Once Again, Moral Abdication at the American Embassy in Vilnius?



C O M M E N T

In contrast to its potent and convincing public response to neo-Nazi events in the center of  Vilnius in earlier years, the current leadership of the American embassy in the Lithuanian capital has followed a pattern disturbing to many Americans, of failing to even mention what America’s values are in commenting in official communications on both a neo-Nazi march and a pro-tolerance march, both scheduled for tomorrow, Lithuania’s independence day.

[UPDATE OF MAY 2012:  On the eve of the state-financed reburial of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister, the US embassy incredibly financed what am0unted to a cover-up symposium on Holocaust issues, without even mentioning the reburial. Full video here. Open letter to the star speaker here.

Moreover, at the height of the scandal surrounding the reburial with full honors of a major Nazi collaborator, the American ambassador issued a “balanced statement” saying that: “Opposition to this event stems from the fact that while Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis is being recognized for his role in Lithuania’s declaration of independence from Soviet occupation in June 1941, he was also the leader of a Provisional Government which presided over the adoption of anti-Semitic legislation that separated Jews, expropriated their property and set the stage for their mass murder.” The balance here is wholly artificial and represents acceptance of the far right’s distortionist narrative. There was no “independence” for Lithuania under Nazi rule and the puppet PM was dumped in a matter of weeks. Had the Nazis won the war and put into effect their plans to obliterate the Baltic peoples, there would have been no Lithuania to become independent in 1991. Virtually all of the fascist murderers of Eastern Europe were “anti-Soviet” and it is unconscionable that this feature would be used in mitigation by the embassy of the country whose people made such monumental sacrifices to free Europe of Nazi domination.

The ambassador went on in her statement to endorse the ultranationalist right’s wish for  revival of the “International Commission” (the “red-brown commission”) which has been a major tool of obfuscation and played a vital role in the Prague Declaration. Sir Martin Gilbert, Professor Gershon GreenbergProfessor Konrad Kwiet, and Professor Dov Levin are among its members who have resigned on principle. Holocaust survivors have expressed their opposition. Should the US State Department really be lending its prestige to the revival of this commission?]

American citizens who have written to the embassy in support of Washington DC resident Olga Zabludoff’s highly successful petition against the neo-Nazi march, have been told that America’s tradition is not to interfere with free speech, but with no mention of the “time and place” factor: the holding of an offensive pro-Nazi event that glorifies Hitlerism, and the local Holocaust perpetrators, in the heart of a capital city of a NATO and OSCE and EU ally on its independence day. The equivalent in the United States would be a neo-Nazi march authorized for Pennsylvania Avenue on July 4th addressed by members of Congress. Would that not merit some circumspect public comment?

The same citizens, who have forwarded samples of email replies from the embassy, were told, however, that the US embassy has proudly been helping organize a second pro-tolerance march later in the afternoon. This journal has argued that it is vital to provide a peaceful counterpresence to the neo-Nazis at the time of their event, not just later when all is said and done. Nevertheless, support for a later pro-tolerance event is most welcome and to be admired.

All the more astonishing, perhaps, that American citizens registered with the US embassy in Vilnius today received the following email warning US citizens to stay away from both events, referring to the first as a “homeland march” and the second as a “freedom march” without the slightest indication that the first is a euphemism for a pro-Nazi march featuring designer swastikas and white armbands (in honor of the 1941 LAF butchers of Lithuanian Jewry), and the second is a reference to the pro-tolerance march which the same embassy boasted of helping to organize in response to the Nazis’ event.

? =

Is it really all just the same, a “homeland march” and a “freedom march” and should their actual content not be made clear: a neo-Nazi march featuring designer swastikas and white armbands vs. a pro-tolerance march?

 

By November 2010, the level of antisemitism and Holocaust obfuscation had reached a point at which seven Western ambassadors felt they could no longer remain silent. They crafted a powerful letter which was sent to the Lithuanian president and other leaders. The signatories included the ambassadors of Britain, Estonia, France, Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. But not the United States….

Another major contrast concerns the proud American tradition of inviting diverse views to the table. Repeatedly since 2009-2010, VIP visitors to Vilnius have been exposed only to views consistent with the current right wing Lithuanian government’s, when it comes to the Holocaust, World War II, Holocaust education, history revisionism, the Prague Declaration and the Seventy Years Declaration. The policy has extended to wheeling out the same member of parliament, the same “Holocaust educator,” the same one-on-the-planet Holocaust survivor who is an avid Lithuanian nationalist, and the same “supporting cast” while trying to shield visitors from other views. (See for example, Geoff Vasil’s report on a November 2011 conference.)

In this respect, the American Embassy in the last several years (again, in sharp distinction to previous years) has actually helped the Lithuanian obfuscationist establishment mislead representatives of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, the president’s envoy for combating antisemitism, and other US government representatives, by putting on a wholly one-sided “show” during their visits to Vilnius to ensure that they were not, heaven forbid, exposed to any opinions critical of the current right wing government’s Jewish-issue policies. During a recent visit of a high official from the US Department of Special Investigations concerning one of the last major Nazi war criminal suspects at large, the head of the Jewish community had to politely insist he be included at the meeting at the embassy on the subject! When a high official of the Holocaust Museum came to town, the embassy looked far and wide for a Yiddish translator for a Vilna Ghetto tour who would not dare speak up on Jewish issues in front of the visitors. There was no luck at the state-purged Vilnius Yiddish Institute where they couldn’t find anyone who knew Yiddish. Back in 2009, a previous American ambassador joined a group of six Western embassies effectively asking that a US citizen who was Lithuania’s last Yiddish (and Jewish) professor, at the institute, be allowed to continue despite speaking up for Holocaust survivors in the Baltic republic. The embassy’s inherent responsibility to care about US citizens living in its jurisdiction seems to have receded from the areas of concern, as PR for the current Lithuanian government became its prime area of de facto activity in the sphere of Jewish and human rights issues.

An untoward State Department public silence on legalization of public swastikas, persecution of Holocaust survivors who joined the resistance, laws criminalizing the stating of the actual history of genocide in the region, state-sponsored programs honoring the local Holocaust perpetrators of 1941, 1930s style front-page features about “The Jews” and city-center neo-Nazi marches addressed by members of parliament, simply cannot be “balanced out” by diplomats turning up with military precision for endless ceremonial unveilings of “Jewish memorial plaques” up and down the land.

Most recently, the US embassy in Vilnius has failed to respond to an inquiry from the Simon Wiesenthal Center asking whether there was any embassy response to the February 16th neo-Nazi march in the center of Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. The march was followed by a rally featuring speeches by several members of the Lithuanian parliament.

This followed an even more disturbing Wiesenthal Center related incident in 2011. One of the most eloquent and successful speakers on Holocaust issues in Lithuania is Dr. Efraim Zuroff, head of the Center’s Israel office, who has been visiting and writing about the region for over two decades. He is detested by the antisemitic establishment in Lithuania and admired by liberal intellectuals of many backgrounds. In May 2011, a senior official of Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) reported to DefendingHistory.com that the American embassy would give a grant to the 2011 (and presumably subsequent) summer programs on condition that Dr. Zuroff, who had been announced as the keynote speaker of the “Jewish Lithuania” component of the SLS program, be dropped. He was. Several months earlier, he had been one of the best attended lecturers at the Baltic Limmud conference, in February, where young Lithuanian intellectuals came out to hear him speak, adding vibrantly to the conversation in town. Jewish and non-Jewish participants, sitting side by side in harmoniously open and dignified discussion where the various points of view are aired without fear.

What on earth is the American embassy so afraid of?


Appendix 1:

This is the latest in a pattern of disturbing events pointing toward a State Department policy of helping to cover up for and/or trivialize the dangerous growth of state-legitimized neo-Nazism and far-right extremism in the eastern reaches of the NATO alliance. Previous incidents are chronicled in a disturbing pattern stretching from 2010 to the present:

Appendix 2:

Full text (unchanged) of today’s “Security Message for US Citizens”:

  • Security Message for U.S Citizens – Marches in Vilnius on March 11, 2012
  • U.S. Embassy Vilnius, Lithuania
  • March 10, 2012
  • A homeland march will take place on March 11 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
  • The Vilnius city government approved a request for demonstrators to assemble at Cathedral Square and march to Lukiskas Square.
  • A freedom march will also take place on March 11 from 4-6 p.m. The Vilnius
  • city government approved a request for demonstrators to assemble at Kudirkas square, in front of the Novotel and the Seimas, converging on Lukiskas Square.
  • Although such demonstrations have generally been peaceful in nature, the Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable.  You should avoid them if at all possible, and exercise caution if within the vicinity. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media coverage of these events.
  • You can stay in touch and get Embassy updates by checking the U.S. Embassy Vilnius website.  You can also get global updates at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where you can find the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel alerts, and Country Specific Information.  If you don’t have Internet access, we have a call center for updates.  You can call
  • 1-888-407-4747, which is toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or
  • 1-202-501-4444, a regular toll line which is available outside the U.S. and Canada.
  • We encourage U.S. citizens living or traveling in Lithuania to register with the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius through the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)  to obtain updated information on travel and security within Lithuania.  By registering, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.
  • In the event of an emergency, the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (370 5) 266 5500. We encourage you to visit the Embassy’s website, which includes consular information and the most recent messages to the American community in Lithuania.  You can also send an e-mail to Embassy Vilnius’s consular section at ConSec@state.gov.
  • This email is UNCLASSIFIED.
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