by Dovid Katz
Our take? NATO needs to stand for Western values. Putin’s shameful “Zapad 17” military exercise demo, in regions bordering the eastern democratic lands of NATO and the EU — including the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — is intended to intimidate their peaceful populations and to provoke regional unease. Not to mention the very real danger that various of the troops will find one way or another “to stay in the region after the exercises are over” in a very tired old Soviet spirit of things. These military exercises need to be exposed for what they are, and countered with stalwart determination. NATO’s commitment to its members must remain sacrosanct and permanent, while remaining true to the ideals for which, ultimately, it exists.
That makes it all the more critical for the North Atlantic alliance (and the EU) not to succumb to regional far-right, ultranationalist, chauvinist, Holocaust-revisionist, and antisemitic forces in the course of the proceedings.
NATO recently issued a new film, Forest Brothers — Fight for the Baltics, extolling the postwar Baltic “Forest Brothers” with no mention of the problems that need to be mentioned. Which are what? A debatable proportion of the “Brothers” were recycled Hitlerist forces. The vast majority of the tens of thousands of people they killed were civilians. Many of the “Brothers” harbored Nazi views of racial purity and hatred of their nations’ minorities, including the one that had recently been subject to genocide. Various “Forest Brothers” including some major leaders who are documented as having been Holocaust collaborators are still glorified in the Baltics by statues, street names and public plaques. For examples see some of the reports by our correspondent Evaldas Balčiūnas concerning the overall issue, and more specifically, regarding the alleged Nazi collaboration of Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas, Juozas Barzda, Konstantinas Liuberskis–Žvainys, Vincas Kaulinis-Miškinis, Juozas Krikštaponis (Krištaponis), Jonas Noreika, Adolfas Ramanauskas Vanagas, Juozas Šibaila, Sergijus Staniškis Litas, Vylius-Vėlavičius, and Jonas Žemaitis. It is sad that Mr. Balčiūnas’s work has been rewarded not with the public (and foreign) recognition he eminently deserves, but by a series of nuisance court cases and kangaroo prosecutions over the years. In the fullness of time he will be appreciated as a true patriot of Lithuania and the Baltics, one who genuinely champions the values of the European Union and NATO.
The film’s official description misleadingly implies that these “Brothers” were generally or equally comprised of people from “both sides of the war.” It includes no mention of the related 21st century issues of glorification of Nazi collaborators in Eastern Europe (or the 1950s glee taken by the “Brothers” in the Holocaust). And what about today’s democratic tolerance for a diversity of views in “the eastern part of NATO”? Here in Vilnius, Dr. Darius Udrys, a city official who is a prominent public intellectual, was recently fired for daring to question whether the “Brothers” were right to murder Lithuanian civilians for working in Soviet collective farms.
While “Forest Brother” relics are preserved as national shrines (courtesy of EU budgets), the last surviving anti-Nazi base of Jewish partisans who fled the Vilna Ghetto is being left to sink right into the earth.
There is moreover the danger of “bad mission creep,” whereby the inroads into Western discourse of far-right East European Holocaust revisionism are gradually being expanded to include ever new rewritings of history, unbeknowst to the naive Western institutions that can be persuaded to enter the history fray without the necessary preparation and in the absence of understanding the implications. There has been, for example, a lamentably uncritical insinuation of Double Genocide revisionism into otherwise reputable museums. There have been episodes when, for example, the OSCE, the US State Department (particularly its Neocon faction), UNESCO in France and other sterling, stalwart Western democratic institutions have stumbled into collaboration with far-right East European history-revising forces. NATO has heretofore wisely kept itself far from this slippery slope of East European ultranationalism and history-revisionism that slips into glorification of alleged Holocaust collaborators, and the numerous attempts to export it to the West.
Indeed, when NATO has a lapse in upholding Western ideals, principles and causes, especially those for which the Allies sacrificed so much during World War II and the Holocaust, it is incumbent upon genuine friends of NATO to point it out with the utmost clarity. This latest episode also impacts the principle that citizens of Eastern NATO countries deserve the same standards of freedom of speech and democracy as all others. It is, moreover, incumbent on US embassies in the Baltics, particularly in Vilnius, to stop defaming (as “Russian lackeys”) those (including US citizens these embassies exist to represent) who stand up to the far-right Holocaust revisionists and work for human rights in the region.
As for the flawed NATO film, it could be ameliorated by an additional moment of explanation about the featured group’s Nazi connections. True, that might cancel out its value in the West’s informational war against Putinist aggression. But our information war, unlike Russia’s, needs to be based on Western values and historic truthfulness. An alternate solution suggests itself: Make a film about the many brutal evils and crimes of Soviet Communism, perhaps focusing on the very area where the Zapad 17 exercises are slated to be held.
It is often the case that there is a “simple” solution to what is being sold as a “complicated” problem.
A shortened version of this op-ed appeared in New York in the Algemeiner Journal on 28 August 2017.