Free Speech & Democracy
Police Come to Rachel Kostanian’s Residence, Looking for Vilna Ghetto Survivors Rachel Margolis and Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky
Legal Ban on Nazi and Soviet Symbols in the Spirit of Red-Brown ‘Equivalence by Law’, a Blow to Freedom of Speech
BBC report, ‘Lithuanian ban on Soviet symbols’. A legally imposed ‘equivalence’ of ‘Nazi and Soviet symbols’ came as a grave moral blow to elderly veterans of the war against Nazism, and their proud families (notwithstanding an addition to the law technically exempting veteran memorials).
The assistant director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, Ruta Puisyte, reported today that Dr. Efraim Zuroff’s scheduled seminar at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute was cancelled on the orders of the institute’s director, Professor Sarunas Liekis. No explanation was given.
O P I N I O N
by Leonidas Donskis
This English version of the essay (the original Lithuanian text appeared in Lietuvos aidas, 28 November 2008) first appeared in the English edition of Jerusalem of Lithuania (Oct-Dec 2008, PDF here) and is republished here with the author’s and editor’s permission.
I have already written that we live in a period of not only monetary inflation, but of concept and value inflation as well. In our time oaths have become worthless, while formerly a person who broke one lost not only all of his own power, but the capacity to represent his values and to participate in the public sphere as well. Nothing, other than his own person and his private life, remained. He no longer had the right to speak on behalf of either his group, his nation, or his society.
Dissenting Academic Rapidly Replaced with Foreign Stand-in at the Jerusalem Book Fair; Dr Rachel Margolis Betrayed Again
After authoring the book on Litvak culture for the Lithuanian section at the Jerusalem Book Fair, the editor of this website declined to attend to chair the Yiddish culture session, when he was asked not to bring to the fair Dr Rachel Margolis, resident in Rechovot; she is one of the heroic Jewish partisans defamed by the Double Genocide industry.
The Lithuanian government unit running these affairs rapidly replaced him with the Yiddish professor from the Borns Jewish Studies program at Indiana University (Bloomington).
The ‘Book Fair Affair’ was widely reported. See: Haaretz: ‘When Lithuania was Yiddishland’ by Raphael Ahren; also: comments by Milan Chersonski, editor of the Jewish community’s periodical, Jerusalem of Lithuania: ‘It’s not just about the Jerusalem Book Fair’ (Jan-March 2009); May 2010 update on Dr Margolis’s situation here.
More details here on the ‘Book Fair Affair’ and the further cooperation of the Borns Jewish Studies program with the nationalist establishment in Vilnius.
Parliamentarians Explain that Red-Brown Criminalization Law is Necessary to ‘equate the crimes of Soviet Genocide with the Nazi Genocide’
Delfi.lt reports that ‘in the Lithuanian legal system, acts regarding the the crimes of Soviet genocide, i.e. their denial or justification, are not criminalized, and, experts say, this is an obstacle in attempting to equate the crimes of Soviet genocide with the Nazi genocide’. Full English translation. BNS’s English summary.
After the intrepid journalist and human rights advocate Andrius Navickas (see Bold Citizens) protested to the press commission about the front page cartoon of the Jew and the Gay controlling the world, a caricature of his head and body was inserted in both figures on the front page of a mass circulation newspaper. This had the effect of deterring others in the public arena who might have wished to make their opinions known about the proliferation of 1930s style hate materials appearing on the front page of mass circulation newspapers.
Parliamentary Proposal to Curtail Free Speech that would Disagree with Red-Brown Equivalence; 3 Years Imprisonment Envisaged
Proposal 154(1), registered by the Seimas (parliament) of Lithuania, would impose up to three years of imprisonment for one who ‘denies, severely diminishes or justifies the genocide accomplished by Communism or Fascism’ etc. English translation. 9 June 2009 summary.
Vilna Ghetto Victims Substituted for War Criminals List in the Baltic Times; VYI Chief calls the Association of Lithuanian Jews ‘Extreme Right-Wingers’
Part of a list of Jewish victims of the Vilna Ghetto (including fallen resistance hero Yechiel Sheinboim) appears in the Baltic Times instead of the captioned list of alleged Nazi-allied murderers (zoom-in).
The young foreign reporter was wholly innocent; a still unidentified source provided the wrong list. An obscure and ambiguous correction appeared the following week.
Moreover, director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute Sarunas Liekis is quoted (misquoted?) in the article (column 2), as calling the last active group of Litvak Holocaust survivors in the world (the ALJ in Tel Aviv) ‘extreme right-wingers’, adding that ‘scholars don’t talk to them’. Although now aged, these survivors’ ranks still include prominent Holocaust scholars.
The Baltic trend to delegitimize Holocaust survivors and their supporters is part of the wider series of attempted conceptual realignments deemed ‘necessary’ to propagate the Double Genocide bandwagon, and obfuscation of the Holocaust, within the context of regional unltranationalism.
Seminars on Holocaust Obfuscation had to be held in private apartments during the Summer Program in Yiddish Language and Literature. [UPDATES added in later months as these materials appeared: Memoirs have been published by Julia Blaukopf (Photographic Interiors, Pennsylvania); Jana Hock (Museum Ritter, Waldenbuch); Michael Cohen (more recent article here); Josh Markovitz (both UCLA). There have been comments in the Guardian and the Nation.]
The Vilnius Yiddish Institute staff list distributed to summer course students was purged of staff who spoke out publicly on behalf of the accused survivors and against ‘Double Genocide’. Lectures were convened at private apartments on August 10, 17, 19, 20 (more details at: Events). Image from 17 August; first and last slides; slide on European Parliament issues; more at Jamie Ehrenpreis’s Facebook site. Group of participants after the 19 Aug. presentation; more by J. Ehrenpreis here.
Austrian Holocaust museum volunteer Adalbert Wagner set up power-point facilities, generously lent by the Green House Holocaust Museum. The organization of these lectures was assisted by VYI summer course participants Dr Judy Freier, Dr Ilya Levin, Prof Abraham Lichtenbaum, Daniel Nemenyi, Dr Shimon Samuels, Berti Wagner. Larry Mandel, Daniel Nemenyi and Martina Ravagnan for opened up their homes to one lecture each.
It is thought that the ‘Dirty Tricks Department’ of the Lithuanian government unit aiming to manipulate Jewish issues is planning for the Yiddish institute to become a PR tool of the government, with the Yiddish professor of Bloomington, Indiana brought over summertime and for select events to provide the necessary Yiddish Studies Cover for several weeks a year.
Supposedly impartial Baltic Times coverage of a later version of the proposed law that would max out at just two years of imprisonment for disagreeing with the state’s version of ‘Soviet and Nazi genocide’.
The BT report also gloats that ‘Earlier this year, the members of the European Parliament decided that Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany were equal’ (cf. materials on the Prague Declaration page). [14 September 2010: On the law eventually passed, in June 2010, see here].
‘Baltic Times’ Condemns Riga City Council for Trying to Nix March 16th Waffen SS March in the Capital’s Center
The Baltic Times, in the spirit of its increasing pattern of delivering up far-right views dressed up as impartial news coverage, did it again today. The front page banner headline reads ‘Riga Council in Civil Rights Attack’ with the caption to the large front page photo that condemns the city council for trying to block ‘war veterans and others’, as the anonymous authors put it (the article is signed by ‘Staff and wire reports, Riga), from being able to ‘exercise their rights in commemorating wartime duties and efforts’.
There was no mention that these are Waffen SS veterans and that the annual ceremony in the capital’s center is an affront to free Europe and Holocaust victims and survivors.
That an allegedly impartial newspaper would regard a noble attempt to legally block a pro-Nazi march, on the part of elected officials in a European Union country, as a ‘civil rights attack’ in a news headline is shocking. PDF of the article here.
The same state prosecution service that works to send Holocaust Survivors to eternity as suspected war criminals (neither charging nor clearing the innocent persons defamed); and, that is pleased to provide protection and the facade of dignity for neo-Nazi marches (see below at 11 March 2008 and 11 March 2010) spared no effort to ban the 8 May 2010 Baltic Pride parade.
In a typically unbelievable statement worthy of central casting, the head of the Prosecutor General’s office told BNS: ‘I appealed to the court after receipt of information about possible disturbances. The information is confidential, and I would like to refrain from further comment, however, the data we have in our possession suggests there is a possibility of certain disturbances, which we would not want’.
Another classic: ‘Participants of the rally could be targets of violence, we can’t have a police officer for each of them. The event would be protected in its specific location, however, nobody can forecast a crowd’s actions’, he added. Asked whether he had information about a planned riot, Petrauskas said he could not ‘state this specifically’ according to the BNS report. BNS report here.
[8 May 2010 update: While in the end forced by courts to allow the Pride parade (which the capital’s police easily managed), police provided protection and status to the neo-Nazi marchers who for hours flaunted fascist flags near the Reval Lietuva Hotel, flanked by flags of the European Union, Lithuania and various other member states. Eyewitness report and photos here.]
While threatening prison sentences for persons holding the belief that the Holocaust is not equal to Soviet crimes, a sudden new trend of ‘liberalism’ appears regarding public displays of swastikas. A court in Klaipeda approved the Nazi symbols on the grounds that they are ‘Lithuania’s historical heritage rather than symbols of Nazi Germany’. The net result it that now the only illegal symbols are the Soviet ones, which are not used by anyone, other than aged anti-Nazi war veterans celebrating the Ninth of May. Hence, it is all part and parcel of the movement legitimizing a pro-fascist view of twentieth century history.
BNS report. Delfi report. Alfa.lt report following the protest of Dr Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office. JTA report on the court’s decision and Dr Zuroff’s response. More details here. See page on Swastikas.
Sir Martin Gilbert Writes to State Jewish Museum in Lithuania, Asking for Halt to Campaign Against Kostanian
The following is the text of an email sent by Sir Martin Gilbert to an official of Lithuania’s Jewish state museum in defense of Rachel Kostanian, the internationally acclaimed cofounder and longtime director of the Holocaust section of the state Jewish museum, long known as “The Green House” (it is housed in a green wooden house at Pamenkalnio 12, invisible from the street, and up a steep driveway). She is also an eminent author, creator of exhibits and catalogues, and Holocaust educator who has engated with thousands of loval and foreign visitors to the museum. At Sir Martin’s request, the name of the recipient, and of others mentioned in the letter, have been redacted to maintain confidences and avert unnecessary embarrassments. The alleged “mistake” referred to in the final paragraph refers to a powerful new Holocaust documentary film directed by Saulius Beržinis, which Rachel Kostanian enabled, helped to research and complete, and obtained the funding for from a prominent Litvak family in the United Kingdom. The film was apparently deemed unacceptable for its “excessive truth telling,” as one (non-Jewish) museum worker, speaking off the record, put it with some irony. It will presumably one day find its way to the public square one way or another.
The Lithuanian parliament amended the criminal code ‘to envisage criminal penalties for supporting, denying or downgrading crimes committed by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany’ recommending ‘up to two years in prison’. The amendment’s initiator explained that the ‘changes were based on the European Union’s obligation to member-nations to take the necessary measures to ensure penalties for public support for genocide crimes’. BNS report.
Tepid Response from the Lithuanian Institute of History on the New Red-Brown Jailtime Law, plus: Will Judaic Studies Specialists Finally Speak up?
The Lithuanian Institute of History’s less than impressive response to the 15 June parliamentary amendment of the criminal code. BNS report.
Hopefully individual historians will respond rather more vigorously, especially those who specialize in Judaic and Holocaust studies, who risk further loss of credibility in the wake of continued silence.
On 29 June 2010, the Lithuanian Parliament criminalized the view that Soviet crimes in Lithuania do not rise to Genocide, in effect making belief in red-brown equivalence a matter of law.
The move followed adoption of a similar statute by Hungary’s new right-wing government.
The Lithuanian law’s framers explained earlier that establishing red-brown equality was the motive. Punishment maxes out at 2 Years in jail (original draft law was for 3 years). There is a new widespread reluctance to speak up freely in eastern EU democracies, even if nobody is charged or punished. Work of serious historians is crippled as dissenters lose their jobs.
There was no comment from the US embassy in Vilnius.
Red-Brown Bill with Two Years of Jailtime for Disagreeing with Government’s Position is Signed into Law
A new law in effect criminalizing anti Double Genocide opinions has been passed by the Lithuanian parliament and signed into law by the president. Full text of the law. In English translation. The move followed adoption of a similar statute by Hungary’s new right-wing government.
UPDATES (TO SEPT. 2011):
The new law criminalizes debate on the Holocaust and World War II, imposing punishments that include prison sentences of up to two years for those who would argue that Soviet crimes in Lithuania did not constitute genocide (hence: upon those who would challenge the notion that ‘Soviet and Nazi crimes are equal’). The opposing view (e.g. of this website) holds that Soviet crimes in Lithuania were horrendous but did not constitute genocide (following Donskis 2009, Katz 2009 etc; see page on Soviet crimes and draft response to the Prague Declaration).
- O P I N I O N
- Questions from Mindaugas Peleckis and answers from Dovid Katz (Text of documents sent by email on 21 August 2010).
- [Update: This interview resulted in the article published in Čikagos aidas on 16 Dec 2010. The unabridged text was posted on this page on 23 Dec 2010, by agreement of the interviewer and the interviewee.]
1. I would like to talk to you about Jewish-Lithuanian relationships. You’ve published the wonderful book ‘Lithuanian Jewish Culture’, which sheds light on many things concerning Jewish life in Lithuania and around it. What do you think about when Lithuanians became, so to say, antisemitic? In the 19th and 20th centuries? Or earlier?