Lithuania has a problem with people who tell the truth. This should be evident not only from the government’s reaction to the mountain of evidence I have provided that the actions of some “national heroes” do not withstand basic moral scrutiny, but also from the way it treats those who bring such information forward.
For my efforts to bring forward the truth about Nazi collaborators like Jonas Noreika (a.k.a., General Vetra, i.e., “Storm”), I have been publicly vilified by government officials, attempts have been made to intimidate me, I have been threatened with criminal prosecution, and even declared an “agent of the Kremlin” and an enemy of the state. All of this for sponsoring and publicizing meticulously documented historical research about the role Lithuanian leaders like Jonas Noreika played in the nearly wholesale destruction of Lithuania’s Jews.
Instead of acknowledging the facts and moving forward, Lithuanian officials seems to be taking a page from the playbook of Hitler’s propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, who famously said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”.
Lithuania’s Big Lie is the heavily promoted official national narrative that casts Lithuanians exclusively as victims and martyrs, anoints anyone who took up arms against the Soviets as a saint and hero, and denies any moral responsibility on the part of Lithuanian leaders (particularly those who collaborated with the Nazis and shared their ideals) for what happened to Lithuania’s Jews during the Second World War.
If one so much as questions this narrative, let alone uncovers contradictory information, one is subjected to such public vilification and ostracism as might make even the most courageous citizen flinch. The cases are numerous and detailed here. Such is the intensity of the Lithuanian government’s efforts to deny the truth that it brings to mind the second part of Goebbel’s quote, which is less known but extremely relevant to the case at hand:
“The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
In the nearly three decades since it reestablished its independence as a nominally democratic country, on the matter of public discussion regarding participation of national heroes in crimes against humanity, Lithuania has, unfortunately, maintained a position hardly worthy of a democratic country and more like the one practiced lately by its mortal nemesis, Russia, and other authoritarian states.
Instead of acknowledging the evidence, Lithuania has built up such a propagandistic Big Lie that it now requires major state institutions to distort and defend the records of known Nazi collaborators. With the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre at the forefront, the government and its useful idiots obfuscate, deny, and refuse to acknowledge reliable evidence that contradicts the official narrative and casts even the slightest doubt on the righteousness of officially designated heroes like Jonas Noreika.
To make the narrative stick, references to the threat to the country’s independence from Russian propaganda and aggression are used to justify an increasingly repressive and dishonest system of internal propaganda and self-censorship. After all, who in such a sensitive geopolitical environment wants to risk being publicly labelled and even investigated by state security as an “agent of the Kremlin” or enemy of the state.
To be labelled as such, in my case, all I had to do was question the official narrative about Jonas Noreika’s involvement in crimes against Jews. That was enough to trigger the head of Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Centre, Terese Birute Burauskaite, who not only belittled the mounting evidence of Jonas Noreika’s involvement without providing any response or arguments to the contrary, but even went so far as to suggest that by investigating and providing supporting documents, I may have violated the criminal code and Constitution.
As I write, one of Lithuania’s most esteemed writers and national laureate, Marius Ivaskevicius is facing a similar public “moral lynching” for daring to suggest in his novel that Lithuania’s anti-Soviet partisans had the kinds of thoughts and emotions that any ordinary human being could be expected to experience in such circumstances. This isn’t even for suggesting that some of them were Holocaust perpetrators (some were), but simply for describing them in a work of fiction as having normal human thoughts and feelings. And not a single government official has so far, to my knowledge, stood up for the national laureate or spoken out to calm passions stirred up to advance the BIG LIE that Lithuania’s partisans were some kind of superheroes and not ordinary, fallible human beings. This outrageous attempted public moral lynching goes to show the extent to which the BIG LIE and the methods used to maintain it have infiltrated the thinking of ordinary Lithuanians.
I don’t live in Lithuania and their intimidation tactics don’t frighten me. But what about the country, its scholars and the people who live there under this government’s jurisdiction? I am already hearing from scholars that many of them are afraid to conduct research on the era in question. Is this a healthy condition for a young democracy, when its scholars are afraid of public moral lynching’s and government investigations for investigating and telling the truth?
And what of Lithuania’s young people? Will they grow up believing the BIG LIE? Given Lithuania’s demographic crisis, with a majority of young people contemplating emigration, one would expect such a government to avoid alienating its young people even further. What will be their reaction when they find out their country has been lying to them, as eventually they will? Probably not attachment, respect and admiration.
That is exactly the problem with propaganda and BIG LIES. Eventually the truth comes out. Because no regime or system for maintaining the BIG LIE lasts forever, and most people are not idiots.
Lithuanians once used the truth to defeat an Evil Empire. It would be a shame if Lithuania itself were one day undone by it.