OPINION | HUMAN RIGHTS | ANTISEMITISM | VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE
VILNIUS—Yet again, a conference here in the Lithuanian capital dedicated to combating fascism and antisemitism is announced, without there having been a public call for papers, without a single speaker from among those who actually combat fascism and antisemitism in the country, with nobody from the democratically elected Vilnius Jewish community (not even the long-time editor of Jerusalem of Lithuania who has exposed and combated antisemitism for decades). No Holocaust survivors. None of the nationally relevant questions of the day can be found on the conference program. As ever, outstanding academic personalities from abroad are recruited to lend the gravitas and provide serious papers on an array of topics (which they admirably do), as long as these have little directly to do with the actual contemporary issues here in Lithuania (but the conference introduction by Prof. Dovilė Budrytė does indeed touch on some of the issues, which seem, however, to be largely absent from the actual conference program). The last such event, in 2015, resulted in the Norwegian Embassy withdrawing support and launching an inquiry on behalf of the EEA (European Economic Area) funders of that event.
To make matters worse, the program is skewed to provide further glory for various leaders (and their relatives) of the current rigged-election bosses of the “official” Jewish community that is largely state-sponsored (indeed, the restitution-controlling “Good Will Foundation” is itself a major conference sponsor). The community’s election rules were changed last spring mid-campaign (an act found to be prima facie illegal by the courts) to disenfranchise the 2,200 Jews of Vilnius while gifting electoral power to a roomful of oligarchs (and that was carried out with a small army of security guards that kept members of the community out of their own community premises). Given the official leadership’s condemnation of the Vilnius community’s honest elections as one of “Russian speakers who call themselves Jews,” the goings-on in the hijacked official Jewish community (which allegedly include letting go of Jewish employees in higher admin positions) themselves merit a research paper at an academic conference on antisemitism (more on this by DH, JTA, Pinchos Fridberg, Leonas Kaplanas, Josifas Parasonis).
Shockingly, not a single representative of the democratically elected Vilnius Jewish Community board, comprising 21 elected members, is on the program, even to deliver a one-minute greeting. There is still some time to fix this, and perhaps at long last the Israeli Embassy, itself on the program, will intervene diplomatically to avoid being seen yet again as improperly propping up a kangaroo-election ersatz Jewish community leadership. The ethical conundrum is all the more evocative given that the conference is financed in large part by the “Good Will Foundation” restitution monies deriving from the religious properties of the annihilated Jewish population of Lithuania. In addition to shirking the issues of the day in local antisemitism, the conference shuts out the legitimate representatives of the living remnant Jewish community. This is something for the august foreign scholars flown in, hoteled, and wined and dined, to reflect upon.
But the major issues are known to all, and attendees at the conference might want to bring some of these up at the conference:
- Annual neo-Nazi parades that often glorify actual local Holocaust collaborators, permitted by the authorities for the center of Vilnius on March 11th independence day, and the center of Kaunas on February 16th independence day.
- Ongoing alleged “national” neo-Nazi blog, abounding in racism and antisemitism, by Mr. “Zeppelinus” who is alleged to still be a high official in the Economy Ministry. He is known for his photoshop “artwork” that features racist and antisemitic invective.
- Ongoing glorification of Holocaust collaborators via street names, university lecture hall names and an array of events.
- Harassment, defamation and disemployment of those who dare speak up on these topics, most recently the campaign of personal and professional destruction against author Ruta Vanagaite (materials in English in Weekly of Vilnius and Defending History). Only recent did the campaign by prosecutors and police against Evaldas Balčiūnas let up (for perspective, please scroll to bottom of section and peruse upward in chronological order).
- Ongoing impact of the “red-brown law” that criminalizes dissent to Double Genocide politics.
- Requests for relevant state agencies to issue apologies to the defamed Jewish Holocaust survivors whose names have been marred for history for their (a) heroism in fighting Hitler with the anti-Nazi partisans in the forests of Lithuania during the Holocaust or (b) for their speaking up on issues of Holocaust history.
- Policies of defiling Jewish cemeteries via commercial convention centers when such desecration would never even be contemplated for a historic Christian cemetery of medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania vintage.
- Holocaust denial, downgrading, and obfuscation, particularly via state-sponsored projects to distort history in line with the ultranationalist Double Genocide movement.
- Alleged cases of East European governments using restitution payments to effectively hijack weak and remnant Jewish communities, with efforts at denationalization, manipulation of opinion on issues relating to Holocaust history and antisemitism and delegitimization of extant Jewish communities (“they are all just Russian speakers”), sometimes with campaigns against legitimate local communities that function democratically.
- An array of issues arising in the field of antisemitism, bias and racism, and more generally, Human Rights in the country and the region. See Defending History’s sections on antisemitism, Christian-Jewish issues, dignity of the dead, free speech, glorification of collaborators, Holocaust Survivor rights, LGBT rights, Litvak rights, freedom of the media, neo-Nazi marches, racism, Roma issues, Russian speakers’ issues, women’s rights, and DH’s Prophet Amos Awards.
Turning from issues to personalities, it is curious to see if any of those who have locally stood up against antisemitism, fascism and the related forms of hate have been invited to this conference. The list includes Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, Kristina Apanavičiūtė Sulikienė, Mausha Bairakas, Evaldas Balčiūnas, Chaim Bargman, Ruta (Reyzke) Bloshtein, Milan Chersonski, Aleksandrs Feigmanis, Pinchos Fridberg, Simon Gurevich (Simonas Gurevičius), Leonas Kaplanas, Vilma Fiokla Kiurė, Rachel Kostanian, Andrius Kulikauskas, Julius Norwilla (Norvila), Josifas Parasonis, Jacob Piliansky, Rūta Vanagaitė, Nida Vasiliauskaitė, Lina Žigelytė.
Related: Seven simple solutions to sometimes irksome issues in Lithuanian-Jewish affairs
Modern Lithuania is a successful vibrant democracy featuring robust and respectful dialogue at many levels. What a shame that an international conference on antisemitism and fascism seems, once again, to be misconceived in the spirit of covering up the issues that need to be discussed and excluding the voices that dare discuss them, all in a misguided effort to present some smug PR in place of a table of honest and frank discourse. And, unethically financed by a misnamed “Good Will Foundation” from the funds of the religious property of the massacred Jewish population.
Residents of Vilnius who might be inclined to come and politely speak up are invited to register for this Thursday’s conference.