Rasa Čepaitienė: The Nighttime Politics of History (An answer to A. Nikžentaitis)
In his article, Alvydas Nikžentaitis (a Lithuanian historian recently appointed as the director of the Lithuanian Institute of History – ed.) starts with a review of key trends based on a short period of Lithuanian historical politics.
However, if removal of the sculptures from the Green Bridge in 2015 may indeed be associated with events in Ukraine and a crashing wave of the tumbling of statues of Lenin there, it is a pity then, that he does not pose another important question – what internal and external reasons have led to such an unexpected “activism” of the current mayor of Vilnius in this area?
Let us note the fundamental difference. Perhaps all of the participants in the discussions of the sculptures on the Green Bridge Sculpture essentially agreed to value the statues as an inheritance of a totalitarian ideology, but just did not agree on what to do with them in the future – to leave them in place or to move them. In the meantime, in both the cases of Škirpa and J. Noreikos-General Vėtra, there has been no such societal consensus of evaluation so far, and there will hardly likely ever be one.
Once passions have somewhat abated, we need to take a closer look at the methods and reasoning upon which the dual memory lobotomy operation was carried out over only two days. Both personalities are not accused as individuals of perpetrating the Holocaust; even the most ardent accusers cannot produce reliable evidence.
However, despite that, their remembrance in the City of Vilnius has received a demonstrative “damnatio memoriae”. Nikžentaitis offers an interpretation based on the tightened criteria for identification of Holocaust perpetrators in the Western European commemorative culture and urges that the genocide of the Jews in Lithuania be considered within the establishment of a broader prism of Holocaustparticipation as well.
But yes, on the one hand, this expanded definition ignores the specifics of the blood-lands, where one foreign totalitarian regime was replaced with another, not any less aggressive and criminal, and where some citizens cooperated with the one, or – with the other (or sometimes even with both) of the occupational regimes. On the other hand, strangely, why is this criterion of an “advanced definition of evil” not analogously applied to communist crimes, after all, Lithuania was even one of the initiators and authors of the Prague declaration to equate the crimes of Nazism and Communism?
Clearly, the mayor of the City of Vilnius and part of the Council, deciding to rename the Avenue for Kazys Škirpa, followed precisely the concept of such “broader” Holocaust perpetrators. But why then resort to manipulation and open lies, assigning a citation to Škirpa, which is not his, to prove his anti-Semitism?
Even more, one Council member describes this historical activist using vocabulary and epithets (a dog … and so on), which unwittingly reminds contemporaries of Stalinist new-speak “gems”… Such is the moral atmosphere in which Škirpa was announced unworthy of a public memorial, as an “anti-Semite”, even though knowledgeable historians, who well know his biography and activities but cannot agree on an assessment of his political activities, do not consider him to be an anti-Semite (click here)
The Noreika memorial plaque was an even more interesting situation. As you remember, or if you have forgotten, Googling will remind you, that after the demonstrative smashing of the plaque in April, by the hand of one who is known as a vatnik (a person nostalgic of the Soviet Union, and a huge supporter and President Putin’s actions) Šimašius said that the municipality does not intend to restore the plaque, because the municipality did not initiate the installation.
And it was only because of documents unearthed by activists in Vilnius, and there even seems to have been an attempt to cover up these documents, thanks to the disclosure that, in 1998, the municipality of the City of Vilnius supported the manufacture of the plaque with the amount of 7.741 litas (EUR 2.241), the mayor, backed into a corner and not wanting to, allowed the plaque to be repaired and put back in place. The plan didn’t work out that time?
I continually watched the General Vėtra case with care, without rushing to support either of the fiercely disputing camps. I and, as I believe, a considerable number of other Lithuanian nationals were finally persuaded of his innocence only by the judgment of the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, who supported the LGGRTC statement set out in the arguments, why he is not considered to be a perpetrator of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
And the accusers continue to ignore the fact deliberately, that General Vėtra himself was involved in the anti-Nazi underground, rescued Jews, and prevented the organization of an SS division in Lithuania, and for that, together with other Lithuanian intellectuals, was even imprisoned in the Stutthof concentration camp.
However, in contrast to the partisan J. Krikštaponis, whose guilt of the involvement in the massacre of the Jews has been reliably demonstrated, and to whom the monument in Ukmergė still stands, for some reason has not caught the attention of the Jewish Community. Maybe because it’s not Vilnius? Or perhaps it’s being left to the next wave of accusations?
As noted in the above-mentioned examination and rejection of J. Noreika guilt by the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court, Lithuania is the only country in Europe who tried to take advantage of the German attack to free itself of the Soviet occupation, by declaring an independent State – an international political entity – and restoring the previous municipal structures (it was expected that the Germans, starting a war with the Soviet Union, and occupying Lithuania, not as part of the Soviet Union, would recognize Lithuania ‘s independence).
For that reason, the insurgents of the June Uprising and the representatives of the Lithuanian administration are not considered to be Nazi collaborators (of course, some of them may have later become collaborators, when the hope for Independence was squashed soon afterwards). Due to these circumstances, the Nazi occupation introduced a regime in Lithuania of a type that was different from the Nazi regimes in occupied Western and Eastern European countries.
Apparently, a solid legal basis, finally allowing this historical character to be left in peace, differing from Škirpa, where, while maintaining historical disagreement, the decision to rename the Avenue was reached democratically by a Council vote, which occurred after a public and obviously tendentious debate, forced Remigijus Šimašius to act secretly, making an individual decision without coordinating the decision with anyone, without notice to even the management of the LMA Vroblevskis Library, and to shamefully remove the General Vėtra commemorative plaque during the depths of the night. Although he must have perfectly understood that this, his attack, would cause only further increased public outrage and protests.
This brings us to the most important issue. For whom and why are such obvious lies, manipulations, and illegal actions based nocturnal historical politics now needed?
One can see with the naked eye, that in the last few years, especially after the appearance of the book by R.Vanagaitė, “Our Own“, attempts to discredit anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi Lithuanian resistance, manifested in one form or another, and here and there heard from one or another known cultural and artistic figures (particularly wanted are – Lithuanians) not only becoming more intense, but also and surprisingly correlating harmoniously with mid-twentieth century Lithuanian internal history and players in Russia, Israel, and the United States openly and persistently distributing falsehoods, with slander or ingenious manipulation, juggling selectively and tendentiously selected facts.
In this way, a repugnant Lithuania is created in the eyes of the world, as unreliable, as not recognizing her past, pro-Fascist provisions enshrining the country’s image. Efforts are made to shoot two rabbits at once: to create a negative opinion of the country’s reputation abroad, discouraging our real or potential friends and partners, and to incite defeatist, pessimistic, and unpatriotic provisions in Lithuania itself, especially among value- and morally disoriented youth.
An unpublished and incessant hybrid cultural war is being waged against us, to convince all of Lithuania and abroad, that to be Lithuanian, defending the national identity and the right to an independent state, is almost equivalent to being a Nazi and, automatically, an anti-Semite. Unfortunately, we do not have more adequate measures to resist this war. Furthermore, there are no attempts to look for such measures.
I would especially like to draw attention to one circumstance, which could have become a stimulus to act in this nightmare of ours. An event took place on June 19 of this year, in the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania, to discuss the commemoration of the June Uprising: “The 1941 Uprising in Lithuania: Myths and Reality”.
The speakers emphasized the value and significance of the political uprising to the continuity of the State of Lithuania and raised the question of the need to include this event in the list of Memorial Dates. It was probably the first time that the memory of the Uprising dared reach such a high political level, bringing the Uprising to a level of a basis of national security and defence.
As it is known, both Škirpa and General Vėtra, were among those leaders of the June Uprising, whose activities before and after the event showed loyalty to the idea of a national State. National State, which today is little by little, but still confidently and openly, being dismantled by the neoliberal ideological efforts of the mayor, as we see, not shying away from any means. This way, turning them into “Nazis” and “killers”, discredits the very idea of a self-sacrificing freedom struggle.
A. Nikžentaitis writes: ” It is obvious, that two models of Lithuanian identity collided on the battlefield: Lithuanian – a national identity focused on Lithuanian ethnic group interests and ignoring the other nationalities which had historically lived in Lithuania and a Lithuanian-European identity, bringing together not only the traumatic other Lithuanian ethnic experience but including the Holocaust.” I categorically disagree with this way of painting the alternatives. I would suggest transferring the conversation to a less ideological engagement, where only the nationalist and liberal lines are seen, although that may also be inevitable, in a rut.
Researchers of remembrance, including A. Nikžentaits, know perfectly well, that the aspiration to impose one single historical schemata of interpretation on all society members, and moral evaluations, suppressing all others, is more characteristic of totalitarian or authoritarian types of countries. In contrast, in mature democracies, various “community memories” co-exist, fostering images of the past and stories, which may not coincide or which may even latently and openly conflict with each other.
However, if the limit of loyalty to a country is not exceeded, that is usually tolerated in the name of civic conciliation and peacemaking. For example, on May 9, the Russian Community in Vilnius annually organizes a march of “Bessmertnyj polk”, in which one sees more than one “koloradkė ” or other symbols of totalitarian Soviet ideology, but that is usually seen with both eyes closed.
In the same way, even by too much, the State tolerates a different treatment of history and language policy exercised by the Polish-speaking Southeast Lithuania, despite accounts that Lithuanians living there experience discrimination. Thus, in a realistic situation of a “polyphony of memories and the past”, the task of high-level politicians is not to impose one community vision for all to achieve, but that these differences and contradictions not lead to interethnic confrontation, negative stereotypes, and the consolidation of hate.
Looking through this prism, the mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Šimašius, openly attempted to “overwrite” the cherished memory of one of the “community of memories” of Vilnius – Lithuanian – with the Vilnius memory landscape of another “community of memories”- Jewish – requirements and interpretations.
Naturally, the Lithuanians felt humiliated and hurt, as if there were no longer titular nation representatives as if they were only strangers and having no rights in their own State capital… It was arrogantly and defiantly demonstrated to them that they have no voice in solving issues related to the past.
Belief remains that, in this way, the unpunished Šimašius attempted to delete the Lithuanian Vilnius “local memory”, associated both with the foot of the Gediminas Hill and the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Science, in which J.
Noreika worked, which is a remembrance not only to his self-sacrifice for the basis of the organization of the anti-Soviet underground resistance, which was actively betrayed but later also to the cherished expectations of national liberation held by Lithuanian intellectuals; here is where they organized the pre-Sajūdis and the Sajūdis Movement meetings. Note that the anti-Lithuanian memory politics of the Vilnius mayor, in general, remains fairly consistent. His resistance to the appearance of the Vytis in Lukiškės Square is well remembered. And lo, the latest slap in the face – the prohibition to organize the 30-year commemoration of the Baltic Way in the city – boldly explaining that he doesn’t want to interfere with the flow of traffic, as if marathons and fairs, which often take place in Vilnius, don’t at all interfere …
In this history, it is extremely hypocritical to continuously apply double standards, whereby the doubtful or bad deeds of some past characters are inflated to infinity and self-righteously condemned, while the real crimes of the humanity of others are blotted or bleached out. When genuine or supposed collaboration with Nazism becomes an excuse to cover up the fact and extent of the much longer-lasting complicity with the Soviet regime and the crimes against humanity that were committed then; in this way, the victims are cynically transformed into executioners and the executioners – into victims (let’s recall how much bitterness was caused the Fania Brantsovsky award at the Presidential Palace).
Most interestingly, the alleged Nazi collaborators are most likely to be condemned by the former Soviet repressive or colleagues in the party structures; somehow, they don’t apply analogous criteria of condemnation to themselves and their ideological compatriots. In the meantime, even the slightest attempts to impartially explain the causes and the course of the Holocaust in Lithuania, raising awkward historical questions to the Lithuanian Jewish Community, among others, such as complicity of some of the representatives with Soviet totalitarianism in the crimes against the Lithuanian people, remains a taboo to this date, immediately met with glacial silence, often accompanied by accusations of ” anti-Semitism” or even open threats to those posing the questions.
However, rejecting such an open and well-meaning dialogue, ignoring academic knowledge, and even defiance of the legal foundations of the functioning of the State by the demonstration of political power leads to promote further the instigation of inter-ethnic discord, which is really not useful to Lithuanians, nor Jews, nor someone else, except for the obvious malevolent. Nocturnal historical politics is a dangerous weapon, especially if it is wasted without thinking about the consequences.
Rasa Čepaitienė is an employee of the Lithuanian Institute of History.