E Y E W I T N E S S R E P O R T
by Dovid Katz
Ignoring international pleas (including over two thousand signatures on an online petition) for the withdrawing of permits for this year’s neo-Nazi march, Vilnius authorities mounted a major police presence to keep order during today’s event in the heart of the Lithuanian capital.
Over a thousand ultranationalists assembled at 1 PM on Cathedral Square and made their way up Gedimino Prospect, the capital’s main boulevard, passing the prime minister’s office, an array of government buildings, and the Vilnius Jewish Public Library, that was founded by Wyman Brent, and opened in December with much fanfare about the state’s commitment to the Litvak Jewish heritage. There were no library staff on hand to protest the throng of neo-Nazis passing by its front gate.
The march concluded at the Genocide Museum. There, a rally was held, addressed by members of parliament Petras Gražulis, Kazimieras Uoka, and Gintaras Songaila, among other well known national figures.
Warned against overtly antisemitic, anti-Russian, anti-Polish and anti-gay slogans, the marchers stuck to shouting what seemed like an endless trance like chain of the slogans “Lietuva” (Lithuania) and “Lietuva Lietuviams — Lietuviai Lietuvai” (Lithuania for Lithuanians — Lithuanians for Lithuania). Other chants demanded that Lithuania’s future be for Lithuanian children.
In contrast to the February 16th event in Kaunas, where there was zero visible opposition, however, there were a number of small groups protesting at various point on the route. At Government Square, the left-wing Socialist Front mounted a small protest led by its leader, Algirdas Paleckis. The group was not in the way of the marchers, and was not disturbed by police.
Other tiny groups of anti-Nazi protesters put themselves in the way of the march and were roughly removed by police. One man who yelled curses at the fascists was arrested and taken away in a white police van.
Two young men standing in the middle of the street with a sign reading “No to Hatred, No to Neo-Nazism” were roughly removed by police to the sidewalk, and then guarded to prevent any return.
Four women stood in the middle of the street protesting the nearing throng of neo-Nazis on Gedimino Prospect, well before their arrival at that point.
When the march neared the four women, and they refused to budge, they were roughly removed by a sizable contingent of police and surrounded by photographers and media during a rapid and confusing removal to the sidewalk.
They then found themselves surrounded by police for the remainder of the march, and the subject of photographers’ and journalists’ fascination.
A group of men standing on the sidewalk held a sign that read “Today Brown Marches — Tomorrow Gas Chambers?”
None of the country’s major human rights organizations or minority groups mounted any visible presence during the event.
They did however organize a separate independence day event emphasizing good will three hours after the neo-Nazi event, at 4 PM. It attracted several hundred people (the media estimates vary) who celebrated in the spirit appropriate to the national holiday, with talk, song, dance and emphasis on inclusiveness and tolerance for all the people of Lithuania and beyond.