VILNIUS—In Lithuania, March 11 is the national holiday to celebrate the declaration of the restoration of national independence in 1990. The national celebrations include a huge and admirably inclusive march of several thousand people in the central street of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. (This is distinct from the February 18 national independence holiday which commemorates the rise of the interwar Lithuanian republic in 1918.)
Sadly, however, for the ethnocentric, ultranationalist mindset, this delightful event is not good enough. They insist on their own “patriotic” version, and they apply each year for their “traditional march of ethnic youth” to march later in the afternoon. Sadly, since 2008 (each year covered on site by Defending History), the city authorities have readily gifted them the beautiful central boulevard, Gedimino Prospect. Perhaps this year it is particularly sad, because all the peoples of Vilnius who live today in delightful harmony in the city are together celebrating its 700th birthday. Seven hundred years ago, in 1323, the city was founded by Grand Duke Gediminas (Gedymin), who famously remained a tolerant multitheist, and readily welcomed Jews and many others to his brand new city that came to be known around the world as Vilna.
Today’s far-right march had around 200 participants. An absolute majority of them were male, most of them thirty-somethings. Most looked like blue-collar workers. Some young fathers proudly brought with them their toddlers and babies. One is never too young for “civic education”…
At 4 PM, the partakers gather up in a cohort of nearly twenty lines, at Cathedral Square, with fifteen to twenty men in each line. At the head of the cohort, the leader equips himself with the red-black flag, the colors of the Hitlerist UPA (“Ukrainian Insurgent Army”) responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Polish civilians in Holocaust-era Ukraine. City-center waving of the UPA flag is an embarrassment for the peaceful and brutally attacked people of Ukraine, and only serves the Russian Federation — and its despicable fake-news media — in its brutal attack against Ukraine. The UPA flag, and the Bandera name now serve only Russian Federation propaganda about the supposed “denazification” of the democratic Ukraine (where over 70% voted for a Jewish president in 2019), and is meant only to confuse and antagonize the West against Ukraine, a freedom-loving land aspiring for integration with the democratic countries and European Union membership.
The front-line banner is six meters long, bilingual, in Lithuanian and Ukrainian (the text translates as: “For your and our freedom”), decorated with overlapping coats of arms of Lithuania Pogonia and the Ukrainian Trident. The background of the banner is a collage of two black-and-white photos of paramilitaries, the Forest Brothers, from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Whatever the issues, it was not nearly as distasteful as in previous years when the front banner featured glorious photos of local Hitler allies and Holocaust collaborators from the war years.
As usual, a number of the marchers’ “uniforms” sported swastikas, which were legalized in Lithuania in 2010 (a law that conflicts with other laws banning Nazi and Soviet symbols equally; the status and enforcement are obviously not equal, and the Soviet symbol ban is quite moot given that virtually nobody in the country sports them).
Beside the national Lithuanian tricolor, the marchers carried a number of blue flags, with yellow letters: “Tautos ir teisingumo sąjunga” (Union of Ethnicity and Justice). That is a political party. Bizarrely, only one or maybe two Ukrainian national blue-yellow flags, that have become genuine symbols of the inspirational Ukrainian desire for freedom and democracy, were to be seen. The message seems to be that Ukraine’s flag does not suffice. They require the Holocaust-era flag of a major fascist grouping with untold civilian blood on its hands.
Something else struck me, at any rate, as bizarre. The center of Vilnius is just some thirty kilometers or so — as the crow flies — from the border of Belarus. Nevertheless, there was not a single white and red Belarussian democratic opposition flag to be seen.
A few hours earlier, at the wholesome official celebration at midday, there were the legitimate Lithuanian and Ukrainian national flags of Guinness record size, 300 meters long, stitched together. Apparently, Ukrainians in Vilnius and in Lithuania in general now have the blessed wisdom to stay away from the ultranationalist rally that follows the Gedimino Boulevard route.
After less than a minute, the hundreds of male mouths exploded with the chant Lietuva lietuviams! Lietuva! Lietuva!. (‘Lithuania for Lithuanians! Lithuania! Lithuania’). The raucously shouted chant is repeated again and again and again, as if in a divine trance of the devil’s ecstasy. Perhaps just in case someone didn’t get their message that whoever is not a true-blood pure ethnic Lithuanian has no place in the country. The walk is one kilometer long, and takes less than thirty minutes to end up at Lukiškių Square. But unlike previous years, upon reaching the end point we don’t hear any political or patriotic speeches, and the conclusion was the national anthem. That is certainly an improvement over previous years (readers can browse through DH’s annual eyewitness coverage from 2008 onwards).
There are the usual curious sideshows. Someone came to the march carrying a banner for the restoration of the Lithuanian national monetary unit — the litas. It was replaced by the euro in 2015. In the conspiracy mindset, Lithuania is falling prey to the the liberal democratic values enforced by membership in the European Union, instead of developing as an isolate ethnocentric unit. By enhancing globalism, these demonstrators believe, the minds and powers acting behind the facade of European Union institutions are taking away from the European nations their sovereignty, corrupting national identities and robbing them of their future ethno-national development.
Lithuania is in the middle of the municipal election campaign of 2023. The four Lithuanian nationalistic political parties have recently won, taken together, nearly three percent of votes. That is a true statement of progress and pride for our country. But eerily, for the first time since Lithuania restored its independence in 1990, three seats out of 51 on the Vilnius City Council are held by the National Alliance (Nacionalinis susivienijimas), which successfully campaigned under the slogan “Kelkis, Vilniau!” (‘Rise Up, O Vilnius’), modelled on Hitler’s slogan “Deutschland erwache!” (‘Germany awaken’).
But the war in Ukraine is changing so many things. The sickening Russian Federation brutality and prospect of war without end within foreseeable future makes an impact on Lithuanian voters and is affecting different people in different ways. Daily struggles for liberal democracy, humanity, morals, human rights and human dignity, which are marks of a society of free individuals, are increasingly under threat to give way to the unscrupulous radical politicians with their “Blut-und-Boden” (‘blood and soil’) ideology and policy. The real lesson is rather different: Ukraine is being courageously defended by citizens of every one of the country’s ethnicities and minorities (see Fiokla Kiurė’s recent report and commentary on recent changes in Lithuania).
Today’s ultranationalist march was organized by the Union of Ethnicity and Justice, while the National Alliance, the winner in the municipal election of 2023, wisely kept well away. People who made up the National Alliance have been willing and instrumental in Holocaust revisionism and state glorification of Holocaust collaborators Jonas Noreika and Kazys Škirpa, among many others (see Defending History’s Collaborators Glorified section).
It remains to be seen what the National Alliance will do in Vilnius City Council, but it does seem that the chances for removal of the public signs glorifying the collaborators all over Vilnius seem to be even lower than earlier. I hope I am wrong! On the other hand, given the 700 years anniversary, and the shame for the rest of the world of the city’s shrines to Hitler collaborators, there is always hope the national government will finally do the right thing and step in: to rapidly remove Vilnius’s shrines to Holocaust collaborators, and to ensure that next year the far right and neo-nazis are kept far away from the center of the City of Gedminas.