by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson
Saturday February 16, 2019 will celebrated as Independence Day in Lithuania (marking the 1918 rise of the state; a second independence day, March 11th, marks its 1990 reestablishment). The far-right-nationalists of Lithuania have once again been permitted to march through the central Old Town streets of the country’s capital to praise their so-called heroes. These views on “heroes” held by the Vilnius marchers are pretty much shared by much of the present and past government establishments, as evidenced, for example, by street names and public plaques and many episodes of glorification of collaborators, including the infamous 2012 reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister.
Precisely those Lithuanian “leaders” who actively participated as leaders in the persecution and killing of their nation’s Jewish minority during World War II are honored in these hate-marches as the finest heroes of Lithuania (for example in last year’s event on this date). After they finished killing all the Jews, these local heroes also supposedly engaged in the fight against the Russians occupiers (“supposedly” because they had been driven out by the Nazi invaders in June 1941). It is an old rule, that where henchmen become heroes no criticism is tolerated. That is the situation in many Eastern European states today. Unfortunately certain European Human Rights organisations are with their failure to respond even verbally, and lack of activity, their seemingly total indifference, making the distortion of history in the Baltic states so facile a proposition.
The Holocaust-obfuscation and praise of perpetrators continue in the Baltics and beyond. While European children are taught about the Holocaust and the dangers of antisemitism and racism, many European states and their numerous human-rights agencies tolerate ultranationalist marches, where Holocaust collaborators are praised as national heroes.
What are all the International and European monitoring agencies, who are supposed to combat antisemitism, doing?
One of these august (self-)righteous bodies is ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) under the auspices of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) It is supposed to stand up and call out all types of undemocratic activities. When it comes to fighting antisemitism, however, they seem to be doing nothing more than twiddle their thumbs. Since 2011 this office has done absolutely nothing to address the major problem with the glorification of Holocaust collaborators in a number of East European countries. To the contrary, over the years, ODIHR has consistently helped local governments in the Baltics cover up antisemitism, racism and homophobia in the usual spirit of these states, where one cannot criticize any such thing without being called a Putinist agent.
Under the present director of ODIHR, former Icelandic Foreign Minister, Ms. Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, things have, alas, not been changing for the better at ODIHR. Ms. Gísladóttir used to be member of the former Icelandic Women’s List and later the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin). Apart from decades of political activity, where she was the mayor of Reykjavík, Minister of Foreign Affairs and later the head of different international agencies, she holds a BA degree in history. On top of all of Ms. Gísladóttir merits, there is much more to mention, which the international agencies she worked for unfortunately haven’t been able to read about in her CV.
When Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem asked Icelandic Prime-Minister Davíð Oddsson, who in 1991 was on a state visit in Israel, to initiate an investigation into war criminal Evald Mikson’s case, Gísladóttir was among some Icelandic politicians who aggressively protested against any investigation into the case of this unpunished Estonian war criminal, who after World War II settled in Iceland, later to use the Icelandic name Eðvald Hinriksson.
Due to a misunderstanding by an Icelandic official, many Icelandic politicians from different political parties in Iceland believed that the wish for the investigation into the crimes of Evald Mikson came from the government of Israel. Iceland’s largest daily in 1992 quoted Gísladóttir as follows: “The Israeli authorities were no special representatives of justice despite the terrible Holocaust of the Jews during WW II.” In 1993 Gísladóttir had argued in an op-ed after she realized that Israel was not behind the pledge for investigation of Mikson, that Nazi hunters make it “easier for the military State of Israel to define itself as a victim that can claim the sympathy of the world community, and not as an aggressor that violently attacks other nations.”
In 2008, Ms. Gísladóttir, when in office as the foreign minister of Iceland, she was nearly never at home in Iceland. She was busy travelling the world to find supporters for her vision to ensure Iceland’s membership in the UN Security Council. Her travels even took her to Damascus, to a man, who on several occasions has sworn to annihilate the Jewish state. When those efforts proved to be a total failure, Ms. Gísladóttir in 2010 made as her primary topic in public the Gaza Flotilla, and was for a while supposed to head an UNHRC-commission to investigate the conduct of Israel in the Flotilla incident. However, Mrs. Gísladóttir had taken on the investigative job for the UNHRC without letting her superiors know that she had vehemently taken up one side of the argument as a member of IWC, the International Women’s commission.
These omitted details in the life of the present director of ODIHR are of course omitted in her CV.
But none of that might matter today if she were to take seriously the task of combating antisemitism and racism in Europe today. But continuing in the tradition of her predecessors, she continues to twiddle her thumbs.
When, if ever, are we going to see some honest work being done by the ODIHR when it comes to dealing with the problem of East European states glorifying their local Holocaust collaborators? A small start could be made in the weeks ahead, as this year’s “Baltic marching season” gets underway with annual far-right events supported by elements of the state in all three Baltic nations.