O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Suspense is growing in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, concerning the verdict in the free speech trial of the flamboyant, controversial young left-wing politician, Algirdas Paleckis. The court’s ruling will be read from the bench next Wednesday 14 December 2011 at 2 PM at the First District Court at Laisves 79, Vilnius. The charge carries a possible one-year prison sentence if Mr. Paleckis is found guilty. A press release was received today from the Lithuania Without Nazism organization (not to be confused with the ‘secret’ internet group ‘Lithuania Without Neo-Nazism’, that some believe to be a manipulated group, somewhat sophomoric, or both).
Text of the press release:
INTERNATIONAL CALL FOR ACTION AGAINST POLITICAL HARASSMENT BY THE LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT
For the first time ever in the post-Soviet area, a person is threatened with 1 year in prison just for questioning one version of one historical event. The freedom of speech is at stake in Lithuania, a NATO and EU member state. Authorities in Lithuania are politically persecuting journalist, human rights and anti-fascist activist, chair of the Socialist People’s Front Algirdas Paleckis for his opinion.
The verdict of the court will be announced on 14th of December at 15:00 in Vilnius at the Vilnius First District Court (Laisves 79, Vilnius).
A. Paleckis is risking 1 year of imprisonment for the — quote of the State Prosecutor — “denying the aggression of USSR in 1991”. The “crime” of A. Paleckis is that he dared to question the official version of events of 13th of January 1991 in Vilnius. Fourteen people were killed on that day, in very unclear circumstances not officially investigated until now. Signs of provocations were obvious, as it was a time of regime change in Lithuania. A. Paleckis openly spoke about these provocations, basing his opinion on numerous publications and interviews with witnesses, also on the medical conclusions about the causes of deaths of victims. But the Lithuanian state, ruled by nationalistic politicians, imposes on the society its own version of events. Its questioning is forbidden by the Lithuanian Penal Code, although the real perpetrators of the mentioned crime are still not identified.
A. Paleckis is a co-founder of international human rights movement “World Without Nazism” and a is vice-chair of its Lithuanian chapter. He is one of very few in Lithuania who is constantly denouncing Government’s subservience to the neo-Nazis who are allowed each year to march in the Lithuanian streets and proudly shout “Lithuania – for Lithuanians!”and “Juden raus!”. A Lithuanian court decided that the swastika can be publicly demonstrated in Lithuania, and that the slogan “Lithuania – for Lithuanians!” is “a democratic slogan”. All these neo-nazi tendencies are unofficially supported by the government of Lithuania.
Stop banning freedom of speech in Lithuania!
Hands off Algirdas Paleckis!
In a 14 April editorial on DefendingHistory.com, ‘Freedom of Speech is not Pick-and Choose’ we stated our view: ‘As students of Voltaire, we disapprove of all that Paleckis has said about January 1991, but we will join the fight to the finish for his right to say it and not be subject to trial in a member-state of the European Union, NATO and the OSCE.’
In that editorial, DefendingHistory.com pointed out two additional aspects.
First, the anti-democratic 2010 law criminalizing debate under which Mr. Paleckis is being prosecuted is the same law that criminalizes the honest historic narrative of the Holocaust and World War II in Lithuania. Any parties — including ourselves — who believe that the Nazi genocide was the twentieth century genocide in Lithuania, and that Soviet crimes, no matter how cruel and horrific, do not rise to genocide or symmetry or equivalence, are liable to bring upon themselves prosecution.
DefendingHistory.com has often pointed out that on the ground here in Lithuania, the actual policy is to obfuscate the Holocaust by way of the ‘Double Genocide’ theory and as part of the obfuscation, to try to prosecute Holocaust survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance, while mounting state-sponsored exhibits that glorify the local Holocaust murderers, and in 2011, a ‘year’ to honor them (alongside a ‘separate 2011’ year, principally for foreigners and PR, to also commemorate the Holocaust). In October of 2011, a single cellar room in the Genocide Museum was dedicated to the Holocaust, and it too sanitizes and glorifies the local collaborators.
Second, we pointed out the Mr. Paleckis has been one of the very few public figures — and possibly the only non-Jew in the public debate — who has consistently and unambiguously opposed the whole gamut of pro-Nazi state-approved developments in recent years, including the legalization of public swastikas, the attempted prosecution of anti-Nazi partisan veterans, the permits for neo-Nazi parades and their slogans, and the heroization of the local Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) murderers who unleashed the Holocaust in Lithuania in dozens of locations before German forces had even arrived, and whose prewar leaflets show the clear genocidal intent that was duly carried out with such complete ‘success’.
Mr. Paleckis’s bold and courageous stands against obfuscation and distortion of the Holocaust, and against the rise of a special kind of neo-fascism that takes cover under the new Double Genocide movement in the region, has made him a huge credit to Lithuania. For future generations, he will be a Lithuanian hero who stood up, and was ready to pay, for the defense of free speech and for opposition to a shameful state-sponsored bogus history that would heroize fascist killers of the country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust, and then try to stifle free speech to prevent disagreement.
Most recently, Mr. Paleckis was the only figure to save the dignity of Lithuania at a cooked-up conference on Tolerance, held at the Tolerance Center in Vilnius, where all these problems were shoved under the rug in an effort to present the American envoy on antisemitism with a misleading picture. Our report. Video of Mr. Paleckis’s comments from the floor. Full English translation.
Disagreeing with Mr. Paleckis about January 1991, when the courageous people of Lithuania non-violently rose up for freedom, independence and democracy, and were met with cruel and violent repression by Soviet forces in Vilnius, does not in any way mitigate the sense of betrayal of freedom now felt by seeing him put on trial — Soviet-style par excellence, as irony would have it — for expressing an opinion on history, right here in the European Union.
One cannot help but wonder what unspoken role Mr. Paleckis’s bold and inspirational courage in speaking up on the truth of the Holocaust and the local fascist role in it has played in authorities’ decision to prosecute him. That almost nobody else locally is speaking up for the truth on the Holocaust speaks volumes in suggesting that the odious 2010 law criminalizing the truth about the Holocaust, in effect, and its use to prosecute someone, albeit on the decoy of 1991 (where there is overwhelming consensus on the main points of the events) and not on the truth of 1941 (the object of millions in governmental investment in obfuscation), is heaving a deadly effect on freedom of speech that should ring alarm bells in the European Union, NATO, and the OSCE.
The noble and long suffering Lithuanian people deserve the precise same standard of freedom and tolerance applicable anywhere among the nations who have voluntarily joined these freedom-defending international alliances.
Anyone who loves freedom of speech, the truth about the Holocaust and about the fascist perpetrators of this part of the world, and for that matter, anyone who loves Lithuania, will speak out loud and clear against the prosecution and persecution of Algirdas Paleckis.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have apparently been too busy to clearly explain the status of their other targets: the Jewish Holocaust survivors who escaped certain death and became heroes of the free world by fighting valiantly to help free their country of Nazism. The outside world has not remained silent, and awaits news.