Kaunas Ultranationalist March Ended by… Donald Trump?

Rethinking hate: Annual Kaunas February 16 ultra-nationalist marchers turn whimsical as organizers look at joining mainstream young conservative movement. Photo by Elijau Kniežauskas, courtesy Kauno Diena.

by Geoff Vasil

The annual march by Lithuanian ultra-nationalists on the pre-WWII Lithuanian independence day, February 16, in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, saw record low turnout this year, 2017. According to media reports of police estimates, just under 150 people including parents with children came this year.

Organizers sought and received a permit for 500 marchers.

Even before the march took place this year, there were signs of disarray this year. Instead of the usual organizer, the Union of Lithuanian Nationalist Youth, private citizen and somewhat of a dissident member of that organization, Justinas Daunoras, applied for the permit with Tomas Skorupskas as co-organizer. Both were reportedly convicted of public displays of Nazi logos in the past, according to media reports.

“The core of the march remains the same, although the Union of Nationalist Youth no longer exists. Now this is a club of several people. But we wanted to celebrate the holiday and enjoy our hard-won freedom. But we didn’t want the hate which our leaders have propagated in the past,” Tomas Skorupskas told the Kaunas newspaper Kauno Diena.

Justinas Daunoras told the same newspaper he and his fellow marchers wanted to modernize tradition. “In the narrow sense, that we shouldn’t get stuck in old matters, things such as appearance or style, but instead get in step with the times. In the broader sense, in the context of a changing culture and civilization, tradition must make way and accommodate them.” Speaking before the march was held, he told Kauno Diena they expected the usual number of marchers, several hundred, but added that some were staying away because they were displeased by things which took place in earlier years at the march. Daunoras had expected new marchers to replace the ranks of those staying home.

Lithuanian National Radio and Television reported the march briefly last week under the headline “Nationalist Youth March Organizers Borrow Slogan from Donald Trump”:

“Thousands assembled for these marches in years past and there were incidents, but this year organizers say they want to change the tradition, propagate the idea of unity and strictly refrain from any incitement to hate.

“Nonetheless, they didn’t renounce the symbols and chants which had attracted criticism in past years. They invited marchers to use the slogan ‘Make Lithuania great again,’ an allusion to US president Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, ‘Make America great again.'”

The state broadcaster in their brief television report on the march on the evening of February 16 said marchers had actually chanted “Make America great again” along with Lithuania.

The main banner carried at the head of the march this year was a pastiche of Lithuanian Activist Front creator Kazys Škirpa and the Pepe the Frog internet character, a politically-neutral 4chan meme which in one of their more dubious declarations the Anti-Defamation League has linked to right-wing hate groups, apparently since some Trump supporters sported the image on bags and posters during the US presidential election campaign. Regular observer of the Kaunas march Dovid Katz, not employed in any way by the Lithuanian Jewish Community, seized upon the false connection with hate groups in a Jewish Telegraphic Agency opinion piece or news brief–JTA can’t seem to decide what category it falls under–which relied almost exclusively on information from him. No authorship is provided but it’s possible Katz wrote the text himself with some cosmetic touch-ups provided by the editors. Pepe the Frog thus becomes the latest victim of a growing trend among the neo-liberal fringe of labeling anything they don’t understand racist, a sort of mirror-reversal of the old dictum of the Catholic Church, nihil obstat, which means if something isn’t expressly forbidden, it is allowed. Whatever Pepe “really means,” the ADL can now point to his use in conjunction with the actual Lithuanian Nazi Kazys Škirpa to attempt to prove an extremist connection. Does Spongebob Squarepants now become the next coded reference to Adolf Hitler? What about the American flag, which has been seen at numerous skinhead protests around the United States? Is it, too, guilty by association, and now a symbol of extremist hate?

The Pepe the Frog pastiche on the presumably revered figure–among ultra-nationalists–of Kazys Škirpa was one of several indicators the marchers engaged in a form of self-caricature this year. Another sign contained a non-political reference to the Krusty Krab restaurant in the Spongebob Squarepants animated series. The lighthearted and whimsical signs of course shared the stage with White Power World-Wide logos and more sophisticated forms of anti-Semitism, such as the sign originally blocked by police containing an alleged quote by an alleged founder of the EU about a secret Jewish plan to take over Europe using blacks and Asians. According to Kauno Diena police originally blocked entry to the march to the two females holding these signs and told them to seek approval from organizers first. Reportedly the organizers gave a thumbs-up and the young women were allowed into the march with their signs.

One young man in the vanguard was photographed wearing a Trump “Make America great again” red baseball cap.

Those with a vested interest in seeing the annual march in Kaunas continue will deny it, but the combination of nonsense signs, self-deprecating humor, Trump slogans and statements by the organizers can mean only one thing: the Kaunas ultra-nationalists have come in from the political margins and want to participate in the normal democratic process, not as hatemongers and extremists, but as normal members of the new right wing in Europe which is highly skeptical of mass immigration and transnational organizations. In a very real sense, the Trump victory in the United States has inspired the Lithuanian right-wing and ultra-nationlists to reengage with society. The forecast for next year’s march: perhaps 50, perhaps 100 marchers, with the remainder assimilating to the much larger Kaunas municipal celebrations of February 16. In other words, Donald Trump has put a stop to the Kaunas neo-Nazi march, while Dovid Katz likely never intended to.

News or opinion piece on Jewish Telegraphic Agency website defaming Pepe the Frog here.

Kauno Diena report in Lithuanian with photo gallery here.

Kauno Diena pre-march report in Lithuanian with photos here.

Lithuanian National Radio and Television’s short article on the march in Lithuanian here.

Delfi.lt report in Lithuanian here.