E Y E W I T N E S S R E P O R T / O P I N I O N
by Evaldas Balčiūnas
Editor’s note: This adapted translation from the Lithuanian original, by Geoff Vasil, has been approved by the author.
On February 16 I visited Kaunas. I heard the neo-Nazis would try to desecrate the nation’s freedom, for which people of the country of all ethnicities had struggled. Sadly, the neo-Nazis are now shouting loudly: “Lithuania for Lithuanians…”
One of the organizers of the march boasted the vanguard of the march would be carrying a portrait of Ambrazevičius.
It’s worth recalling what sort of person he was. In 1941 Ambrazevičius led the Provisional Government formed by the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front), the Provisional Government which called Lithuanian policemen to serve the Nazis, set up a concentration camp (at the Seventh Fort, where it all ended in the murder of several thousand Jews), and even while realizing the Nazis no longer needed their service, this gang went on to promulgate the “Regulations on the Situation of the Jews,” which legally deprived their neighbors of human rights, while on the ground armed people were already murdering Jews throughout Lithuania.
The administration formed by this government continued to serve the Nazis even after the government disbanded, and the TDA battalion was directly involved in the mass murders, its soldiers were the strike force of the Hamann flying squadron who violently murdered over the course of half a year over 130,000 Jews throughout Lithuania. Somewhat later Ambrazevičius had to hide from his Nazi masters and changed his surname to Brazaitis, hiding like a rat with a fake name for the rest of his life.
See also the eyewitness accounts of Dovid Katz (+ 2), Geoff Vasil and Efraim Zuroff.
And now some attempt to make a hero of this man. I think this is the sort of behavior in which only neo-Nazis are able to engage. It does not make me wrong that the Lithuanian government took care of the reburial of this person who had committed such heinous crimes against his country. Neo-Nazism was not foreign to the Kubilius government and its Homeland Union Conservatives faction.
Why should I enter into discussion with people who say the march was “patriotic” rather than neo-Nazi? If it was patriotic, then this type of patriotism is criminal. That’s why I went to Kaunas to protest the neo-Nazi march.
I was not alone. But I am responsible for what I did and said, so I will attempt to relate what that was.
I arrived early so I had time to look over the entire marching route. I might have made a mistake. I parked the car next to the castle, because I thought the march would end there. But let me start at the beginning.
There was only one narrow parking place near the underground pedestrian tunnel on Vilnius Street. It was just before dawn and rather early. I decided it would be better not to run into any Nazis right away. I encountered homeless people on Laisvės Alėja [the main pedestrian boulevard in the middle of Kaunas, “Freedom Avenue.”] They called me sir and wanted 50 cents. I responded as a sir would and didn’t give it to them. It didn’t seem there were more of them than usual. And there were some other people around. Not those who will give in order to feel like sirs, but some out of pity, others out of solidarity.
There were salutes near the War Museum, but I’m not one for military games. At Ramybės Parkas [the meeting spot for the march this year, “Tranquility Park”] there was still no movement. Police concentrated at the entrances. There were many armed guards, meaning it would be difficult to protest.
I went to meet friends. I had expected two and found five to my surprise, with another person calling in saying they want to join our protest. We split up, and I with two others went to Ramybės Parkas. The other two went to the statue to Vytautas [the Great, Lithuanian grand duke], the most noted transvestite in the country’s history.
At Ramybės Parkas I said hello to Dovid Katz, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was sort of a cheap trick on my part to draw the attention of the photographers oozing with antisemitism… If you publicly greet a Jew, dozens of them start clicking their cameras. Very tolerant behavior… All of this was about ten meters away from their banner with the slogan “Lithuania for Lithuanians.”
Without waiting further, I unraveled my own banner. It warned of the dangers posed by patriotism. Some sort of concerned citizen or something began to scream that patriotism is the same thing as civilization. I could have shouted back, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” but I knew from experience it isn’t worth arguing with these sorts of people. Besides which, his banner, claiming the conversion to Christianity of the Žemaitijans [or Samogitians] constituted mass murder, didn’t predispose me to enter into discussion with him.
Someone in ethnic costume (I don’t know of what ethnicity, maybe Russian, maybe Ukrainian or Polish, since these kinds of clothes are no different from Lithuanian ethnic costumes), but anyway, some in ethnic costume came up behind me and kicked me in the leg. I told him to stand back or I’d give him the same back. He scooted away. A police officer latched on to me. He didn’t like that I was standing on the sidewalk. He told me to get off. I asked what the occasion was that made it forbidden for citizens to stand on sidewalks in a free country. He said it was a holiday. I asked him whether I should wear a gold star [Star of David] after I removed myself from the sidewalk.
And then I was pushed.
Then all sorts of criticisms began from the marchers. At least several men started winking at me sexually. It’s odd that these neo-Nazi events attract these sorts of sensual types. One “citizen” offered to pay me so I wouldn’t stand there. I thought about it, and decided that was typical, and said so out loud, that this person was used to selling out his conscience, to measure such things in monetary terms. By the way, he was wearing a colorful hat in three colors. Maybe some sort of rasta, I thought, and asked him if he had any weed. But the cops were only interested in my ID, that’s why we call them “mentai” [Lithuanian pejorative for police officers], because the first word is always: “Dokumentai?” Well, I showed them the ID they wanted, while I asked them for their names and surnames, which they have to give, and I schooled them a little bit on this.
That illustrious man of Kaunas, the member of parliament Patackas appeared, boasting how he had done time in prison and calling me trash. I told him what I think of him, that he’s a proud woman-beating gang member. And that many people have done time in prison, but not all are proud of it. But it seemed like his morality was totally corrupted and he couldn’t really understand. These public insults didn’t seem to bother the police, either, they just wanted me to get off the sidewalk.
As the column began to move I cut a corner and met it again at the exit from Ramybės Parkas. This was the spot where several decades ago “Young Lithuanians” [a right-wing extremist group] desecrated the graves of several people called communitarians.
After they passed I went to the Soboras Russian Orthodox Church and photographed there a bit. From the front, the column of marchers looked impressive: several dozen police and behind them the portrait of Ambrazevičius crawling along. The police were blazing a path for the neo-Nazis.
Behind Soboras I went next to the Dolskis statue. It was decorated with a paper heart. I decided to stop for a time and observe how this prominent Jew would be met by the glorifiers of the Nazis who murdered his people. They passed each other by. I think the Nazis on the march didn’t even know whose statue this was. And I was caught: the police pushed me up against a wall and would not let me cross to the other side of Laisvės Alėja, and I needed to go. But it was alright, and I got through just in time.
Some older man tried to rip the banner held by my friends with the words “Citizen, you are taking part in a fascist march.” I chased the bastard off. The little Nazis tried to pose behind the banner so they could take joke pictures of themselves, wearing a red clown nose. But the joke was rather flat and didn’t appeal to them all that much, although the red clown nose really fit their very intellectual faces and those of their fellow marchers. I passed the column of marchers and we went to the Vytautas statue to meet friends waiting there. It was nice there were more of us now, perhaps ten in all.
We were stopped by the police. Again the marchers and their supporters started yelling things at us. Although some were actually incredible, one old man tried to explain that Nazism isn’t bad. I pointed him out to Efraim Zuroff, who just then came up. Another woman began to tell me how great patriotism is, but quite quickly, perhaps it was during her second sentence, she tired of it, and ended it by saying how evil Jews are… An interesting thing happened next: the cops began to establish our identities. The process was interesting.
They read out names and surnames loudly, so that the group of neo-Nazis who had assembled and were standing by would hear them. Neither did a reminder to these men about the law on personal data security result in a decrease in volume. Several didn’t have ID documents, and they were told they had to give their places of residence as well, and at this point they had to be reminded again of the dangers posed if they loudly broadcasted this information. The checking of documents wore on.
We were hopelessly far behind the march, and the car was right there where the neo-Nazis were swarming. If the event ended, it would be difficult to make it through to the car. Even worse, as we were leaving the Vytautas statue, we noticed a tail: two little Nazis with flag patches sewn on their sleeves.
At the corner of Laisvės Alėja and Vilnius Street we stopped for a minute; one of us “had to go” and he ducked into the nearest cafe. A “detective” also stopped and stood there plainly. I grabbed the telephone and decided to photograph them and send it to friends. The camera could go missing, so a photo sent directly was more reliable. But the detective didn’t like that idea and began to attack me with his fists. I had to defend myself. I smacked him several times, punch-for-punch, giving him back as much as he gave. I found out I hadn’t lost the skills acquired in youth… No one will stop the neo-Nazis until they are repulsed directly on the street. Activists of the Patackas type will go on throwing glassware at women until they come across men who will punch their faces out for this sort of “political activity.”
But I digress. The detective ran away with his tail between his legs. But we still had the task of making it to the car. The underground pedestrian tunnel still awaited. Next to the entrance, three peaceful marchers introduced themselves to us, saying “The show continues.” We turned aside a bit and within several minutes were at the Pilies Iki [supermarket]. There were probably a dozen police officers standing at the bus stop. I suggested my friends wait inside the store, since I had already become convinced at the corner of Laisvės Alėja and Vilnius Street that the time of “no seeing” had come over the police force… I went off to the car by myself. I took a crowbar from the trunk and drove off to get my friends. They jumped into the car quickly. The Nazis ran out, after them, but weren’t swift enough. That’s fine. The crowbar wasn’t needed. And the police would certainly have seen that. The Nazis hadn’t expected this sudden dash. I honked the horn as we drove off, my salute to the Nazi patriotism of Kaunas.
I got home mid afternoon and thought about what conclusions could be drawn from this year’s February 16th.
I think March 11th in Vilnius will be hotter. The little Nazis already want blood, besides which, their movement is losing inspiration little by little. And they no longer have their political backers, the Conservatives, in power. If no greater powers arise against them before March 11th, they could feel as if they were powerful and beyond punishment. On the other hand, the attitude of the city of Vilnius and the Vilnius police is a bit different, and it’s probable they won’t let the neo-Nazis go rabid there. Furthermore, before any protest, it would probably be good to remind friends that it’s better to carry ID with them, that makes sorting things out with the police less fraught with danger.