When Past is Not Even Past


by Mikhail Iossel

This comment is a response to the statement recently published by the Lithuanian Human Rights Association (LHRA).

What’s genuinely sad, with regard to the pathetic document in question — among other things of similar revealing character, to be sure — is the realization that none of those self-sufficient, accomplished, educated, and supposedly respectable people, the LHRA leadership, are likely to exist in a vacuum. They are surrounded by the concentric circles of friends, colleagues, students… fellow human-rights (!) activists — presumably, at least to some significant extent, sharing their views on those vile and treacherous, kinless-cosmopolite Jews’ international conspiracy to humiliate Lithuania by, you know, constantly guilt-tripping and browbeating the poor little innocent freedom-loving country into remembering and finishing the unpleasant business of accounting for this one, admittedly unfortunate, event of past long gone.

Of course, if there were one place in Europe where William Faulkner’s famous dictum, “The past is not dead. It isn’t even past” could summarize the entirety of the local societal atmosphere, Lithuania would be that place.

Neither would it be a plausible assumption that the haplessly outspoken Mr Stankeras — until recently, a valued “government specialist” — could be alone among all of his friends and colleagues and sundry associates in believing the Holocaust to be a “legend” and the Nuremberg trial a “sham” (a stunning statement indeed, to be made by a supposed historian in a country with the dismal distinction of coming the closest in Europe to realizing in full Hitler’s vision of the “final solution” to “the Jewish question”).

One could, on some level, even sympathize with Mr Stankeras’s plight: it must indeed be easy for one to lose the proper perspective on the boundaries of the acceptable in the rather schizophrenic environment of antisemitic sentiment’s being winked at in the domestic political arena and excoriated with the furrowed brow of righteous indignation for the high-minded international community’s consumption; easy to commit a momentary lapse in judgment, by losing sight as to why it may not be admissible (apparently, this has something to do with Lithuania’s now being an EU member?) to state in public format that which is being said quite matter-of-factly in any number of private conversations he doubtless has on a regular basis, at dinner parties and such. Of course Jews are out to harm Lithuania: that’s not even a question!

How many of those Mr. Stankerases, both more and infinitely less savvy than he is, are out there, in the Lithuanian society at large? Probably quite a few, rather a massive number, for a very small country gripped by the incessant economic hardship and the attendant apathy and bitterness — a country fairly bleeding its younger generation, deeply uncertain about its future and struggling for a sense of identity, stuck in the psychological posture of stubborn resentful crouch and profound distrust of the vile, demonic “other”.

Mikhail Iossel, professor at Concordia University in Montreal, is director of Summer Literary Seminars and founder of the Litvak Studies Institute.

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