Lithuania has made an extraordinary effort to create the impression that it shares Western values. It has tried valiantly to distance itself from its mid-century authoritarian Soviet ruler and to remain silent about the military junta that ruled the country during much of the inter-war period. However, some practices are simply too ingrained to change, and one of them is a corrupt legal system where decisions are dictated by government officials, or purchased by the wealthy. Such corruption pervades tribunals, whether administrative, civil, or criminal. On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, twenty six arrests were made in Lithuania. These included eight top judges and five lawyers arrested for a “system” of corruption: They were selling judicial decisions.
Foreigners who have studied the manner in which the Lithuanian government influences its judiciary are understandably reluctant to invest in a country where the resolution of disputes is a matter of political manipulation and pay-offs. This symbiotic relationship is also what prompted former Lithuanian lawmaker, Neringa Venckiene, to plead with a Federal court in Chicago to halt her extradition to Lithuania, arguing that Lithuanian prosecutors had filed trumped-up charges against her.
There is probably no subject in which the government and the judiciary are more intertwined than the role of Lithuanians in the murder of 95% of their Jewish co-citizens. These murders took place primarily in 1941; before Germany adopted a policy of genocide at the January 1942 Wannsee Conference. These facts have been thoroughly documented and are well-known in the West but it is unwise in Lithuania to even touch upon the truth. In this respect, Lithuania shows that it is not an open, Western society but instead bears the well-known mark of the totalitarian regimes that ruled the country during the inter-war and Soviet eras.
Currently, Lithuanian writer Marius Ivaškevičius, the author of “The Greens,” stands accused of having insulted Lithuanians who continued to fight Soviets after Germans retreated in 1944. He has been ordered by the Lithuanian police to appear for questioning for voicing factual data that Lithuanian nationalists have been “exclusionary” with regard to individuals of other nationalities. Officially, the complaint is that he “slandered the Lithuanian nation” and “promoted ethnic hatred.” (The 220,000 murdered Jews buried in mass graves throughout the Lithuanian countryside, and the vast number of Poles who were deported from Lithuania at the end of the war, are two sets of proof that Lithuanian nationalists have long sought to ethnically cleanse the country of anyone who they consider not to have Lithuanian “blood.”) These government threats are designed to silence anyone from speaking truth publicly – and clearly their judicial accomplices will convict if the government lodges criminal charges. When a citizen can be ordered by police to appear for questioning for expressing facts, it becomes generally recognized that the state is ruled by a totalitarian regime. In this case, Lithuania has abandoned the pretense of being a Western nation and has reverted to its recent, and certainly not forgotten totalitarian past.
Marius Ivaškevičius is the latest in a long line of Lithuanians that have encountered heavy-handed government intimidation for addressing Lithuania’s direct participation in the Holocaust. To be clear, there are definitely people in Lithuanian society who have integrity and advocate for public truth telling.
In their 2019 National Threat Assessment Report to the Lithuanian Parliament, the country’s State Security Department and Defense Ministry jointly warned that “Russian officials and subordinate propagandists seek to shape the attitude that only Nazi collaborators and Holocaust-complicit criminals supported the resistance against the Soviet occupation. To compromise the Lithuanian resistance the Kremlin cynically manipulates the Holocaust tragedy to achieve the goals of its history policy.”
The Lithuanian Government has doubled down on their lies. In a naked attempt to monetize their murdered Jews, the City of Vilnius recently issued a tourist guide on Jewish remnants in Vilnius, designed only for foreign tourists. This guide does not mention the country’s monuments for murderers of Jews, nor its streets named for the persecutors – those locations, glorifying Lithuania’s Nazi-era perpetrators are only for domestic consumption, and reveal the true, enduring nature of the country’s values. Just as the movie “Midnight Express” set Turkey’s tourism industry back decades, Lithuania’s manifest lies and denials about its role in the Holocaust does equal damage to its fledgling tourism industry.
They will not tell the truth because morality does not suddenly appear in a vacuum. It will be economic damage that will ultimately force Lithuania to tell the truth about its complicity in the homicide of its Jewish citizens.
It is in this environment of fraud, intimidation and totalitarianism that the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court will hear arguments on Tuesday, March 5, on why contemporary Lithuania refuses to hold to account one of its worst genocidal monsters. It is not the monster that is on trial but the nation that persists in honoring him.