More Mainstream Media Coverage of the Swastika Issue in Lithuania




The following, for our readers’ information, is Geoff Vasil’s translation of a 3 February 2014 article that appeared in 15min.lt. Please see the original Lithuanian for the photos referenced herein by their captions in square brackets.

Lithuanian Coat of Arms with Swastika Allowed on Television in Lithuania

by Ieva Gvozdiovienė and Skirmantas Malinauskas

Although the swastika motif is associated with the crimes of Nazism in many countries and its use carries criminal penalties, in Lithuania it may be used as a company logo or personal symbol. Furthermore, the swastika may be placed on the Lithuanian coat of arms—the Vytis—and used on flags, and these images may be transmitted on television without fear to viewers and internet users.

[photo caption:] Kęstutis Pūkas

One such flag can be seen in the Pūkas TV studios where channel owner and businessman Kęstutis Pūkas discusses current events with guests. A YouTube channel called Lietuvai, “for Lithuania,” also sports such a flag and has about 3,000 subscribers.

Although some of the video clips have been deleted from the [YouTube] channel, the total number of viewers is now climbing towards 10 million, with information provided in Russian and English as well as Lithuanian.

Flying Now and in the Future

[offset text:] “This is not the same historical flag of Lithuania, the colors aren’t the same really. This is an ancient symbol [literally, “an old set of symbols of Lithuania,” sic] of Lithuania,” Pūkas explained.

When 15min.lt caught up with him, Pūkas explained flags with the swastika are legal and recognized by the courts. “This is not the same historical flag of Lithuania, the colors aren’t the same really. This is an ancient symbol [literally, “an old set of symbols of Lithuania,” sic] of Lithuania. They have some of these kinds of flags at the Kernavė Museum [Kernavė is believed by some to be the original Lithuanian capital before Trakai and Vilnius—trans]. The swastika is a symbol of the Sun which later Hitler merely used,” he explained.

Pūkas claimed it is the true symbol of Lithuania. “This flag flies in the studio and will in the future,” the radio and television channel owner said.

[photo caption:] photo by Erikas Ovčarenko/15min.lt, Kęstutis Pūkas

Pūkas suggested going to Milvydas Juškauskas for further comments, the man who delivered the flag to the studio. [Milvydas Juškauskas was directly involved in re-legalizing the swastika in Lithuania after it was banned, —trans.]. He is the person who speaks on many of the YouTube clips mentioned previously.

Not a Matter for Journalists

“It is legal to make and distribute swastikas in Lithuania which are not German, and it would be more appropriate to bring to criminal account those who block the use of swastikas,” Juškauskas said.

On the telephone with 15min.lt, Juškauskas declined to explain what went into the making of the flag with swastika, and said he would have to make sure first that the journalist with whom he was speaking was sufficiently intelligent and capable of understanding him.

During the conversation he expressed joy at having been visited by Russia Today reporters, a channel financed by Russia and considered a propaganda outlet in the West, who asked him about swastikas. Juškauskas said this gave him the opportunity to reach an audience of billions, and that he would only agree to speak with 15min.lt in the event a large information campaign were organized.

[photo caption:] Milvydas Juškauskas/Facebook photo

Further communication with Juškauskas took place on Facebook. Asked whether he could produce a court verdict which allowed him to use the flag with the swastika, i.e., the flag which looks very much like the Lithuanian coat of arms, Juškauskas replied: “The proceedings took place regarding other matters, partially related, partially unrelated. It is not a matter for discussion at the level of rumors by journalists.”

He pointed out he was not a public figure. Eventually 15min.lt received a set of answers Juškauskas had posed to himself. One went like this: “Does M. Juškauskas judge positively the activity of K. Pūkas in gifting him the flag of the White Rider with a Swastika on the shield? Yes, he correspondingly positively judged the opportunities K. Pūkas provided in allowing 9 times discussion on the [TV] programs of topics at the level of the state and in displaying photographs of objects of Lithuania with swastikas, and therefore he gifted him the smallest table flag.”

Business Plan

[offset text:] “The swastika is a global symbol. More than 300 variations of it have been collected. In Finland even now there is both the presidential and air force flag with swastikas. They don’t have this kind of schizophrenia we do here,” Juškauskas said.

Juškauskas has posted links to earlier interviews and his own publications. “It is legal to make and distribute swastikas which are not German in Lithuania, and it would be appropriate, under the acts law now in force, to bring to account those who impede the use of swastikas,” he said in an interview on Ziniu Radijas [News Radio] back in 2009.

He called upon Lithuanians to seize the business opportunity and start making things with swastikas. They could be exported to many countries of the world by including a document stating they are reproductions of national heritage protected in Lithuania.

“Rings, a fastening pin and headgear have been dug up at our capital Kernavė which constitute not just our but the world’s cultural heritage, protected by UNESCO. These swastikas were used in Germany to create their symbol. Our symbols were made in the 13th century,” he claimed.

[caption:] photo: AFP/Scanpix. Radical protestors even decorate their heads with swastikas.

He said the swastika, a national treasure, is insufficiently protected in Lithuania. “The swastika is a global symbol. More than 300 variations of it have been collected. In Finland even now there is both the presidential and air force flag with swastikas. They don’t have this kind of schizophrenia we do here,” the guest said on the radio program.

The Point is to Annoy People and Government

Arvydas Každailis, who re-created the flag of the President of the Republic of Lithuania in 1991, said: “The swastika motif is encountered widely in Central and Northern Europe, but we must recall what was done under this symbol during World War II.”

Každailis, the artist who designed the flag of the President of the Republic of Lithuania in 1991 and also re-created or created many coats of arms and seals of cities and districts [after Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union] told 15min.lt he had never seen an historical flag of Lithuania with a swastika, but that the use of this historical symbol took on a negative signification after World War II.

“I have never seen an historical flag of the state with a swastika. The historical flag of the state is defined by law. It is such and no deviation is possible. It is the property of the state. Concerning other flags, whoever wants to may render them however the like,” the heraldry specialist said.

[photo caption:] photo: BFL. Arvydas Každailis

He recalled earlier instances of similar issues having cropped up: “I remember a precedent when one person raised a flag with a swastika over his house in Klaipėda. There was much controversy. Yes, the swastika is a shared global symbol. This motif is widely found in Central and Northern Europe, but we must recall what was done under this symbol during World War II. The swastika acquired a negative halo. Therefore, when some calls me to ask for advice on whether this flag may be used, I answer: ‘Use it if you want to annoy the neighbors and the government, but don’t come to me with such questions.'”

Swastikas May Be Used in Corporate Logos

[offset text:] “The Nazi modification of the swastika is banned, other symbols may be used. You may make for yourself a personal symbol or a corporate logo, if you aren’t afraid it will cause a negative reaction among clients,” the heraldry specialist said.

Každailis said every heraldic symbol has an owner. The coat of arms of a noble is his property and the coat of arms of a municipality belongs to that municipality. The historical flag belongs to the state and may not be altered even by one stroke.

“I may draw a swastika in my sketches if there is an historical basis for that. I agree that it is an ancient symbol, an important legacy, but it was stained after World War II. We are all adults here and understand this,” the artist said.

He specified Lithuanian laws only forbid the use of the Nazi variant of the swastika. “The Nazi modification of the swastika is banned, other symbols may be used. You may make for yourself a personal symbol or a corporate logo, if you aren’t afraid it will cause a negative reaction among clients.”

[photo caption:] photo: Irmantas Gelūnas/15min.lt Moment from a concert. The flag of the President of the Republic of Lithuania as conceived by Každailis at top.

Asked whether the meaning of the swastika changes when it is reversed, the creator of many new coats of arms and flags said it was an insignificant difference. “If the swastika is reversed, it changes its meaning slightly, but it is an insignificant detail. In heraldry the principle of mirror-reflection operates. When a person looks in the mirror, right is left. If the swastika spins clockwise in Nazi symbolism, its turning in the other direction is heraldically primary, but these are just nuances. A swastika is still a swastika,” he explained.

Feels Offended

[offset text:] “This flag offends me personally and the entire Jewish community,” Faina Kukliansky said.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky told 15min.lt this sort of demonstration of the swastika is intolerable. “This flag offends me personally and the entire Jewish community. Even if they try to link it with the historical legacy of Lithuania, this symbol is associated by everyone with the crimes of Nazism. Why does it have to be demonstrated?”

She said International Holocaust Day had just been marked a few days earlier. Returning from Brussels where events were held to mark the day, Kukliansky said the ethical position of European Union leaders was clear: neo-Nazism and antisemitism will not be allowed to spread in democratic countries.

[photo caption:] photo: Aurimas Šrubėnas/Faina Kukliansky, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman

She said no one was trying to destroy the cultural or historical heritage of countries, and therefore there was no need to use this as cover for spreading ideas giving rise to ethnic discord. “If I travelled to India and saw on the wall of a home the symbol of the ancient swastika, I really wouldn’t demand the building be torn down. In the same way I don’t propose the destruction of Lithuanian cultural heritage treasures either. But people who publicly demonstrate the swastika are not just offending Jews, but all members of the democratic community. The crimes of Nazism, after all, didn’t just affect the Jewish people.”

Lack of Regulation

[offset text:] “That such things are allowed today doesn’t mean we have to accept them,” the representative of the Jewish community said.

Kukliansky said it wasn’t a normal situation in which such symbols may be publicly displayed and that this is allowed by Lithuanian law. “I am an attorney and may not comment upon laws or legal decisions, but we have to understand that laws change, new jurisprudence arises. That such things are allowed today doesn’t mean we have to accept them,” she said.

The Lithuanian Jewish community representative said it wasn’t really important which way the swastika was pointed or how it was stylized: “In the context of this period the meaning of the swastika symbol is clear to everyone. This is well understood by those who use it. The question that must be asked is what their goals and motives are for acting this way.”

[photo caption:] photo: Andrius Vaitkevičius/15min.lt Graffiti on a Jewish community building.

The woman noted the Lithuanian legislation was not in order. “I see that accountability for Holocaust denial isn’t regulated sufficiently in Lithuania. This situation needs to be changed and that is one of our main goals,” Kukliansky said.

 

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