by Vytautas Bruveris, www.lrytas.lt
“You little Jewess, there is no place for you here.” This sort of statement, even made publicly to a woman of Jewish ethnicity, is nothing more than the impolite, unethical implementation of the constitutional right to self expression and freedom of belief.
This phrase in no way means the person who uttered it is predisposed against people of Jewish ethnicity, wants to sow discord against them or wants to discriminate against them. This is the firm belief of no less than the Lithuanian police. It turns out the police in such cases see no basis not only for punishing the author of such statements, but not even for launching an investigation.
Insult Made at Parliamentary Ceremony
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said she was called “žydelka” [little Jew-girl] and told “there is no place” for Jews in Lithuania at the Lithuanian parliament on January 13 this year when she attended events there to mark the day when protestors were murdered at the Vilnius Television Town back in 1990, a national day of mourning. Kukliansky said an older man came up to her dressed in a uniform and made the statements. She didn’t recognize what sort of uniform it was, but thought it was most likely from the Lithuanian Union of Riflemen.
According to the chairwoman, the man initially approached her and said “stop polluting Lithuania!” then turned around and left. He came back right away and called her “žydelka” then added Jews have no place in Lithuania. She said she was initially shocked and upset, and didn’t know what to do. Later she wrote a letter to parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and asked him to look into the identity of her abuser. She wrote in the letter she would recognize the person.
After he received her appeal, Kukliansky said, the speaker of parliament contacted the Third Police Commission in Vilnius to get to the bottom of the situation. When Kukliansky was asked to come in to give a statement, she said she gave a detailed description of the man and explained in detail what had happened.
“During her interview with police Kukliansky said she didn’t know the man and had never met him before. Because of that, she believed he had singled her out as the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and that his words weren’t directed exclusively at her but at the entire Jewish community,” the police report reads.
“During the interview, Kukliansky also pointed out that while the man had used the singular “you Jew-girl,” he had also used the Lithuanian plural “you have no place here,” and she therefore said she believed the person had expressed hatred towards all Jews, saying Jews have no place in Lithuania, and had thus committed a crime under article 170 of the criminal code of Lithuania. She also explained the word “žydelka” [little Jew-girl] is used exclusively offensively, and the person had therefore violated her dignity and given offense to her ethnic identity, which is a crime under article 155 of the criminal code. Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky asked a pre-trial investigation be launched and she be recognized the victim of a crime as both an individual and as the chairwoman of the Jewish community,” the police report continues.
Throughout the interview Kukliansky emphasized to police there were many other people around her during the incident who head the entire “conversation,” and that this should be seen as the incitement to ethnic hatred of these others.
Police See No Crime
So what did police officers do further in attempting to determine whether a crime had truly been committed as Kukliansky said: did the unknown subject not incite hate and sow discord based on ethnicity, did he not condemn and belittle another person based on that person’s ethnicity? First the police received from the Lithuanian Leadership Protection Department a video recording which shows the parties to the conflict.
The department only provided this recording to the police, not to Kukliansky and not to the Chancellery of the Lithuanian parliament, explaining it was only allowed to provide it to law enforcement institutions. A picture of the person in the video who had spoken to Kukliansky was first provided to Salvija Taukinaitienė, the director of protocol of the Lithuanian National Defense Ministry. The police said she didn’t recognize the person. Police officers also questions people from the Union of Reserve Officers and the parliamentary Chancellery, but they also did not recognize the man in the photograph. The Chancellery of the Lithuanian parliament explained to police that more than 500 people had been invited officially to the event, and that people who hadn’t been invited were also able to enter the parliament that day.
More importantly and more interesting than whether the police were able or were not able to identity the person whom Kukliansky accused of a xenophobic and anti-Semitic attack against her was that the police at this stage simply refused to launch a pre-trial investigation. They said they wouldn’t because even if the identity of the man were determined and even if it turned out he had said what is claimed by Faina Kukliansky, no crime would have been committed.
“During consideration of the report, no information was uncovered which would demonstrate the volitional and intentional attempt to incite hatred against Jewish citizens. If the identity of the person who had said these words had been determined, his actions could not be qualified as incitement to discrimination, inciting hate or condemning and belittling people of this group. There is no objective information this person is predisposed against certain groups of people based on their ethnicity. No system is seen in his actions, i.e., there is no evidence of more similar facts that this person would incite or encourage physically killing other people. SInce there are no specific, systemic or direct statements inciting hate or inciting discrimination against an ethnic minority, it cannot be considered a crime has been committed under article 170 of the criminal code of the Republic of Lithuania,” a letter from the police refusing to launch a criminal investigation says.
A Nasty but Allowable Opinion?
So how in the opinion of the police should these sorts of actions and statements be judged?
“His words, which are considered impolite and out of keeping with the ethical implementation of the constitutional freedom to spread information, do not in their degree of danger constitute the criminal act described in article 170 of the criminal code of the Republic of Lithuania: incitement through direct action against an ethnic minority, belittling, encouraging hate or discrimination. His words only express an opinion, and there is no call directly to incite other people to belittle, demean, offend or discriminate against a specific group of people or separate members of that group. Although the informant’s claim these words are negative should be affirmed, there is no discrimination in their content, but merely a negative opinion expressed, a grievance, criticism, an incorrect opinion, but in its level of threat it doesn’t conform to the actions of article 170 of the criminal code, incitement by direct acts against a specific group of people, belittling, demeaning or inciting hate or discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, language, origin, social status, religious belief, convictions or attitudes,” police investigators said. But how should this terminology and that it was used openly in a public space where possibly more people than Faina Kukliansky heard it be judged?
“The fact that more people could have heard these words doesn’t mean discord was sown. The content of the words show the unknown subject made use of his right to self expression inappropriately, but in consequence of that he couldn’t have posed a real danger to the values protected by this article of the criminal code, i.e., to do harm to the equality of the group of people of Jewish ethnicity or to its dignity as a community (in terms under which dignity is protected in article 170).
“Furthermore, this statement in opposition to morality couldn’t have incited other people who heard the statement by the undetermined subject to engage in violence against this group of people. This conclusion should be arrived at in consideration of the words used in the statement and their unspecific nature.
“It should also be noted that the undetermined subject aimed his words personally at Faina Kukliansky, he didn’t set for himself the goal of demeaning or insulting people of Jewish ethnicity for the observation of other people who had gathered for the event,” police officers reasoned. They also exonerated and vindicated the use of the word “žydelka” [little Jew-girl] which they said had no negative connotation.
“The police’s main argument was the entry for ‘žydelka’ in the Lithuanian dictionary, which the dictionary claims simply means female Jew, ‘Jewess’ corresponding to the male ‘Jew,’ with no specification it is offensive. It should be noted article 155 defines offensive as the public, obnoxious demeaning of another person, an action in word or deed, but that the legislature on July 10, 2015, decriminalized offensiveness and this act no longer incurs criminal responsibility,” the police officials concluded their arguments on why a pre-trial criminal investigation shouldn’t be lodged.
Conflict over Noreika
Asked by lrytas.lt what she thinks about the position of law enforcement and what she plans to do, Faina Kukliansky said she doesn’t agree with the police decision and plans to appeal to the prosecutor. “Of course I won’t stand down because I simply cannot do that. After all, in this situation I don’t represent just myself but our entire community.
“I also hope that [I represent] that part of society which doesn’t think it’s a normal thing to proclaim publicly to Lithuanian citizens of Jewish origin they ‘pollute’ this country and that there is ‘no place’ for them in this country. I don’t want revenge or punishment, my point is that these sorts of people should be known to the public, and the situation needs to be fully explained,” the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community said.
This isn’t the first controversial event recently involving the Lithuanian Jewish Community and their leader. Last summer the Community reported it had received threats and briefly closed the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius when the city municipality decided to remove a plaque honoring [Nazi collaborator and Holocaust perpetrator] Jonas Noreika.
Many of the proponents of the [Lithuanian Nazi] Jonas Noreika blamed Kukliansky and the Jewish Community of [working with the Kremlin to have the plaque removed.] Former Lithuanian Conservative Party leader Vytautas Landsbergis defended Noreika. He even published a poem using the [perjorative] word “žydelka” [little Jew-girl] to signify the Virgin Mary at the time.
Faina Kukliansky reacted to the “poem” telling Landsbergis the word was anti-Semitic terminology and offensive in all contexts.
Full story in Lithuanian here.