I feel hesitant towards and often distrustful of the manner in which Efraim Zuroff conducts himself (an explanation for why will have to wait, but please note my reason is certainly not for Zuroff’s success in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice), and as such I read his article in The Jerusalem Post this morning with interest. There is a great deal of scaremongering on both sides of the Holocaust obfuscation argument. Lithuania and her two neighbouring Baltic States, Latvia & Estonia, as well as other Central and East European countries, are not solely festering pustules of right-wing, anti-Semitic activity. Admittedly, there is enough evidence to conclude that ‘extremist’ activity is growing, but this is across the whole of Europe, not just the Baltic countries et al. When Zuroff writes about the “whitewashing of extensive Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes”, he’s right, this was the case – a crime of the Soviet Union, and concurrently a symptom of cultural lethargy often found in states reestablishing a national identity amidst a post-communist hangover. My main concern is thus: the article neglects to acknowledge the efforts undertaken by non-political voices to combat this historical-amnesia. I relate to activities of The University of Vilnius, among others, particularly artistic institutions and a number of local efforts (albeit predominantly with the help of foreign funding) to improve neglected Jewish cemeteries. Of course, one cannot deny that nationalist groups use ‘Independence Day’ events to campaign and promote their toxic spiel, and it is a sign of political weakness that these activities are not condemned or curbed (one could aim the same criticism at the British government concerning the EDL in the UK). However, the ‘hijacking’ of national holidays by certain nefarious groups does not implicitly condemn 3,000,000 plus Lithuanians, and 2,000,000 Latvians as anti-Semites, culpable in the erosion of a painful historical truth. The problems Zuroff speaks of are real, they should be at the forefront of public debate, and more EU pressure should be exerted upon Lithuania to quell a worrying political backslide towards virulent nationalism. As ever, this is not the whole story. Condemning Eastern Europe as a collection backwater states is an old habit of the ‘West’. An equal danger lies in using the painful destruction of 6,000,000 people as a tool to propagate this erroneous prejudice.
Here’s the article (or rather the opening paragraphs, please follow the link to read more:
On Monday, March 11, as many as several thousand Lithuanian neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists will conduct a patriotic march in the capital of Vilnius (Vilna) to mark Lithuanian independence day.
At the moment, the exact venue of the event has still not been determined because the municipality has turned down the organizers’ request to stage the march on the city’s most prestigious boulevard, Gedimino, where it has been held every year since it was originally initiated in 2008. The court granted permission for the march to be held across the river in the Shnipeshok area, but the organizers have re-petitioned to hold it in the famous Old Town of Vilna to ensure maximum exposure and publicity in the wake of the refusal to approve the use of Gedimino Boulevard.
Either way, once again, each of the happiest days on the calendar in Lithuania will have been marked by a march of right-wing extremists, whose dream is an ethnically pure Lithuania, free of minorities, or in their words, “ Lietuva Lietuviams ,” or Lithuania for Lithuanians. (The country celebrates two independence days: on February 16 to mark the original establishment of modern Lithuania in 1918, and on March 11 to honor the renewal of sovereignty in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union. On the former, the extreme Right march in Kaunas (Kovno), on the latter they stage a parade in Vilnius.) The fact that for the past five years, extremist nationalist elements have virtually hijacked Lithuanian independence day reflects the deteriorating situation of the country’s miniscule (about 3,500) Jewish community and that of other minorities in the wake of Lithuania’s admission to the European Union and NATO. Having obtained their primary foreign policy objectives, the Conservative government lost all restraint and adopted extremist nationalistic policies, which featured the whitewashing of extensive Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes, failure to punish unprosecuted local Nazi war criminals, attempts to prosecute Jewish Soviet anti- Nazi partisans on trumped-up charges of war crimes and the promotion of the canard of historical equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.
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