Photo: Jewish mass murder near Šiauliai, 1941, courtesy Yad Vashem
December 28, 2019
Arūnas Gumuliauskas, Lithuanian MP and chairman of the parliament’s Battles for Freedom and State Historical Memory Commission, is preparing a draft resolution stating the Lithuanian state under occupation and the Lithuanian people didn’t participate in the mass murder of Jews during World War II. The politician said separate individuals contributed to the Holocaust but that this was a matter for the courts to decide.
Gumuliauskas announced the draft resolution at the conference “2020: Global Trends and National Security: Insights, Challenges” on December 13, 2019, at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library.
In response to a question, the Lithuanian MP said the European Parliament had adopted a resolution on historical memory in 2009.
“Now in 2019, it’s ten years later. I want to say cannot hold the same view of the Holocaust as Western Europe does. Why not? Because we, unlike Western Europe, lived through two occupations, the Nazi and the Soviet ones,” Gumuliauskas said.
“That means we have a completely distinct history and our own distinct explanation of it. So artificially, let’s say, to foist the methodology of Western historiography upon us right away doesn’t work. There were much stranger things going on here, because one occupation was replaced by another,” he explained.
Gumuliauskas said at the conference his commission is preparing a parliamentary resolution saying: “The Lithuanian state which was occupied from 1940 to 1990 did not participate in the Holocaust.”
At the conference he also said: “The Lithuanian state did not participate in the Holocaust because it was under occupation. Just as the Lithuanian people didn’t participate in the Holocaust because they were under occupation. But separate people, of course, did participate, and only the court can decide on this.”
He also said they will try to present the draft resolution to parliament on January 14, 2020, or during the spring session.
When contacted by 15min.lt, Gumuliauskas declined making further comment on the draft resolution. He said so far it was still being formulated and agreement would have to be sought with other parliamentary factions.
“So I don’t think it needs to be published yet. When it’s registered, I think, then we can talk about it. Is it a slow news day or something? I don’t get it,” the MP said.
Gumuliauskas explained it wasn’t profitable for a legislator to talk about draft legislation before its time.
“Most often it is showcased based exclusively on rumors while the real text isn’t available. At present it is still in the works. Undoubtedly there will be observations and changes, and so on. Therefore to talk about it now, since I know there will be observations and some changes, would simply be irresponsible,” Gumuliauskas told 15min.lt
He said the initiative for the new parliamentary resolution grew out of an on-going propaganda war.
“Undoubtedly we have to take some sort of steps as well, that’s all,” he commented. That means formulating a policy on historical memory, Gumuliauskas explained. He also said he’s the main author of the draft resolution, and wouldn’t say who else was involved, saying they weren’t public figures.
When 15min.lt said it was in the public interest to know who was drafting a parliamentary resolution, Gumuliauskas countered: “The public interest is that my name will be on it, and that’s it. Whom I ask to serve as consultants is my personal business. What I will present, whether it finds supporters and so on, all that is a process. I really don’t like it that there is interference in this process. When there’s something to show, then there can be discussion and criticism, and so on. We don’t a review a book while it’s being written. We review it after it’s been written. This is the exact same thing.”
Gumuliauskas pointed out this is about a draft parliamentary resolution rather than a law, because there can be no law about this.
“A parliamentary resolution demonstrates the parliament’s position on one or another issue. Yes, it is a legal act, but it doesn’t have the same force of law as, obviously, a law does,” Gumuliauskas explained.
Before WWII there were about 208,000 Jews living in our [sic] country. During the Nazi occupation approximately 195,000 to 198,000 Lithuanian Jews were killed.
Lithuanian History Institute director Alvydas Nikžentaitis told 15min.lt it isn’t possible to accuse entire peoples of participating in the Holocaust and that we must speak instead of the responsibility of separate individuals.
“In this context I, for example, totally agree, the Lithuanian nation didn’t participate in the Holocaust. But that, let’s say, doesn’t exonerate us at all from the responsibility to continue to engage with these issues and examine them, first of all examining the participation of Lithuanian inhabitants, even without very much regard to their ethnicity,” the historian said.
Nikžentaitis said he hadn’t looked into suggestions for the draft parliamentary resolution and details of it, so it was difficult for him to commentt. He did, however, foresee one negative thing:
“If we look at those, let’s say, most famous processes which, for example, are connected with the enrichment of certain separate firms during World War II due to collaboration with the Nazis, then those same fundamental issues connected with the past have been decided not so much by the courts, but by special commissions of historians.
“In the past politicians have made certain decisions based on the findings of commissions of historians. We are now faced with a situation where the courts are being tasked with functions which aren’t their jurisdiction. And our law-enforcement institutions are simply unprepared to solve these sorts of matters,” Nikžentaitis said.
Recently there has been much discussion of historical memory and separate figures, for example, Jonas Noreika.
Nikžentaitis said over the last decade historical issues have taken on a new urgency, and not just in Lithuania.
“Discussions on all these matters have entered an absolutely new stage. In the past we never encountered such things, that people would be charged with crimes for thinking about topics from the past. We didn’t have these sorts of things where discussion of the past becomes an inseparable part of information warfare. If we look at it within this broader context, Lithuania isn’t alone on the Moon somewhere. The country is part of European and global processes, and the Lithuanians, we might say, are alright,” the head of the Lithuanian History Institute told 15min.lt
He added the discussions taking place in Lithuania are more reserved and less impassioned in comparison with other countries.
“I see certain challenges, certain problems, because there is always the possibility of transgressing the bounds of rational discussion. But at the current time that’s just a fear which isn’t based yet on any rational arguments,” he said.
In early 2018 the Polish parliament adopted a controversial law on the interpretation of Holocaust events. The ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party there proposed a law criminalizing with fines and up to three years’ imprisonment those who attempt to assign to the Polish nation the crimes committed by the Nazis over almost six years of Nazi occupation.
Proponents of the legislation in Warsaw said they were fighting against the use of “Polish death camps” when people really meant Nazi German concentration camps located in occupied Poland.
The Polish law drew criticism from Polish allies including the US, the Ukraine and Israel.
Polish MPs that same year amended the law, removing criminal penalties.
Hungary has also had disagreements on history. World War II-era regent of Hungary Mikl ó s Horthy, for example, is still controversial in that country, where some say he was an anti-Semite who was involved in the Holocaust, while others claim he defended the Jews and national independence from the Nazis.
When Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party returned to power in 2010, they sought to rehabilitate Horthy’s reputation. In 2012 Hungarian school curricula began to include right-wing extremist writers, including József Nyírő, who openly praised the Nazis.
Full story in Lithuanian here.