O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
David Lidington, Britain’s Minister for Europe, has praised the recent Lithuanian parliament vote on a (lamentably ambiguous) draft of a bill to deal with restitution of looted Jewish communal property [Details here.] In his statement, he goes on to say: “Passage of the law will bring credit to Lithuania as it prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). I hope that the draft will now advance successfully through its remaining stages.” [The minister’s statement is reported here; it was triumphantly reported in the Lithuanian media.]
The draft restitution bill “just happens to fail to mention” the actual recipient at a time of rampant high-level intrigue to eventually (once Holocaust Survivors are gone) divert the resources to a morbid tourism project. But bigger questions loom here right now.
DefendingHistory.com joins Mr Lidington in hoping for the best on the eve of Lithuania’s accession to the chairmanship of the OSCE. But the history of human rights issues in the Baltic states, and Lithuania in particular, in recent years, illuminates the fact that it will take more than hope. It is incumbent on Lithuania’s true friends to rise to the occasion rather than to try to sweep the real issues under the rug.
Lithuania’s genuine friends and supporters must respectfully point out that a respectable OSCE chairmanship is frankly incompatible with a host of travesties emanating not from the hard-working and noble Lithuanian people, but from the halls of government, academia and mass media. In 2010 alone ― and the year is not over yet — the roster of embarrassments has been regrettable. It includes, but is not limited to, the following.
In January, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, officials from the special prosecutor’s office came to harass the tiny Jewish community with questions about a Holocaust Survivor in Tel Aviv whom they were thinking of adding to the list of Survivors to be “investigated” by their office (exceedingly lame in a land where not a single Nazi war criminal has been punished since the collapse of the Soviet Union).
In February, an annual national festival featuring a multitude of costumes, including highly unflattering images of Jews and Roma, went off as usual with no corrective comments by government officials.
In March, the permit for a neo-Nazi march was taken out by a member of the ruling party in parliament; the march was saluted in central Vilnius by a signatory of the country’s declaration of independence. In addition to various fascist symbols, marchers sported the white armbands which in Lithuania signify the 1941 “freedom fighters” of the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front) who were in fact the initiators of the butchery of Lithuanian Jewry. There was not a word of condemnation by any high official, only flippant remarks by the prime minister, who was annoyed that the Norwegian ambassador, a staunch human rights advocate, had spoken up.
In May, a Lithuanian court legalized the public demonstration of swastikas, ruling that they are “Lithuania’s historical heritage rather than symbols of Nazi Germany”. An ominous and devastating message was in effect sent to the country’s tiny, fragile Jewish community and other weak minorities. Not a single high government official condemned the ruling or made any effort to get it overturned. Is this the face of New Europe?
In June, parliament passed and the president signed into law a bill that criminalizes the opinion that the Holocaust was the one genocide in Lithuania in the twentieth century. Couched in the usual terminology of “red-brown equality” the law provides for up to two years in prison for any who would “deny or grossly underestimate” the “crime of genocide” that were “committed by the USSR or Nazi Germany against Lithuanian residents”. In other words, those, including this journal, who deplore the horrendous crimes of the USSR, but do not believe that these rise to “genocide” in Lithuania, are now liable to prosecution (see the Definition of Genocide page). Those living in Lithuania can verily attest that those citizens who dissent from the mantra of “red-brown equality” have gone silent, lost their employment, or felt the need to emigrate (even if nobody is ever prosecuted under the statute). The law is a carbuncle on the face of European democracy, and Lithuania’s friends can do it no greater service than calling for its rapid and unequivocal repeal.
In July, the deputy foreign minister convened a meeting of Lithuanian politicians and “Judaic studies operatives” to set up a “Litvak Forum” to divert attention from the travesties underway by means of a classic diversionary window-dressing operation which has only added insult to injury. Earlier, upon its public founding, the prime minister’s chancellor boasted that “there are rich Litvaks” who were roped in to provide money for the charade. Litvak is an ethnonym belonging to the decimated Jewry of Lithuania, and it cannot be usurped by officials for PR purposes. There were protests from Holocaust Survivors, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Litvak Studies Institute, and this journal. A few months later, after the foreign minister’s antisemitic tirade (see In October, below), the Jewish Community of Lithuania passed its judgment as well.
In August, after a pig’s head, dressed up in hat and earlocks, was placed at the doorway of the Kaunas synagogue during Sabbath morning services, there was silence from the government until foreign diplomats prevailed upon the prime minster to speak up days later. There has been no progress in the investigation to locate the culprits.
In September, on the 21st of the month, parliament declared that 2011 would be declared a year of remembrance for Holocaust victims. One week later, on the 28th, the same body declared that 2011 would be the year of “commemoration of the defense of freedom and great losses” with the accompanying impression that the “freedom fighters of 1941” who participated in the Holocaust would again be glorified. The Jewish community protested against this History Apartheid policy which reached its curious apex when the English language page of the parliament’s website listed only the first “year of remembrance” and the Lithuanian language page listed only the second. After exposure on DefendingHistory.com, the websites at least were brought into line.
In October, the Lithuanian foreign minister told a meeting of the ruling party in parliament that foreign Jews seeking money and property were secretly pushing the new dual citizenship law. The Foreign Ministry published a spineless statement but no apology. The Jewish Community of Lithuania rapidly responded.
Let us hope for a more European, Western, tolerant, and generously-spirited showing from the government in what is left of November and beyond.
Moreover, the ongoing issues not tied to any one month include failure to close the kangaroo “war crimes” investigations against valiant Holocaust Survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance. Dr Rachel Margolis, 89 years old, now resident in Rechovot, Israel, is unable to carry out her wish to visit her native Vilnius one last time, for fear of further harassment by prosecutors and the antisemitic establishment. Among the ‘sins’ for which she was apparently targeted was her discovery and publication of a long-lost diary of a Christian Polish eyewitness to tens of thousands of Holocaust murders by local enthusiastic ‘patriots’.
Then there is the failure to remove the antisemitic exhibits from the state-sponsored Genocide Museum on the capital’s main boulevard (a ‘genocide museum’ that won’t mention the word Holocaust). Failure to preserve the one surviving Jewish anti-Nazi fort. Failure to call off the state-sponsored campaign to convince the European Parliament to adopt “Double Genocide” as a new obligatory history for Europe. That unfortunate effort is spearheaded by the state-financed and Orwellianly monikered “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes of Lithuania” better known informally as the “Red-Brown Commission”. Moreover, the recent announcement of Lithuania’s team headed for the next OSCE session calls for serious scrutiny.
A true-hearted reversal of state policies promoting Holocaust Obfuscation, antisemitism and ultranationalism could easily and very rapidly be inspired by the president and prime minister if the political will were there.
It is the solemn obligation of the western powers, including Britain and the United States, to help Lithuania’s leaders to find that political will. That would be the expression of authentic friendship and care for Lithuania’s future. To make it crystal clear that respect for the new chairmanship of the OSCE is inextricably linked with a reversal of those policies that do not befit the OSCE or the Western alliance.
Finally, the OSCE must adjust to the need to be gently inoculated against far-right infiltration from eastern European Union states that is amply disguised as mainstream. It happened once, back in July 2009, when the Holocaust obfuscationists slipped in Double Genocide and a Europe-wide mix-and-match red-brown day into its “Vilnius Declaration” [Text here; p. 48, points 3 & 10]. It could well happen again.