O P I N I O N
by Geoff Vasil
Andrius Navickas, a religious studies expert and editor-in-chief of the Bernardinai.lt website, published a rather strange editorial at the end of 2011 taken from a speech he gave over Lithuanian Radio.
Navickas, who has often been featured as a Good Guy on DefendingHistory.com for speaking out against hatred and neo-Nazi marches, started out by saying the several dozen events commemorating both the Year of the Struggle for Freedom and Great Losses (2011) and the Year for Commemorating Lithuanian Holocaust Victims (also 2011) couldn’t be expected to overcome entrenched stereotypes and selective memory among Lithuanians.
He then notes that none of the media’s top-ten lists of the foregoing year’s events mentioned the adoption of a law for restitution of Jewish religious property.
He notes what he thinks is a positive “grass-roots” project he claims was initiated by young people to read out the names of Holocaust victims at St. Catherine’s Church in Vilnius.
He goes on to say that it is encouraging that beginning this year (2012 presumably) Lithuanian students will have the opportunity to learn about the Lithuanian freedom struggle.
His penultimate paragraph goes like this:
“True, the economic crisis, about whose second wave much is spoken today, is a favorable medium for the multiplication of the virus of hate. So it’s naive to expect that there won’t be antisemitic attacks or attempts to romanticize Nazism and Communism over the coming year. But if we are able to learn from history, including from its most dramatic pages, rather than turning history into the servant of an ideology, we will have a powerful antidote to the demonization of otherness and efforts to find a ‘scapegoat.’”
Still, his own final paragraph is in direct contradiction of that:
“‘Let your sons draw strength from the past’ we sing in the national anthem, interjecting that the basis of that strength is unity. It is the foundation of that unity, which is strength, and of solidarity and common action that I most wish everyone for the coming year.”
So much for “otherness,” he’s ringing in the New Year with “strength through joy”-type jingoism. The title of the piece he published also alludes to the national anthem: “Do we draw strength or suffering from the past?”
The contradiction inherent throughout the piece is that somehow there was a Holocaust-era Lithuanian struggle against the Soviets that wasn’t pro-Nazi. That somehow Lithuanians rose up in arms and didn’t attack Jewish men, women and children, but Red Army troops. Or perhaps when he says “It is very important that the understanding that freedom should be cherished and must be fought for is inculcated at the primary school” it is a non sequitur and has nothing to do with official attempts to romanticize the Lithuanian partisans as national heroes rather than war criminals, and what he really wants is for Lithuania to relax its gun control laws so that an armed public can defend the country against future incursions. Or is he talking about a different group of partisans (actually the same people in many cases) who fought the Soviets after World War II by attacking and murdering pregnant Lithuanian women and children?
Perhaps he isn’t advocating any of the above, and merely wants to maintain the status quo as he sees it. After all, modern Lithuania wasn’t won by the blood of its proponents, it was twice resurrected — in 1918 and 1990 — as a brave statement placed on a bureaucratic letterhead, with the highest hopes for acceptance by the wider world. A legal act based on the idea of self-determination, not a bloody war of independence. And no, the victims at the Vilnius television tower in 1991 did not win Lithuanian independence, Lithuania only gained de facto recognition (outside Iceland) after Yeltsin granted it at the very end of 1991.
But if Lithuania exists thanks to a sense of fairness among the international players over the fate of small nations, Lithuania is obligated to conduct her own affairs in adherence to that principle, and to respect the rights of even smaller nations living in her midst. For that reason it is completely fair, in my mind, to say that by embarking on the Holocaust in 1941 to demonstrate lap-dog loyalty to their coming German masters, Lithuania in effect committed suicide.
At some level, conscious or otherwise, Navickas is doing exactly what he condemns in his editorial: practicing selective memory. The Provisional Government which declared itself in power in June, 1941, wanted Lithuania to enter World War II on the side of the Axis, and the organization which founded the Provisional Government (PG), the Lithuanian Activist Front, was responsible for the massacres of Jews in Kaunas, Vilnius and over much of Lithuania even before German troops arrived, never mind the arrival of the Einsatzkommandos, who followed the Wehrmacht and operated behind German lines, as outlined in the planning documents for Operation Barbarossa.
Now, it would be a fine thing to hold up the Lithuanian freedom struggle as an ideal for primary school students, provided there had been one. There wasn’t, not until ca. 1988, when the struggle wasn’t a militarized one in any event. Instead of fighting and dying for independence and sovereignty as the rest of the world has had to do, Lithuania has been more or less handed sovereignty on a silver platter twice in the 20th century. Once it so fouled itself that it went into hiding for fifty years, then emerged to blame the Soviets for having prevailed against Hitler and the Axis powers, the Axis to which the self-declared Provisional Government of 1941 aspired, but to which the Nazis decided they weren’t worthy. It would be a fine thing to present the Lithuanian struggle for independence to students, had there been one. Instead, Lithuanian partisans so-called assuaged their thirst for freedom by targeting women and children, Jewish and Lithuanian.
Is that the sort of heroism Lithuanian youth should emulate in the 21st century?
As for the “grass-roots” initiative to read the list of names at a Catholic church, Navickas was present at a conference where Emanuelis Zingeris made that claim. It is dubious. Someone put them up to it. Someone saw perhaps on television how lists of names of Holocaust victims are read in different parts of the world and decided that was the proper protocol for Holocaust Remembrance Day in Lithuania. What list did they use, exactly? The only list I know of is a multi-volume set of books published by the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Library of the names of Vilna Ghetto prisoners. With a kill-ratio of 96% or more of all Lithuanian Jews murdered, it’s a good bet they didn’t accidentally name any survivors as among the dead. In the name of respecting “otherness,” did the organizers hand the children lists of names of murdered Jews in Lithuanianized form, or did they read them out without adding the Lithuanian -as and other endings, respecting their original Jewish forms? How does that jive with a “demonization of otherness?”
Navickas is sadly now himself laboring under the burden of doublethink in the best traditions of Lithuanian Holocaust Obfuscation and wraps himself up in the Lithuanian national anthem to fix it all up. Coming on top of the recent uncommented-upon reprint of a Ministry of Defense press release glorifying the Lithuanian Activist Front fascists, and a new English section dominated by government PR, it leads us to ask, as friends of Bernardinai.lt:
Has there been slippage?