Vilnius, on independence day, and put the video with subtitles up on YouTube. Back then there was almost zero mention of the march where openly fascist youth chanted slogans about attacking and killing Jews and Russians, and the de rigueur “Juden raus.” Following the YouTube posting and as news travelled around the world, certain Lithuanian media figures and politicians felt the need to at least say something. Not much, but something.

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Light and Darkness Do Not Mix



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

 

Saulius Beržinis is an astounding filmmaker. Somehow the Lithuanian director of documentaries has a knack for drawing out frank admissions on camera, even from collaborators who recount how they murdered Jews.

Beržinis has a great reputation in Holocaust studies around the world, but, as the saying goes, a prophet is often unrecognized in his native land, and the cloak of invisibility around the Lithuanian Holocaust cast by the activists in the Double Genocide industry has marginalized the documentary maker at home, where his “The Happy Faces of the Murderers” is basically unknown.

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Discussion: Ambassador Linas Linkevičius and Geoff Vasil



O P I N I O N

An  English translation of Ambassador Linas Linkevičius’s recent article on Delfi.lt, followed by Geoff Vasil’s reply on DefendingHistory.com.


When Will We Comprehend the Whole Truth about the Holocaust?

by Linas Linkevičius

10 April 2012

 

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was characterized by diversity of religious belief and religious tolerance. Neither is it any accident that Lithuania was called the Northern Jerusalem for centuries. Cultural tolerance was the pride and strength of our country. Why is it that we have to speak of this in the past tense? Who edited our genetic code?

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Lithuanian Neo-Nazi Leader Calls for Murder of MPs



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

Ričardas Čekutis, “chief specialist” at Lithuanian’s state-sponsored Genocide Center in Vilnius old town, a fascist party leader and co-organizer of the annual neo-Nazi marches through Vilnius, has again made controversial comments on Facebook, this time apparently calling upon other Lithuanian neo-Nazis to murder three MPs. Two of the three are signatories to the Seventy Years Declaration (SYD) first published in DefendingHistory.com and presented to the president of the European Parliament in Strasbourg last month.

Confirming suspicions that SYD had angered not just the clique of apparatchiks who earn a good living from the Double Genocide industry in this part of the world, and had made wider waves in the Lithuanian neo-Nazi underground, Čekutis seemed to call for someone to shoot MPs Vytenis Andriukaitis, Justinas Karosas—both of whom signed the SYD—and the MP Petras Austrevičius.

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Litvak Devastates Second Kaunas Conference on Nazi Collaborator Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

last revision 26 May 2012, 23:55.


The second conference in Kaunas on the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister and Holocaust collaborator Juozas Ambrazevičius cum Brazaitis, held Thursday, May 24, was treated to some harsh facts presented by a living Litvak, Kovno (Kaunas) historian and Jewish tour guide Chaim Bargman.

Although Vytautas Magnus University initially agreed to and then reneged on a deal with the Lithuanian government to host the earlier “academic conference” last Saturday May 19 purely to adulate the “prime minister” of 1941, they changed their minds yet again—possibly under influence from chairman of their board of directors, former president Valdas Adamkus, who in 2011 celebrated the seventieth anniversary of the LAF fascists—and provided university resources this week for a second event announced as an open discussion event. To their great credit, they did webcast the event and have posted the video (here).

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Unelected 1941 Pro-Nazi Provisional Government of Lithuania Never Intended Good for Country



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

 

In May Lithuania celebrated the return of the ashes of the Nazi puppet prime minister of June, 1941, Juozas Ambrazevičius (who changed his surname to Brazaitis as a matter of convenience when he began using papers issued to one Brazaitis). The schizophrenic nature of the events were evident from the start, from the Kubilius government’s resolution allocating 30,000 litas in funding to celebrate the Lithuanian Nazi which, several items down the list, also allocated 3,000 litas for a project to “name the names,” to draw up a list of Lithuanian Holocaust victims, in conjunction with the Yad Vashem institution in Jerusalem.

The dissociative shell game continued when the government and state institutions sought to pawn off the events they financed on other institutions: the Catholic Church of the Resurrection of Christ in Kaunas, and an “academic conference/commemoration” planned at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. After a scandal broke and former professor now MEP Leonidas Donskis published an eloquent protest on DH, the rector of VMU, who didn’t want the heat, told the Nazi celebrators to find another venue, one supplied by the Kaunas municipality, the chambers of the Kaunas city council. Then, in keeping with the theme of schizophrenia, VMU decided to allow another “academic conference” on university premises, initially with the exact same list of speakers as the banned event.

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Crying Over Dead Jews



O P I N I O N

by Geoff Vasil

 

Lithuania’s Jewish community isn’t immune from the broader issues facing Jewish existence in Eastern Europe and there are the same problems of Jewish identity that crop up in Russia, Bulgaria, Poland and elsewhere. And just as there are Christian Evangelicals and others who support the policies of the right-wing in the State of Israel elsewhere in Europe, there are those same voices among Lithuanian politicians and public figures.

What is perhaps different in Lithuania than elsewhere in Eastern Europe is that this Gentile support for Zionist ideals doesn’t translate into support for the surviving local Jewish community or contribute to a profounder and more sympathetic understanding of the Holocaust.

UPDATE OF 5 AUGUST 2012: This essay was republished with permission in the Algemeiner Journal; in 15min.lt (where it seems to have been taken down, but is still listed in Search); in Jewish Ideas Daily (where it was chosen as one of the editor’s picks for 1 August 2012).

Visitors to Vilnius will see any number of plaques dedicated to famous Jewish residents of Vilnius and several dedicated to the Holocaust. Those who look a little deeper under the surface might find there are a number of agencies, organizations and institutions operating in Vilnius which seemingly are aimed at promoting Jewish history, language and culture. In fact, both the plaques and monuments, and the majority of these “Jewish” organizations, serve as little more than window-dressing and display show-cases the Lithuanian government rolls out as exhibits evidencing Lithuanian sincerity in addressing the incomparable atrocity of the Holocaust.

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