VILNIUS. One of the staples of diplomatic life here is the annual Hungarian National Day reception hosted by the Hungarian Embassy in Vilnius. Under the leadership of the previous ambassador to Lithuania, HE Péter Horváth Noszkó, his nation’s embassy became a locus of inter-community and inter-cultural dialogue that helped further civil society in the Lithuanian capital. He thereby raised his country’s profile to that of an open forum par excellence, where all — not least minority groups — could find a place here in this corner of the European Table.
It was therefore a rude shock today that the annual celebration, held at midday at the Narutis Hotel on Pilies Street, turned from a proud and legitimate tribute to Hungary’s long and courageous struggle against Soviet totalitarian domination to a platform for honoring a Lithuanian postwar ‘Forest Brother’ who is one of those implicated in participation in Holocaust genocide in 1941. The change in Hungarian government policy is generally attributed to the rise to power of the right-wing — many would say far-right — Fidesz government that came to power in Hungary’s April 2010 elections.
The ‘Forest Brother’ honored at today’s event is Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas (1918-1957), whose daughter Auksutė Ramanauskaitė-Skokauskienė, now a Lithuanian MP, was the keynote speaker. This turn in the program was introduced during the power-point presentation, when the internationally acclaimed heroism and courage of Hungary’s 1956 anti-Soviet rebels turned abruptly into an accolade for Ramanauskas-Vanagas, who was, quite amazingly, held up as a paragon of Lithuanian-Hungarian friendship.
But that was not the biggest shock of the event.
That was the invited presence of two infamous present-day Lithuanian fascists known for their public racism, antisemitism, homophobia and a brand of 1930s style ultranationalism that is doing modern Lithuania’s reputation vast damage. They are Marius Kundrotas and Julius Panka.
Marius Kundrotas is the head of the Lithuanian Nationalist Youth Center and runs the website patriotai.lt. He unsuccessfully contested Vilnius municipal elections in 2010 under the slogan ‘No Reds, No Pinkos, No Blacks and No Gypsy Caravans’. The party list he was on included Ričardas Čekutis, the publicly antisemitic Genocide Research Center ‘specialist’.
Julius Panka is the head of the Union of Lithuanian Nationalist Youth, which recently held a summer camp with state subsidies in Švenčionys called ‘Thank God I’m a Balt’ (an equally possible translation is ‘Thank God I’m White’), hosting ultranationalists from Latvia and Lithuania. He also protested a Polish anti-Nazi resistance commemoration in the Vilnius region this year.
Kundrotas and Panka have attended both the neo-Nazi marches through Vilnius and the protest against the Gay Pride march in Vilnius.
Panka earlier attacked the then Norwegian ambassador Steinar Gil, a celebrated human rights champion, for allegedly interfering in internal Lithuanian politics over comments the ambassador made during a public seminar held in the Lithuanian parliament on tolerance (at which he was among the first to speak out on a recent neo-Nazi march). Panka personally handed a petition to Ambassador Gil outside the Norwegian embassy in Vilnius, demanding an apology. The ambassador refused to give one and asked, rhetorically, how Lithuanians in Norway would feel if Norwegians marched shouting ‘Norway for Norwegians’.
Kundrotas on his website has accused the Dominion of Canada of turning a blind eye to pedophilia, which elicited a rapid and dignified response from the Canadian ambassador to Lithuania.