[UPDATED 29 MAY]
by Dovid Katz
VILNIUS—The French bookstore located in the building housing the Institut français / French Cultural Center, all part of the French Embassy compound here in Lithuania’s capital, has for many years been featuring smack in the middle of its prominent show window at Didžioji St. No. 1 in Vilnius Old Town, in the row of books closest to the viewer outside, books in English or Lithuanian (nothing to do with France or French) that are dedicated to glorifying Holocaust collaborators who supported and enabled the genocide of 96.4% of Lithuanian Jewry.
Whenever, over the years, this issue has been brought up to French Embassy diplomats, French Institute leadership, the answer has been the same, along the lines of “It is not our bookshop, it is a private French-themed bookshop that simply rents the space from us. We are not responsible. The French Embassy is not responsible, the French Institute is not responsible, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs is not responsible.” Nevertheless, we would like to pay tribute to French diplomats who did make an effort over the years. On 7 May 2020, for example, the then ambassador, HE Claire Lignières-Counathe took action. She reported back: “The French book shop on Didžioji gatvė is not part of the French Institute. But we pointed out to the owner that to present this book in the shop window could hurt people. He agreed and removed the book from the shop window.”
One week later, the book was back. And that goes to the heart of how a far-right, Holocaust-revisionist, Hitler collaborator glorifying (hence ipso facto antisemitic) enterprise has been, as one midlevel French diplomat put it to us off the record, “making a monkey out of our embassy in the third decade of the twenty-first century.”
In the city’s everyday life, and all the more so for thousands of tourists from around the world, the details of ownership are unknown and of little interest. It is the universal public perception that comes into play when a French themed bookshop is housed in the building of the French Embassy compound in Vilnius, just to the right of the French Institute’s handsome blue sign.