Vilnius fights the Kremlin‘s attempts at another information war against the historic memory of the “resistance movement.” The ruling elites in Lithuania are calling to protect mass consciousness and the state foundations set in place by the Forest Brothers. In turn, Israel reminded everyone of the list of three thousand Lithuanian Nazi collaborationists, none of which have been tried to this day.
Israel is outraged over the attempts of Lithuanian nationalists to glorify Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas – one of the Forest Brothers heroes, who is in the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel’s 1999 list of Nazi collaborationists. Evidence of his part in the Holocaust has been given to the Lithuanian authorities. However, the topic is banned in the country and Lithuania has not even started criminal cases against those on Israel’s list.
Lithuanian prosecutors attempts to prosecute Jewish resistance fighters, sending out an interrogation summons to one of the Yad Vashem memorial founders and member of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, former resistance fighter Yitzhak Arad, as well as female resistance fighters Fania Brancovskaya and Rahil' Margolis ended with a huge international scandal for Lithuania in 2009. The cases were closed.
Some time later, Vilnius made another attempt to discredit the list that was comrpomising country and state ideology.
In 2010, a criminal case was opened, thrwoing an accusation of slander at former Kaunas ghetto prisoner, president of Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, Isaeli lawyer Joseph Melamed, who was the one who started the list.
Some time ago, the Lithuanian government had the country‘s mabasssador in Israel invite the scientist to be part of the research on genocide in Lithuania, granting him access to the archives. After many years of research and a conclusion that „the Holocaust was mainly carried out by the local Nazi collaborationists“ Melamed himself was declared a criminal.
It is noteworthy that the Seimas summoned him only nine yerars later. That way, the state let dozens of Nazi collaborationists peacefully live to old age and die, without any exposure or trial.
This led to another international scandal for Lithuania in 2011, when the Yad Vashem memorial, in protest, cancelled its invitations to Lithianian officials for a symposium on the Holocaust.
History is repeating itself today. The leader of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) party fraction Gabrielius Landsbergis proposed giving the Freedom awards for 2018 to the leaders of the afterwar Forest Brothers, whose ranks include Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas.
According to the politician, “honoring them with such an award during the strange discussions these days would show the Seimas’ clear intent, would be add to the understanding of the memory of the Lithuanian resistance commanders and remind us of the meaning of the Declaration for modern Lithuania.”
This is the ruling elite’s attempt, which undoubtedly is supported by Dalia Grybauskaitė’s conservatives, to finally legitimize the Forest Brothers as the new symbols of fighting for “freedom” for the 100th anniversary of statehood (to be celebrated in 2018). This has been met with understandable protest from Israel.
The chief of the Jerusalem department of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Efraim Zuroff condemned the parliamntary initiative due to “Ramanauskas-Vanagas’ part in punitive operations against the Jewish population.” The Lithuanian side wasted no time in issuing a response.
Seimas members concervatives Arvydas Anušauskas and Laurynas Kasčiūnas stated in a hurry that the new attack on the resistance movement” is the Kremlin‘s doing, “attacking the mass consciousness, with historic memory being one of its elements.“
The parlimaentaries called to stop the discredit of “the heroic stage of history” lest the whole idea of Lithuanian statehood is put to shame.”
Their stance is understandable. The state has done a lot to make Ramanauskas-Vanagas into a national hero. They even tried World War II veterans who, according to local investigation, were responsible for the afterwar arrest of the Forest Brothers leader.
In June 2011, the Kaunas Regional Court found former state security officer Vytautas Vasiliauskas guilty of “genocide of Lithuanian resistance fighters,” sentencing him to four years in prison. In 2015, the Kaunas Regional Court gave another 5-year sentence to 84-year-old veteran of Soviet State Security Stanislav Drelingas “for genocide of Lithuanian resistance fighters, who opposed the Soviet Regime.”
He was incrtiminated being part of the arrest operation against “resistance leader” Ramanauskas-Vanagas in 1956. Even though the defendant denied his participation that operation, the court decided “his actions helped other members of the Soviet occupational regime.”
Along with this, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) came down on Lithuania‘s court system‘s attempt to extend its use of the genocide definition as “physical destruction of part of the Lithuanian population, belonging to a speciic political group, namely the Lithuanian resistance.”
In October 2015, the ECHR released a decision on Vytautas Vasiliauskas appeal, stating that “the defendant was tried without merit in Lithuania, with the accusation of genocide.”
In Lithuania itself, the topic of Forest Brothers is not debated. Any statement differing from the official point of view may lead to a criminal case and time and prison for “denying Soviet occupation” or losing one‘s job. A recent example – the firing of one the mayoral leaders in Vilnius Darius Udrys for his post in social networks.
On Facebook, the official left a comment under a picture of Ramanauskas-Vanagas subordinates, who called for lynching of Lithuanian Kolkhoz leaders and representatives of Soviet regime after the war.
“What kind of definition has us equalizing organizing a Kolkhoz with crimes against humanity? Which ethical norms allow death threats? Is it only because the cause justifies the means? The kill or threaten death on Kolkhoz organizers is a morally positive action? What kind of ethical norms are those?” questioned Udrys.
The official obviously got no answer. But the conservatives accused him of “humiliating the Lithuania freedom fighters and spreading tendentious interpretations of the significance of Lithuanian statehood in his statements in a public space.” As result – he was fired from state service.
Today Lithuania is doing everything it can to exonerate the image of Nazi accomplice Ramanauskas-Vanagas, who was not just part of the genocide of Lithuania Jews during World War 2, but also murder of Lithuanian citizens during peace times. These war crimes have no expiration date. And the list of names that Israel gave to Lithuania back in 1999 also has the name of Lithuania‘s future “national hero” as a “ruthless participant in mass murder, one of the main killers of Jews in Druskininkai, Merkinė, Butrimonys, Jieznas and other cities.”
Lithuania’s state policy on exonerating and glorifying Lithuanian Nazi collaborationists is a blunt violation of the UN Resolution (A/RES/69/160 from 18 December 2014) on combating glorification of Nazism, neo-nazism, which is creating the ideal conditions for anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. All of this must be the subject of the most thorough investigation by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).
Translated by Pavel Shamshiev